The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


Most of what I have said in the last two chapters will apply to your behavior at school. When you go to school, your teachers take the place of your parents. To them, for the time being, your parents have delegated their authority. You are bound, therefore, to give to them the same respect and obedience which are due to your parents. To disobey, or to dishonor them in any other way, is a breach of the fifth commandment, which, in its spirit, requires subordination to lawful authority; or, as the Catechism says, "The fifth commandment requires the preserving the honor of, and performing the duties belonging to, everyone, in their several places and relations—as superiors, inferiors, or equals."

You ought, therefore, in the first place, to pay strict regard to every rule of the school, as a religious duty; and obey your teacher, in all things, with the same promptness and cheerfulness that you would obey your parents. You should be too careful of your own reputation to permit yourself to be reprimanded by your teacher. If you take up the resolution that you will be so diligent, faithful, and well-behaved, as never to be reproved—you will find it a very wholesome restraint, to keep you within the bounds of propriety. Be careful of the honor of your teachers, remembering that, if you dishonor them, you break God's holy commandment. Never call in question their arrangements; and never indulge feelings of dissatisfaction. Especially, never speak slightingly or disrespectfully of them, nor of their ways. It does not become you to call in question their arrangements, or their mode of teaching. If you are wiser than they, you had better not seek instruction from them; but if not, then you should be satisfied with the dictates of their superior wisdom. Never attempt to question their proceedings, nor to argue with them, when they require you to do anything. Be very careful, also, not to carry home tales from school; because such a practice tends to cultivate a disposition to tattle, and often leads to great mischief. Yet, when your parents make inquiries, it is your duty to answer them.

Be diligent in your studies, from principle, not from a spirit of emulation. Remember that you are placed at school for your own benefit. It is not for your parents' advantage, nor for the benefit of your teachers, that you are required to study; but for your own good. Remember how much pains your parents take, to give you this opportunity. They give up your time, which they have a right to employ for their own benefit, and they expend money for the support of schools, that you may have the opportunity of obtaining useful learning. You are bound, therefore, to improve this opportunity with great diligence. You will not think it a task, that you are compelled to study; but you will regard it as a price put into your hands to get wisdom. It is all for your own benefit. In school hours, therefore, you should put away all thoughts of play, and all communication with other children, and give yourself strictly and closely to your studies.

But, I suppose, you will find the most difficulty in regulating your conduct during the intervals of school hours, and on your way to and from school. When a great many young people of your own age are together, there is a disposition to throw off restraint. I would not have you under such restraint as to avoid all relaxation and innocent hilarity; for these are necessary to keep your mind and body in a healthful condition. But, here, you will be more exposed to temptation. As punctuality is of great importance in school, and a necessary habit to be cultivated, you need to make it a matter of principle to be always in your seat a few minutes before the opening of school. A failure to do this, will rob you of many advantages, and greatly embarrass your teacher. It will, also, give you the habit of tardiness, which will be a great injury to you, as long as you live, whatever may be your occupation. But, in order to be punctual, you must not linger to engage in sport by the way. So, likewise, in returning from school, you ought to be equally punctual in reporting yourself at home; for you know not what your parents may have for you to do. This, also, forbids your lingering for amusement on the way home. But, besides these, there are other reasons why you should not idle away your time on the way. Idle boys are always in the way of temptation; for "Satan finds some mischief still—For idle hands to do."

If you linger along on the way, you will be very likely to meet with some bad boys, who will lead you astray, and involve you in some mischief that will get you into serious difficulty. A boy was walking along in the streets of Boston, and another boy, who knew him by name, called to him from the other side of the street, saying, "Come, John, come over here, and we'll have some fun." "No, I can't," John replied; "I must go home." "But just come over here a minute." "No, I can't," said John; "my mother expects me home." But the boy still urged him, and at length prevailed on him to cross the street. They then went into a hardware store; and the boy who called John over stole some knives and disappeared; and John was taken for the theft, because he was with the other boy at the time, and put in jail. Thus, by just stopping on the way, and going across the street, he got into jail. If he had made it his invariable rule to go directly on his way, and not linger, and idle his time away, he would have been saved from this suffering, shame, and disgrace. But, if you indulge in the same habit of lingering by the way, you will be exposed to similar temptation and trouble.

In all your interaction with your school-fellows, be kind and obliging. Treat them courteously, and avoid everything that is rough, coarse, and rude. Endeavor to behave like a young gentleman. Avoid the company of boys who are rough and coarse in their manners, or profane or obscene in their conversation. You will insensibly imbibe their vulgarity, if you associate with them. In your sports or plays, be conscientiously fair and honorable. The boy, who is unfair or dishonest in his play, when he becomes a man, will drive a hard bargain or be dishonest in his business.

If you go where boys and girls are associated in the same school, have a strict regard to propriety, in your fellowship with the other gender. Be gentlemanly in your behavior towards them. Avoid all rudeness or roughness of manners and conversation in their presence. Especially, refrain from rude jests and low buffoonery. You may engage with them in sensible conversation; but a well-bred girl will be offended if you attempt to please her by trying how nonsensically and silly you can talk. Venture no improper liberties; but maintain your own self-respect by respecting them.

Finally, see that you do nothing in school or out of it, which you would be unwilling your parents should see! And remember, that there is One Eye that is always upon you!