I have recently returned to my regular, workaday life after spending two supremely pleasant weeks on holiday on Nantucket lolling about and having a delightful time. It was a lovely, restful vacation, Dear Reader, with the added pleasure of meeting new friends and reconnecting with ones of years gone by.
While on Nantucket we rented a house that had a framed American flag hanging on one of its walls, that attracted my interest. It included an old black and white photograph of a young boy glued to the middle of the field of forty eight stars, and the following words written upon its white stripes in an old-fashioned cursive script:
I will control my tongue, and will not allow it to speak mean, vulgar or profane words.
I will control my temper, and will not get angry when people or things displease me.
I will control my thoughts, and will not allow a foolish wish to spoil a wise purpose.
What was this about, I wondered? Upon closer inspection I saw that at the bottom of the flag was printed "Inspired by the National Institution of Moral Instruction. Washington, D.C., 1918" and was signed by a certain "Betsy Phmock" in the same handwriting that appeared on the flag.
So, what was the National Institution of Moral Instruction? After doing a bit of Internet research I found that it is alive and well today, and is now known as the Character Education Institute. Its mission is to "creatively use every phase of school, family, work and business life to teach and learn values," citing Theodore Roosevelt's statement as its inspiration that "To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to create a menace to society."
The moral instruction movement, I learned, is strongly associated with Horace Mann, the nineteenth-century champion of the common school, and was further popularized around the time the framed flag was made in the then-widely-read McGuffey Readers children's books that promoted virtues of thrift, honesty, piety, and punctuality, among others admirable traits.
As far as I'm concerned, Dear Reader, we as a people here in these United States would be far better off today if such "virtues" were as valued and promoted as they were one hundred years ago, when Betsy Phmock embellished the little flag that inspired this post . . .
Don't you think so, too?
Photograph by Reggie Darling