In the Footsteps of Lincoln: The Indiana Years - Character Education: The Making of a President

By olsen, eric p. | The World and I, April 2001 | Go to article overview

In the Footsteps of Lincoln: The Indiana Years - Character Education: The Making of a President


olsen, eric p., The World and I


To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.

----Theodore Roosevelt

It is instructive, in light of recent history, to examine the actual texts of Lincoln's principal schoolbooks, both for the insight they provide into his character education and as a window into a world where right and wrong were unambiguous and taught as forthrightly as modern educators teach the importance of tolerance.

Abraham considered Lindley Murray's The English Reader his best and most profitable text, both for its concise diction and its notions of right living. In addition to extended readings, the book offered precepts to be memorized, such as:

* the happiness of every man depends more upon the state of his own mind than upon any external circumstance, nay, more than upon all external things put together;

* amusement often becomes the business, instead of the relaxation, of young persons; it is then highly pernicious;

* our good or bad fortune depends greatly on the choice we make of our friends;

* when upon rational and sober inquiry, we have established our principles, let us not suffer them to be shaken by the scoffs of the licentious, or the cavils of the skeptical;

* the young are slaves to novelty, the old to custom; and

* examine well the counsel that favors your desires.

Another text, William Scott's Lessons in Elocution, urged Abraham to "never sport with pain and distress in any of your amusements, nor treat even the meanest insect with wanton cruelty," admonishing that "you must love learning if you would possess it. …

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