“What the Young Man Should Know” by Robert Littel, 1933

Click here to read Robert Littel’s essay.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, I figure that posting Robert Littel’s famous essay on “What the Young Man Should Know” is a good idea. He wrote this fine piece in 1933. In the essay he outlines what he believes to be the important skills and knowledge that every young man should possess. It smacks of Teddy Roosevelt and the Boy Scouts–full of manly virtue and the ideal of the Renaissance Man and the American Boy Scout, or Riverside Ranger! He writes:

“Ordinary education, even high-priced education, will not guarantee him the essential skills, and some of them are better learned after “education” is over. It is up to me to set about making a list of those skills, it is up to me to see to it that he gets them, because they are skills of hand, eye, ear, or brain which will enlarge, deepen, and ripen him as a human being.”

And then later in the essay he writes:

“If we parents do not supplement what is given by the usual schools, our sons will come out of them mere Christian stockbrokers with an abnormal craving for bodily exercise. If we want our sons to be able to drive a car, speak French fluently, play the piano, set a broken leg, and make horses do their bidding we shall have to look outside of the schools and colleges. And I submit that he who cannot do these things is not completely educated.”

What I enjoyed most about Robert Littel’s essay is that he points out the deficiency of an educational system that seeks to merely impress information into the heads of our young men instead of striving for the true purpose of education, the integral formation of the human person. When we lose a sense of what it means to be a man, we also lose the ability to organize a curriculum for boys. Many of the skills Robert lists in his essay are not even considered to be part of school. Now, I do not believe that schools should do all of this. In fact, parents who through fraternal and familial organizations or churches, work together to help their sons come of age, and discover their talents and affinities. Also, supplemental centers, that provide activities tailored for boys, truly working together with the parents can also greatly assist in this important educational endeavor. However, if schools are not including these coming of age activities, and yet take up a majority of our sons’ time, there is a serious problem.

In our current structure, we often rely on schools to do most everything, including  “integral development,” and yet our schools do not often have the “coming of age” activities especially for boys, as part of the curriculum. Thus, the kinds of tasks that boys worked on throughout history to learn the virtues of work and camaraderie are largely absent. Many schools are confined and restricted by the centralized beauracracy of a state that is growing more and more hostile to a Christian understanding of human nature and the natural family, not to mention a liability conscious culture which has stripped many organizations of the ability to properly challenge boys. The knowledge base and the “transferable skills” which school boards decide the young need, are often not rooted in a common sense understanding of human nature. Therefore, what Robert Littel says above “If we parents do not supplement…” is all the more pertinent to our current situation.

Now, what if a center existed that presented a true “Boys’ World” and balanced it with a unique liberal arts curriculum, undergirded by the Catholic Christian Faith? I think we might see the “New Men” C.S. Lewis speaks of in Mere Christianity–the men with a light in their eyes, a quickened spirit, a joyful heart, and a manly sense of work and dedication to others.

At Riverside, we plan to achieve this goal! Our young men will learn how to shoot arrows, kindle a fire, change a tire, craft a chair, etc, and also learn how to write and speak like the masters of old, who were rooted in the great inheritance of  Western Liberal Arts Education and the Christian faith. For too long many have permitted relativistic culture to dominate the curricula  no longer rooted in an authentic culture. Our young men do not see an adult culture into which they can be inducted–and therefore we are witnessing the plight of an extended adolescence, manipulated by an amoral media intent on profiteering rather than the moral education of our children.

Imagine centers of education and culture, where the Christian Humanism of John H. Newman, Thomas More, Christopher Dawson, and C.S. Lewis meets a lively Boys’ World, where many of the adventures they read about can take place. Imagine centers for girls that do the same, but tailored for them, where can learn to be ladies, the true weavers of culture and a humane society.

We need to rethink our educational institutions and see how we can better harmonize a rich authentic family culture with schools and centers for education.

Throughout the year, we at Riverside plan to dialogue with families, hopefully at their homes, on their porches, around the fire, about the ways we can cooperate with them to renew culture and provide activities for their sons, and some for their daughters as well–for we believe that a true education for a boy ought to help him learn how to interact with young ladies and treat them with great respect. The chivalry of old was lost many years ago when relativists usurped the cultural throne of Christendom, and we must fight to regain it!

It will take sacrifice for families to begin new ventures, and for young men and women coming out of our liberal arts colleges to rebuild a culture of life and truth. But many young men will not join the ranks of teachers if they see schools as places that do not celebrate true masculinity–classrooms and halls full of  bright colored paper mache and pastel paper cut outs. Where are the game trophies, old bows and arrows, survival gear, and other trappings of manhood? Ok, I am being a bit tongue and cheek here, but I think you know what I am getting at!

In Littel’s essay he speaks of the possibility of uniting “camp” with “school.” I will leave this idea for another essay, but I think it is worthy of consideration. Why not throughout the year provide the adventurous and hands on activities that so enthrall boys, with a rigorous liberal arts education? Why can’t the school look more like an adventurous campground, where glorified log cabins dot the campus, rather than the jail-like structures we have erected? We might even see more male teachers joining the teaching force, and in that forest of Arden, we might hear once again the cheerful, youthful voices of men, young and old, singing of Riverside.

To the River we will travel

Brothers all we bravely go

Down the pathways of adventure

Forging onward to our home


Through the dark vales, on the long roads

And the trials of this life

We will sing this song forever

In the halls of Riverside


For our families, friends and neighbors

We will learn the ways of truth

Fighting under His good favor

Highest mountains we will move


Men of honor, love, and service

Marching on in peace and strife

We will sing this song forever

Near the halls of Riverside


On the journey down the river

Rowing on through rain and sun

Past the shadows of September

Till the endless day has come


And the echoes of our voices

Fading in the eventide

Singing softly we’ll remember

The great halls of Riverside





Peter Searby

Author Peter Searby

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