Raising Great Men: An Interview with William J. Bennett

December 3–7, 2012   |   Vol. 114, Programs 16–20

New York Times best-selling author William J. Bennett joins Mike Farris this week on Home School Heartbeat to discuss raising boys to be great men in his new book The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.

“I wish I knew what the magic potion was, but I don’t think there is a magic potion; I think it’s faith. I think it’s being taught the right things. I think it’s an act of will, where man makes up his mind, he’s going to do the right thing.”

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How can we raise sons who aspire to be great men, when society bombards us with images of men who are weak and foolish? Join Michael Farris as he talks about The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, with New York Times best-selling author, William Bennett, today on Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Farris: Our guest today is Dr. William J. Bennett; who is the former Secretary of Education, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a significant national leader on important policy issues for many years. Bill, welcome to the program.

Secretary Bennett: Thank you, Mike. It’s always my pleasure.

Mike: What prompted you to put together the book The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood?

Secretary Bennett: Two things: the current parlous condition of man; men are not doing what they’re supposed to do; they’re in increasing numbers not meeting their duties and responsibilities. Their numbers in the workforce are record low, and I don’t think the messages we’re sending to boys about what it means to be a man are the good ones, the right ones, in enough quantity in our society and in our culture.

Mike: Can you describe for our listeners how you organized The Book of Man?

Secretary Bennett: Yes. It’s in six chapters, six different contexts in which men find themselves or may find themselves. The first chapter is men at war, then there’s a chapter on men at work, men at play, sports, recreation, so on. Men in the polis, or in the community, the political community, men as citizens. Man in the family, with family and children, and then the last chapter, men in prayer and reflection and the end of man’s life. I’ve organized it that way because I think those are the six defining contexts of human life and of men’s lives particularly.

Mike: Bill, this sounds very good. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike: There is no doubt that courage, self-sacrifice and valor are often witnessed on the battlefield. Yet many modern men never really experience combat. Bill, what qualities of a good soldier should we help our sons embrace?

Secretary Bennett: Well, I think you just mentioned them, Mike, among others, courage, self-sacrifice, and valor. These were things that used to be taught to all boys and we held up the idea of military service, of service for one’s country, on behalf of one’s country, as an ideal, and as something that all young men should consider. That’s not the way it is anymore in American society; I recently attended a funeral where a man who’d been a highly decorated veteran was honored. Six speakers and only one mentioned his military service. War is a terrible thing, but it is also a testing-ground of the virtues, and when we lose the instruction in those virtues, it’s no surprise that men get confused about what it is they’re supposed to do.

Mike: Well said, Bill. Jesus said there is no greater love than this, than to lay down your life for a friend. True heroism always inspires. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Bill, I’m going to tell about myself a little bit. My dad has always been a hard worker, but I grumbled quite a bit about the work he made me do when I was a child. What do you think might entice a young boy to embrace work as a gift from God?

Secretary Bennett: Well, first of all, your dad was right on target, as I know you probably are with your kids. The enticement doesn’t have to be there; they’ve got to do the work anyway, and I think the most important thing is to teach kids how to work, you know, you teach responsibility by holding people responsible. You teach a child about work and hard work by having him work, and they learn about the value of work; they may not see it abstractly and they may not see it right away, but sooner or later, they will get the point. But we stress in the book – I stress in the book that a man who has missed the pleasure of work has missed one of the great pleasures of life.

Mike: Well Bill, you’re right, my dad’s pushing me to work has proven to be enormously important in my life. And Adam, we know, worked in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, and God called it good. Teaching your sons the value of work will help them serve God and others with dignity. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Bill, we’ve been involved together in training and inspiring future leaders for a long time. Please tell our listeners your story about the great frontiersman and Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett.

Secretary Bennett: Davy Crockett of course was an American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, politician. He’s of course remembered as being at the Battle of the Alamo, where he died. The story we tell in the book is how he was prepared to vote for a measure in the Congress when he was elected to the legislature, the US House of Representatives. He was going to vote for a measure that would provide funds for a charitable cause. But, a farmer talked to him and said, “You know, why not let people do that out of their own hearts, out of their own wallets, out of their own sense of charity?” And the title of the piece is “Not Yours to Give.” The farmer said to Davy Crockett, “This is not your money, Congressman, to give. This is our money!” It’d be a lesson we could take today, I think, with a little more, little more earnestness. He changed Davy Crockett’s mind on it and Crockett opposed the appropriation of funds for a charitable cause, and instead, said we should have less reliance on government and more reliance on individual sense of responsibility.

Mike: It was a wonderful story. I really appreciate you telling it to the modern generation because this farmer understood that our country needs leaders like Davy Crockett. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: As I’ve worked in the homeschooling community and raised my ten kids, I’ve learned that being a good dad will require courage, and character, and commitment, and faith, and I hope I’ve shown that on a fairly regular basis, at least. Bill, why do you think some men embrace that challenge and many others falter?

Secretary Bennett: I wish I knew, Mike, but first of all congratulations to you and the ten children you’ve raised. I profiled a guy in the book, Chris Codd. He’s homeschooled all his kids, he and his wife, and he’s done a wonderful job. I wish I knew what the magic potion was, but I don’t think there is a magic potion; I think it’s faith, I think it’s being taught the right things, I think it’s an act of will, where man makes up his mind, he’s going to do the right thing. You know, we all have those choices in life, and I think with the right kind of guidance, and hopefully with the grace of God, more men will make that choice. I’m trying to push in a particular direction, because I think the age that we live in is pushing very hard against those virtues.

Mike: Bill, I really really encourage people to get this book; this is something that every man with a son needs to be reading to his son and training him up in real manhood. Bill, you’ve done a valuable service for all of us by giving us The Book of Man. I’m Mike Farris.

Dr. Bennett is the host of a nationally broadcast radio show from 6:00-9:00 a.m. (EST): Bill Bennett’s Morning in America.

During the 1980s, Dr. Bennett emerged as one of the nation’s most prominent political figures.

He served as President Reagan’s chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and President Bush’s “drug czar” (1989-1990). In his various roles, he was perceived—even by his adversaries—as a man of strong, reasoned convictions who spoke candidly, eloquently, and honestly about some of the most important issues of our time.

Dr. Bennett has recently completed a two-volume history of the United States, entitled America: The Last Best Hope, Volumes 1 & 2—both New York Times best-sellers. Bill Bennett has accomplished a rare feat: since leaving government, he has achieved an even greater impact on our national political debate. Dr. Bennett has written for America’s leading newspapers and magazines and appeared on the nation’s most influential television shows. He has also written and edited 16 books, two of which—The Book of Virtues and The Children’s Book of Virtues—rank among the most successful of the past decade. The Book of Virtues has been made into an animated series that airs on PBS in the United States and Great Britain and has been seen in over 65 countries. Dr. Bennett was named by focus groups and leading analysts the “Best Communicator of 2002,” the most well-received public commentator on the issues of “pride, patriotism, faith, and moral conviction.” In April of 2005, the Sunday New York Times named Dr. Bennett the “leading spokesman of the Traditional Values wing of the Republican Party.”

Although he is a well-known Republican, Dr. Bennett often has crossed party lines in order to pursue important common purposes. He has worked closely with Democratic leaders to fight the decline of popular culture and to end worldwide religious persecution, and he is the co-chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Thanks to his writings and speeches, William Bennett has extraordinary influence on America’s political and social landscape. He, his wife Elayne, and their two sons live in Maryland.

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