Lessons from David Farragut

FarragutBorn in the landlocked hamlet of Campbell’s Station, Tennessee on July 5, 1801, the life of David Glasgow Farragut, the first admiral of the U.S. Navy, is one to consider when asked to contemplate the capabilities of young people.

At the age of 9 Farragut became a midshipman in the U.S. Navy.

At the age of 11 Farragut sailed aboard the USS Essex during the War of 1812.

At the age of 12 Farragut captained a British whaling ship back to port after putting down a mutiny.

Just before he turned 13 Farragut fought and was injured in the Battle of Valparaiso.

His career and service in the American Navy make for a riveting read but for purposes of our discussion it can end with the Battle of Valparaiso.  There was nothing special about Farragut except his character, good timing and, most importantly, the opportunity to take on the responsibility that he wanted.

For many valid reasons it would be unthinkable today for a 12 year old to fight in a war as a U.S. Naval officer.  But put aside those reasons to contemplate what a 12 year old Farragut accomplished because he had the opportunity to take on the responsibility.

An argument could be made that by depriving young people of the opportunity to take on individual responsibility we are infantilitizing them.  Some have argued that colleges are increasingly coddling their students.  Some have suggested this tendency includes older people too.  We’ve been reading stories about the potentially disastrous consequences of this trend for years and a cursory search on the internet turns up an endless stream of articles discussing this topic.

Nothing magical happens when we turn 18 or graduate from high school that endows us with the ability to take on adult responsibility.  In order to handle responsibility we need experience handling it.  The more someone steps in to handle our responsibilities the more we come to rely on them and the less capable we become.

Farragut was a midshipman in the Navy at age 10 but today he might be scooped up by protective services for walking home from a playground by himself.  What does that tell us about the image we hold of our young people?  What does that tell us about the image we have of ourselves?

Without immediately delving into issues of safety we should take a moment to consider what the life of David Farragut can tell us about the potentiality of young people.  If you have young children take a moment to look at them and imagine them at age 12 captaining a whaling vessel in the Pacific Ocean, commanding the respect of his/her shipmates – a master of the art of sailing and author of their own lives.

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