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The end of a public-school education is not a job. We do not hire teachers to produce workers for the factory, clerks for the store, or even inventors of better mouse traps. The goal of public education is to transmit to each new generation habits of life critical to citizenship — life in relationship — and the pursuit of happiness. Yes, children must learn to read, to write and do their sums. But none of these skills is critical to their happiness and our communal well-being.

Happiness is a by-product of good character and is always earned. Human institutions, such as families, schools, churches and governments provide atmospheres within which a healthy character is formed; but, if human institutions become corrupted, they will produce unhealthy atmospheres within which character is stunted.

The quality of one’s character is the product of one’s habits of life. If vices rather than virtues rule a life, unhappiness and self-loathing will inevitably poison and cripple not only that life but also those it touches.

Habits of virtue: charity, honesty, faithfulness, kindness, industry, perseverance, chastity, patience, thankfulness, reverence — the permanent things — are not just given to us in books, we learn them most by their daily practice: One choice at a time, within atmospheres that honor and reward virtue and stigmatize and punish vice.

So long as the standard is held up and breath remains, fallen mankind is free to choose again; to act rightly not wrongly. Who walks this way without stumbling? Who does not need another to share his burdens? But, beware those who would lower the standard. Who would say “there is no need to forgive, there is no right or wrong, one choice is as good as another.”

Foremost among the standards bearers are the keepers of the permanent things — teachers of the great literature, poetry, inspirational art and music of mankind. Among such, suffer no ideologue for change in the name of expediency or progress, for theirs is to conserve the wisdom of the ages not to remake mankind into a new image. These are the permanent things!

If education means anything at all, it means there is a more excellent way for a human being to be, and education’s practitioners and the institutions they preside over: the home, the school, the church, the seats of government, must hold up the standard and provide and protect the atmospheres within which the permanent things flourish. For on the day when the permanent things cease to bloom anew in the next generation, the darkness is very near indeed.

C. Brett Bode, retired associate circuit judge of the 10th judicial circuit, resides in Pekin.

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