Helping Students Find (and Use) Their Moral Compass
At the founding of her school, Ms. Riddle wrote:
The main purpose of Avon College is
to develop in each boy a sound moral character.
There is great need today for men of independent
thought who are capable of assuming responsibility on a strong, ethical basis.
What she wrote of “the great need” was true when she wrote it, and is at least as true today. Therefore, our mission today is as clear and true as it was in 1927, a fact illuminated by the continuity between what Ms. Riddle wrote nearly 100 years ago, and our current mission statement: “Avon Old Farms develops boys into men of strong moral character with conviction who learn together in an inclusive, time-honored community defined by academic, athletic, and creative excellence.”
Our Compass program is rooted firmly in our mission, and in the first principle Ms. Riddle articulated for her school, “to develop in each boy a sound moral character.” Her statement is not only a first principle, but a commission to all of us who teach, coach, and guide the boys here. We have named the program Compass to characterize its purpose, and remind us of our commission—to provide real, sustaining, moral and spiritual direction—whether religious, artistic, personal, professional, or otherwise. The Compass we are talking about is a moral compass.
It is not enough to just have a compass, however, whether that compass is a faith tradition, a martial discipline, a meditative practice, and artistic vision. To have one is perhaps better than nothing, but it is not close to good enough. You must know how to use it. In other words, our boys must be offered a compass, offered different compasses, and then shown how to use them, and shown how to practice using them in a world of the good, the bad, and the ugly, in this world of uncertainty, division, distraction, and noise, and of truth, beauty, kindness, peace, and strength.
It is a demanding thing to ask of our faculty, of whom much is already demanded. And: it is a privileged effort, finally worthy of our exhaustion. For if we do not guide our boys, and teach them the spiritual discipline of directing their wills to their goals and their goodness, others who do not and will never love them will do so, down trodden paths—seen and unseen—leading to nowhere good.
To do this effectively, we will need to listen to the truths being offered in our Compass meetings. This kind of listening is, as C.S. Lewis, the great British scholar, novelist, and essayist puts it, “an act of free will,” and “it trembles within us like the needle of a compass.” And since it is free, it is free to point in a good direction, the direction of Ms. Riddle’s vision, “There is great need today for men of independent thought who are capable of assuming responsibility on a strong, ethical basis.”
About the Author
English Faculty, Director of Compass