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Let's teach our students about character

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
March 6, 2012 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frank Hall chased a gun-wielding teen out of Chardon High School
  • William Bennett: Hall's bravery makes him a hero, even though he said he's not
  • Bennett: Good education is not just about academics; it is also about character
  • He says Hall's action embodies essential qualities of manhood

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- When the gunman entered Chardon High School cafeteria and opened fire, killing three students and injuring two others, he came face-to-face with assistant football coach Frank Hall.

Hall, a study hall and cafeteria monitor and the football team's offensive coordinator, didn't back down. When other people panicked and ran away in fear, Hall confronted the 17-year-old suspect and chased him out of the school.

His work didn't end there. He returned to the side of the victims, Demetrius Hewlin, 16, Russell King Jr., 17, and Daniel Parmertor, 16. He prayed with them, wiped their tears, and comforted them in their last moments.

William Bennett
William Bennett

In the end, the three boys died of their injuries. But Hall's remarkable courage saved the lives of countless other innocents that tragic morning of February 27.

At a press conference a few days later, Hall was asked to speak. A man of humility and compassion, Hall said, "I don't know why this happened. I wish I could have done more. I'm not a hero. I'm just a football coach and a study hall teacher." The heroes, he added, were the law enforcement personnel who responded to the shooting.

No, Mr. Hall, you are a hero, too. You are a hero to the families and children of Chardon High School and you are a hero to everyday Americans who long for a Frank Hall of their own in their children's cafeterias, classrooms, and on their sports fields.

Hall, a barrel-chested former lineman and heavyweight wrestler, doesn't have an advanced degree or prolific résumé. A 1992 graduate of Ashtabula Harbor High School, he has a wife, Ashley, and four adopted boys. He is a common man who works hard to support his family. Hall is certified to teach social studies but doesn't even have a teaching job.

After his heroic effort, he should have teaching offers coming in from all around the country. Why? Because good education is not just about academics, it is also about character, and this man has plenty of it.

What Hall taught the students of Chardon High School transcends the classroom. He taught them what great men, like 9/11 heroes Rick Rescorla and Todd Beamer and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer, teach us all -- that true manhood puts the lives of others before their own. Hall selflessly placed his body between a killer and his targets, a lesson his students will never forget.

Like any great teacher, Hall is well known and admired by the student body.

"It doesn't surprise me he put his body in front of other people's bodies and saved lives," Chardon assistant football coach Don Navatsyk said in a local interview. "If you talk to 100 kids at school, all 100 would say, 'We love coach Hall.' He's an inspiration."

In an age when our children are increasingly susceptible to mixed signals about manhood and womanhood, Hall stands out. To conclude his emotional press conference, Hall quoted Matthew 5:14 from Scripture, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

To paraphrase another Scripture passage (Philippians 4:8), whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are good, think on those things. Moral character is not complicated. We have much to learn from the simple, upstanding life of Frank Hall.

In George Eliot's famous novel, "Middlemarch," she describes Caleb Garth, a hardworking, simple man struggling every day to provide for his family. One day, Caleb gets his break and is offered a job that will significantly help his family out of poverty. Caleb's wife reacts, "It will be a blessing to your children to have a father who did such work: a father whose good work remains though his name may be forgotten."

Frank Hall may never be a household name in America, but the students, parents, and teachers of Chardon, Ohio, will never forget him. Here is a good, ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing. Our children need heroes who embody the everlasting qualities of manhood: honor, duty, valor, and integrity. We should not forget him.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

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