In her Star Tribune column tomorrow, Katherine Kersten tells the story of the high school literature teacher whom her son credits with inspiring him to the virtues of manhood: “Strong examples from life, fiction make the man.” Meet William Lasseter of Providence Academy:
Lasseter wants to call young men to be fighters for the good. He’s got a powerful arsenal in this struggle: great books.
“Literature is a teaching tool for getting young people to understand themselves and their place in the world,” he says. Classical literature is rich in lessons of character, but often gets a bad rap because of its archaic language and unfamiliar settings. So Lasseter chooses classics with “guy appeal,” tales that feature both the clash of warriors and the clash of great ideas.
“The Iliad,” Homer’s vivid epic of the Trojan War, is such a book. “As the Greek hero, Achilles, and the Trojan prince, Hector, hack at each other, guys say, ‘That’s so cool,’ ” Lasseter explains. “The swordplay draws them in. They can’t wait to read more.”
But students’ encounter with Achilles and Hector produces more than a titillating taste of blood and gore. Looking deeper, the young men see that Achilles’ rash and selfish actions have disastrous consequences: his best friend’s death and a crippling near-defeat for the Greeks.
“Guys tend to be impulsive, to speak and act before they think,” says Lasseter. “They don’t often consider the impact of their actions on other people — how damaging they can be. ‘The Iliad’ prompts them to ask the big questions they don’t hear on MTV: What is duty? What is honor? What is justice?”
Lasseter points out that the classics — from King Arthur to Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” — teach that true manhood requires self-control. “Self-mastery is a critical masculine virtue,” he says. “Guys generally find this trait much harder to develop than girls.”
Self-mastery is the antithesis of the “whatever” mentality that permeates today’s adolescent culture. “Boys want to slink past adults, avoid eye contact, wear pants down to here,” says Lasseter. But a real man respects others’ dignity. He treats young women with regard, and speaks courteously to adults. Lasseter tells students that they can develop self-mastery by attending to the way they speak and dress.
“How you look and act matters, because it reflects what you believe.”
My son says the guys buy it. After Lasseter’s classes, their conduct improves and they grow in moral seriousness.
“Everyone respects him, so they want him to respect them. They want to be like him.”
Kathy has more before she’s done; she concludes:
If you want to influence our nation for the good, the most important thing you can do is become a high school teacher.