This I Believe

Lester, John A. (John Ashby)

  • John Lester explains the importance of education and sports in teaching children to be good and remembers the advice of his mentor John Meggs, that he must love his students if he is to teach them.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. John Ashby Lester is an English-born Quaker schoolmaster. For twenty-five years he taught at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. During his undergraduate days at Haverford College, he won his letter in every recognized sport and was captain of several All American teams. This is John Lester’s creed.
I do not believe that the chief treasure of our country consists in forests, farms, and minerals. Rather it is the men and women who deal with these resources. The generation of producers and distributors is constantly renewed. In the long run, our boys and girls are the only treasure we
possess. That is why I spent all my life in education, in the effort to guard and enhance—in the home, the school, and the church—this treasury of our children. If Aristotle was right when he said that, “Education is the means whereby boys and girls may grow up good, and capable of performing good actions,” then in the front line of national service stand parents, schoolmasters, and priests, whether cleric or lay.
My own training for this profession began at the outset of my career under the greatest schoolmaster of his time, John Meggs. It came as a shock when I reported for work that September, eager, fresh, and cocky, with a Doctor’s Degree from Harvard. Meggs said to me, “I have engaged you to teach these boys,
but always remember that you can teach them only if you love them.” That was a hard saying, and to many a teacher it will appear soft and silly. I didn’t love those boys and they didn’t love me. But at that time it was worth to me a whole library of books on pedagogy, and it has been corroborated by all my subsequent experience.
I found Meggs was right by pondering on the history of the great teachers from Socrates down, and from observing among the best of my contemporaries, that this understanding and love of their students was the one quality they had in common. Well then, if I didn’t love these boys I had first to change myself, and I was thrown rudely back on the two primary Commandments of Jesus. I was forced to assume
that within us, and the boys, was a power, a spirit that could transform us and could be used to transform others. The most convenient word for this power is God. To be sure, the first step was an act of faith but clearly not an unreasonable one, because the dynamic force in the assent of men came through those persons who had found from experience that God may dwell with man.
I spent most of my life in a boarding school, teaching and coaching in various sports. You don’t usually think of the athletic coach as a trainer of the spirit, but I discovered that the best coaches I knew were just that, men who took the highest ethical standards with them onto the playing fields; men who could transmute the loyalty of a boy to his team into the devotion of a man to his fellows. I
believe that before long, American education will reclaim this central goal, this fountainhead from which all education flowed.
That was Hill School’s John Ashby Lester. When he reached his seventieth birthday, not long ago, men whom he had taught during the last quarter century gathered in Pottstown, Pennsylvania from all over the country to show their gratitude and devotion to him.