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A Big Order

A feature story on NPR this morning reminded me that November 19 is the anniversary of the delivery of one of the greatest speeches in history: President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

He was an inspiring individual, but he was also a self-educated man, a voracious reader and an eloquent writer. When it came time for him to send one of his children to school (a luxury he never had as a child), he wrote a personal letter to the school’s headmaster, giving him a “big order.”

This letter was so powerful to me, that I distributed it to our faculty and staff at the beginning of the academic year. My hope was that his words, read almost 150 years after his death, would resonate with our faculty and staff. Sometimes, people can lose sight of what “an education” truly means. Books, SMARTBoards, activities, curriculum, tests... All of these things are important, but they are not the entirety of what a child learns at school.

Of course, it makes me proud to see high test scores or examples of high academic achievement. Yet, I am equally proud of students who demonstrate qualities that cannot be measured by scores or grades: understanding, compassion, critical thinking, creativity, sensitivity, and confidence. Strange as it may sound, I am also proud of when our students fail... and learn from their failures so they may grow up to be resilient, risk-taking individuals who strive for excellence for themselves, while still acting with responsibility in regards to the world around them.

Perhaps that’s why I especially appreciated the portion of the letter where Lincoln asks the headmaster, “teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.”

What part of Lincoln’s letter resonates the most with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.philippedietz@istp.org

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