The Greatest Prize

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Let’s open with some warm up questions. To whom are the following quotes attributed?

“Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

“Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”

Or simply, “Bully!"

The answer, of course, is Teddy Roosevelt. A man once described by Federal Judge Don Willett as “The Chuck Norris of Presidents.” While we don’t have many cultural myths in modern America, Roosevelt may be the exception in the retelling of his exploits and the estimation of his larger than life character.

When I taught, Teddy Roosevelt was a common topic of conversation in my classroom. I am fascinated by Teddy Roosevelt the man, and I do admire many things about him. He was far from perfect, and as much as he has been lionized by Night at the Museum, and the myriad biographies and documentaries about his life, we can be in danger of boxing him into the category of a cavalier reformer, bent on environmental protection. In many ways he was, and his legacy of preservation is one of the greatest gifts we have as Americans – the national park system. That’s what we like to talk about with Roosevelt – his pluck, his shoot-from-the-hip style, and how effective it was for him. We picture him as this tornado of energy, bowling over all in his suddenly-determined path. It can be easy to reduce a giant of a man like T.R into the quotes above, or into the character we have seen played in a couple of movies.

However, as with much in life, the truth is more complicated, and less glamorous than the lore. “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer, is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Does that sound like the ethos of a man who acted impulsively, shot from the hip, and bounced around Washington like some kind of mustachioed pinball? No, Roosevelt was deeply thoughtful, precise, and had the work ethic of a whole Puritan settlement. As a boy, his father could not find a doctor able to cure T.R.’s crippling asthma. So his father bought him a home gymnastics set, and told him: “Theodore, you have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should … You must make your own body … I know you will do it” (David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback, 1981, p. 112).

Rather than wallowing, young Teddy took to a strenuous regimen of strength and aerobic training until he had conquered his ailment and developed his trademark barrel-chested physique. His efforts paid off in spades. In 1912, while campaigning for President as the candidate of the Bull Moose Party - he named it - Roosevelt was shot in the chest before a speech. Refusing treatment, he delivered all of his one-and-a-half-hour lecture, then went to the hospital, where as a man in his 50s – far from his youthful gymnastics days – the doctors declared that the thick layer of muscle he had built over a lifetime had prevented the bullet from piercing his heart, and saved his life.

So, other than being a great story for you to know, how is this relevant to choosing the right place for your children to learn and thrive? Great question. Many schools highlight their rigor and will proudly tout the competitive nature of their academics and extracurricular activities. At the The Oaks, we do too. However, like Roosevelt, we know that hard work is only meaningful if it’s invested in work that is worth doing. That’s why our curriculum is designed for students to be fully engaged - working hard each minute of the school day. It’s also why we are deliberate and reflective about our class sizes, our homework policies, and our unique Friday schedule. We don’t assign busy work, we don’t replace hands-on instruction with technology, and we don’t expect that learning will be uniform.

Lest you think that I am simply exhorting your children to get in the weight room and start downing protein shakes, or that the school day might resemble a football practice, remember the work Teddy put in to building his brain. From a small child, he collected, categorized, and even discovered species of birds, insects, invertebrates, and small mammals, so effectively that he was able to donate his collection to major museums later in life. He read – on average – one book per day, even as President. He wrote nearly 40 books in his lifetime, served as a NY Councilman, Police Commissioner for NYC, and Governor of NY – all before the age of 40. He was a well-rounded hard worker; one of the great renaissance men in history.

At The Oaks, we strive to build well-rounded learners who know that learning is not a linear process (only one way to the correct answer) but rather that it is a creative process, and involves collaboration, experimentation, mistakes before successes, and always hard work. We know that each student is unique in their gifts, abilities, and interests and our curriculum is designed to keep all students fully engaged, working hard, and learning well each day they are on campus. A life like Roosevelt’s is not inherited, nor is it found. It is built through effort, pushing past failure, persistence, and conviction - all traits that are essential to learning at The Oaks.

However, that is not all. At The Oaks, everything we do is informed by our faith in God. Scripture speaks to work frequently, including:

  • Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,”

  • John 9:4 “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work,”

  • Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

What good is it for students to work to half of their ability, or to develop only some of their God-given skills and talents? At The Oaks we say that we are establishing a learning lifestyle for students, one that will inform their approach to all arenas of life. As Christians, we know that we were created to work, and we were created with the capacity to work hard. It’s how we honor the gifts God has given us as believers, and it is how we as educators prepare students for the meaningful lives God has planned for them.

God’s desire is for our work, without it we will never realize what we are capable of or created to be. Without hard work, we will never fulfill our commitments to build the kingdom, to further the Gospel, or to experience worship through our efforts. When we do what we were created to do – and do it well, to the fullest of our capacity – we are honoring God, stewarding His gifts to us, and joining in worship with His creation. It is indeed one of the great prizes in this life, and better yet, it will prepare us for our ultimate prize; joining with God in the next. We hope you agree, and we’d love to have you join us in this good, hard work.

All my best,


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The school does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color or national origin in the administration of its educational programs, admissions policies, financial aid policies, employment practices or other school-administered programs.