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A classic back-to-school letter


Published: Sep 10, 2013

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As my children returned back to school this fall term after a long and eventful summer, I could not help but reflect upon the sentiments expressed in a letter that has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

While there have been numerous debates about the authorship of the letter, which was supposedly written to his son’s teacher, the words of the letter express parental love and articulate the expectations of a parent in relation to his or her child. Implicitly it appreciates the fact that the majority of a child’s time will be spent in the presence of a teacher or an instructor, who will not only be responsible for his academic education, but also play a major role in his introduction to life as well as its challenges, perplexities and contradictions.


An inspiration for all

The referenced letter serves and should serve as an inspiration to teachers, parents and children alike. To the teacher because it re-emphasizes the magnificent role that teachers play in the development of students into fit and proper individuals of our society, who are able to contribute to the growth and success of our nation. To parents because it highlights how the formal education system fits into our value system and our dreams for the future of our children, which ultimately determines the destiny of our commonwealth. The letter brings to light the vital role of parents in their children’s education and the importance of a strategic partnership with their children’s teachers in the development of well-rounded citizens of tomorrow.

To the children and students who are the subject of this letter for all seasons, this note provides an insight into the thoughts of most parents regarding their offspring. It is de facto a window into the minds of their earthly guardians which reveals unconditionally and oft times tough love aimed at ultimately putting them on the right track towards a successful and fulfilling life. The letter unravels the true intentions of parents and guardians which go beyond merely sending them to school because the law mandates the same, to a genuine desire that they become the best and all that they can be.


The transcript from wise utterances

The letter is so profound and relevant to the current state of affairs in our country that I found it desirable to share the full text with the populace at the commencement of the new school year. It is only fitting that we reproduce verbatim this self-explanatory letter that is attributed to Lincoln and in some cases described as “An Anonymous Father’s Letter to His Son’s Teacher” rather than provide an analysis. While there are varying versions of the letter, the crux of all the versions are the same. The letter reads: “My son starts school today. It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while and I wish you would treat him gently. It is an adventure that might take him across continents. All adventures that probably include wars, tragedy and sorrow. To live this life will require faith, love and courage.

“So dear teacher, will you please take him by his hand and teach him things he will have to know, teaching him – but gently, if you can. Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend. He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero, that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader.

“Teach him if you can that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. In school, teacher, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose, and enjoy winning when he does win.

“Teach him to be gentle with people, tough with tough people. Steer him away from envy if you can and teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Teach him if you can – how to laugh when he is sad, teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success. Teach him to scoff at cynics.

“Teach him if you can the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.

“Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is doing it. Teach him to listen to everyone, but teach him also to filter all that he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.

“Teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patients to be brave. Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.

“This is a big order, teacher but see what best you can do. He is such a nice little boy and he is my son.”


Going back to basics

Core moral values of hope, honesty, hard work, faith, fortitude, perseverance, self-control, self-worth and diligence echo throughout this letter. Parents must continue to uphold these important standards for their children. The standards must remain and we must not compromise on the values that have helped us to build this nation. For a deviation from these principles will only destroy the work of our ancestors and render in vain the labor of our past heroes.

There is no doubt that the reproduced letter above will remain relevant and valuable for years to come. Hopefully, it will inspire you as it has done to so many individuals across the globe for many years and also motivate you to create your own tradition of letter writing to your children’s teachers and instructors. A candid letter from the heart of a parent stating his/her expectations, aspirations and dreams for his/her child will go a long way to ensure the meeting of minds with teachers and encourage them in their pursuit of excellence.

The Bahamas will be a better place if and when the majority of our parents have the sentiments expressed in this letter and our teachers have the courage to follow through on the same. We wish all of our school students and teachers a successful 2013-2014 school year and pray God’s blessings upon our children, parents, teachers and The Bahamas.


• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at commentary@komolafelaw.com.

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