Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Teachable Moment, at Antietam

(illustration by Norman Rockwell)

The Ranger parked the van in front of the National Cemetery. After a great two-and-a-half hour tour the restroom at the cemetery was a much-welcomed resource.

Moments later, with a clear mind, the Ranger surveyed the familiar surroundings of Antietam National Cemetery; the Autumnal hardwoods putting on a fantastic show of color, the rows and arcs of headstones gleaming in the late afternoon sun, and the visage of "Old Simon", the monumental Union Soldier who stands sentinel day after day. All so comfortably familiar, except, what's that racket? Did the Ranger hear a belching contest in progress as well as raucous youthful voices shouting the words "fart" and "smart" in unison? It all seemed The Ranger saw that the hallowed grounds were being visited by forty-odd Boy Scouts as well as their adult leaders.

Recognizing what educators call the "teachable moment", the Ranger adjusted his "Smokey Bear" hat and put on his "I mean business, monkey-boy" sunglasses and strode purposefully toward a gaggle of about ten Scouts who were performing a Rockette-style kick line on top of the cemetery wall. Each of the Ranger's strides covered about 36 inches, and he rapidly closed with his target.

As the Ranger closed at attack speed, the adult Scout leaders sensed impending embarrassment. In a fruitless attempt to get the Scouts off the wall the adults requested "Hey, c'mon fellas, no, really. We mean it this time".

The Ranger arrived on the scene and planted his feet on the cemetery wall. "Gentlemen" he boomed, "may I have your attention please?"

The boys froze, fart joke dying in mid-punch line. They directed their upturned faces toward the Ranger. The adults fumbled for words which wanted to sound something like "yeah, ahh, we were just going to tell them..."

"Boys" the Ranger began, "This looks like an opportune time for a Ranger-talk, one of the hallmarks of the National Park
Service. Welcome to the Antietam National Cemetery."

The Scouts were silent, transfixed, and vaguely embarrassed.

"These hallowed grounds", continued the Ranger, "are the final resting place of over 4,776 American men who sacrificed their lives to insure our freedom. The young men buried here, not much older than you, gave their lives on this battlefield so that all of us today could enjoy the freedoms of democracy. These men, Scouts, died for you and me, so that we could be free Americans".

So far so good. The Ranger continued...

"Because of the sacrifices of these young Americans, we cherish this cemetery as a place of respect, and reverence. Can someone give me a word that describes respect and reverence in a National Cemetery?"

It was clear that this was not a rhetorical question.

"Quiet?" volunteered a Scout.

"Outstanding! you are quite correct young Scout. This cemetery is a place of quiet contemplation of the deeds of the young men who are buried here. Now I'd like you to share this story with your fellow Scouts who were not able to benefit from our brief discussion here upon this wall. And by that, I don't mean, simply telling your fellow Boy Scouts to 'shaddup' in the cemetery, but to be a little more thoughtful about it, remind them about the sacrifice of those who rest here."

The Ranger paused, and surveyed his youthful audience with the eye of a teacher, and continued. "Now I know that thoughtfulness is not in the nature of boys, but it is... (he paused, shooting a glance to the scoutmasters)

... in the nature of young men.

Have I made myself clear?"

Eager nods of universal assent.

Then, turning to the adult leaders, the Ranger closed with a simple "Enjoy your visit".

As the Ranger walked back to the van he strode past many other Scouts, frolicking, shouting, and generally goofing-off. These, obviously, were the Scouts (and leaders) who hadn't benefitted from his impromptu Ranger talk.

The Ranger hoped that those ten apostles upon the cemetery wall would spread the word for him.

Be Prepared...for the teachable moment.

Ranger Mannie


Anonymous said...

OUTSTANDING ranger Mannie!


Rangerdan2 said...

What an AWESOME talk. I find myself doing the same thing at Bunker Hill, as dog owners allow their dogs to pee on the the redoubt markers

Ranger Dan.