One of my favorite features of the Hillsdale College-affliated schools is that there is an equal focus on teachers educating both the minds and the hearts of their students. The curriculum we teach is ripe with opportunities to discuss virtue and how the choices of different people affect their lives and the lives of those around them. But my most meaningful discussion of our curriculum didn’t happen in the classroom.
Every year, I always have a group of football boys. Each recess, they congregate on a long stretch of blacktop and play. They keep track of the score and field position when recess ends and pick up at the same spot when they’re next outside. A few years ago, this group of students started getting into a loud confrontation. When I started talking to them, they all acknowledged a sense of frustration and unhappiness with how their games had been going lately, so we decided to meet at lunch to discuss what had been going on.
I started off the conversation by asking one of the boys to summarize what he saw as the main issues leading to their mutual frustration. He said that the root of the problem was that there used to be four really good players that could be equally divided between the two teams, but one of those boys had left the school, leaving an imbalance. I was surprised how the boys so frankly assessed their own skill levels and acknowledged others’ superiority. Immediately a story we had just read in our King Arthur books popped into my mind. Lancelot, the best knight in the kingdom, had intentionally sat out of a jousting tournament because he knew he would easily win and wanted the other knights to have an enjoyable time rather than increase his own glory. I reminded the students of that story and asked the better players if they would want to act like Lancelot, sometimes toning back their own play in order to let others have a chance. I have never seen such a look of eagerness in the eyes of students like I saw in those more skilled players as they saw a chance to be like Lancelot. While it is important for students to be proud of their accomplishments and work to continue increasing their own skills, this situation also highlighted the importance of generosity to others. After that conversation, I never had an issue again with those football boys.
This moment really highlighted to me the impact that our curriculum has on students. The characters that we study really do make an impression and serve as a guide for how our students want to behave.