Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Boo: A Primer for Relationship Building

I've had military memorials on the brain this week.  

Perhaps it's because my high school Homecoming was this past weekend.  My last three years of school was spent on a campus heavily laden with military memorials pointing back to the time my school, Woodward Academy, operated as a military school.  Even today there are heavy auras of miltary attitude as you walk across the campus.

Most certainly my military mindset derives from a  recent outpouring of support and grief for a local family who lost their son in Afghanistan.  Many citizens of my small town turned out to support the Harper family as they brought their son home.  During the last few days since the touching procession my thoughts turned to how we recognize fallen soldiers and my mind settled on a local park named for an Air Force pilot who lost his life during a bombing mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.  That particular military man, Robert G. "Jerry" Hunter, was a graduate of The Citadel  in Charleston, South Carolina - a place that exudes tradition, responsibility, and most certainly excellence in teaching. I wrote about Jerry Hunter here.

You can't do any legitimate research concening The Citadel without running across reference after reference to Pat Conroy, the author and Citadel graduate, who at one time had a rocky relationship with the school due to books like The Lords of Discipline.

However, The Lords of Discipline was not Conroy's first stab at shedding light on The Citadel.   Conroy's very first book, The Boo, was written in the years immediately following his graduation and was actually self-published by Conroy in 1970.

The Boo peaked my interest for three reasons.  Conroy self-published the book long before it became an accepted norm to get published writing into the hands of readers.  Also, his first efforts for a published work weren't necessarily for monetary gain or recognition.   The Boo was written to shed light on what Conroy considered to be a miscarriage of justice regarding a beloved faculty member at The Citadel.   Finally, the proceeds from the book were to go towards a memorial for Citadel graduates killed in Vietnam.   I found that interesting since Conroy is a self-admitted draft dodger and protested the war.

After it's publication, The Boo, was banned from The Citadel on and off for six years.  Once The Lords of Discipline was published the line was really drawn between Conroy and the school.  Conroy was actually warned it might be dangerous for him if he returned to the campus.

It struck me as I read review after review of The Boo that the book might possibly be a great read for educators on their own or as a reading choice for group discussion.

Pat Conroy's website advises:

In 1961, Lt. Colonel Nugent Courvoisie accepted the job as assistant commandant of cadets at The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina.  During the next seven years, The Boo, as the cadets called him, was in charge of meting out punishment to those young men accused of breaking Citadel law. The Boo was a harsh guardian of justice, but he was also an extremely compassionate and sensitive individual who cared deeply about the young men placed under his jurisdiction. If he was often stern and uncompromising, he was also concerned and understanding.  He possessed a special ability in dealing with the problem cadet; the boy who found The Citadel too difficult or too confining; the boy from the broken home, or the boy forced to go to a military college by parents who had failed him.  He empathized with cadets who were stifled by the system and, in his own way, tried to guide them through the obstacles that inevitably littered the path to graduation. 

The Boo was many things to many people.  During the years as assistant commandant, he was part analyst, part confessor, part detective, part father, part son of a bitch, and all soldier.  This is the story of Boo and they story of The Citadel from 1961-1968.  It is the story of young men and the man they turned to for laughter, for help, and for inspiration.

The original preface [written by Conroy] read:

The book, in essence, is the love affair of Courvoisier (The Boo) for the cadets and his school.  The stories within the book were not written maliciously or callously; they were written to show an inside view of the long gray line, an intimate view not often afforded to the general pubic.  The Citadel is quirky, eccentric, and unforgettable.  The Boo and I collaborated on this book to celebrate a school we both love - each in our different ways.  Proceeds for the book will go to a gift fund honoring Citadel graduates killed in Viet Nam.

After reading through some of the stories surrounding Courvoisie including Conroy's Eulogy for The Boo, I believe the book would be an interesting study for educators who are serious about building relationships with their students since relationships are key to success...for the student as well as their teachers since the literature states:

"We cannot teach students well if we do not know them well"...Hoffman and Leak

"A strong relationship with a caring adult enables at-risk youth to make life-altering changes"...Warner and Smith in Overcoming the Odds:  High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood

"The quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management"...Marzano and Marzano

I'm thinking Conroy's The Water is Wide is also a "must read" for serious educators.

Happy Reading!!

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