Dear AIS-Salzburg Community,
When I was in high school in Longmont, Colorado (many, many years ago…), I was involved in a number of competitive sports teams and greatly enjoyed the chance to compete within a team of fellow-sportsmen under the leadership of competent and knowledgeable coaches and staff members. I like to think—and I do think that there is some truth in the fact—that this involvement helped develop my character in ways that were beneficial and served me well later in life. Perhaps most importantly, I was forced to recognize the limits of my personal athletic ability and talent and admit the superior skill and talent of others against whom I was competing. Aside from giving me a strong source of motivation to improve, this recognition necessarily helped promote a sense of respect, admiration and humility within my evolving personality. This was not always an easy thing to accept and yes, sometimes this admiration and appreciation were given grudgingly if not unwillingly. But as time passed and my experiences grew, I began to see the situation with more circumspection and with more generosity; to both my benefit and the benefit of others.
If one of my high-school coaches—instead of demanding that we shake hands and congratulate our competitors following the match—had stood up and loudly proclaimed that we were cheated of a glorious victory that was rightfully ours and perhaps even refused to recognize that there was any legitimate rationale upon which this claim should be based, I truly believe that after a few seconds (not more) of astonishment, my teammates and I would most likely have joined our coach’s chorus line and affirmed the injustice done to ourselves. Such was the authority granted our superiors and the ease with which our malleable adolescent opinions could be swayed. Such was the instability of our autonomy and the absence of competence to judge wisely at age 17. These qualities of character take precedency only later in life for all but the rare few of us. That is, if we consciously allow them to develop as they properly should at all.
But none of my coaches ever considered doing such a thing. It was, I believe, implicitly evident that they were not entirely concerned with winning competitions; they were also concerned with a duty they had toward us—to help us overcome our poor habits and assist us in the proper advancement of our young, faulty characters in the right direction. That direction is a familiar one, but this familiarity makes it no less meaningful. It points toward justice, wisdom, moderation, courage, magnanimity and modesty; foregoing our passions and egotistical desires and considering with some care what is needed and beneficial to others. If my coaches did not have this somewhere in the back of their minds, I don’t think I would be able to look back with the fondness and appreciation that I do presently nor would I feel the inclination to write these words after having witnessed the contemptible behavior of some of my fellow American citizens and elected leaders recently at the nation’s capital. My coaches knew and tacitly communicated that education is about the development of character: not in any direction, but in the proper direction—the one we all know as essential for successful communities, just societies, unity and peace. The proper direction that leads to action that is the antithesis of that witnessed in Washington, D.C. this week.
It is the standpoint of myself and the others who dedicate their time to the young people under our care at AIS-Salzburg that education is the development of character primarily. One can gain all the knowledge the world has to offer, but in deciding what we should do with it, our character is in control. We believe that there is no successful way around this objective and that if professionals try to avoid this mandate and offer a value-free educational experience, it is the same as surrendering to the lower angels of our nature and equipping young people with a handicap rather than a crucial competence thereby crippling their independence and debilitating their capacity to think critically and become citizens worthy of the name.
Happy new year from all of us at AIS-Salzburg. We wish you all a successful and enjoyable new year, 2021!