Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Did we learn leadership at Linton Hall Military School?

Linton Hall, and other military schools, often tout their ability to turn boys into "leaders." And those who do achieve officer status certainly look and play the part. I know I did. But is that really leadership?

Leadership is generally defined as "the ability to influence others to achieve a common objective." I would thus define good leadership as involving both a good objective, and good, ethical means of achieving influence. An example of good leadership would occur when you take visiting relatives to see your local city, and you take into account the needs and desires of the group as a whole (which might not be exactly the needs and desires of each individual.) You might find an activity that everyone enjoys, schedule rest and bathroom breaks, pay attention to others' reactions (things such as boredom, discomfort, tiredness, which they might not actually tell you about in order to be polite) and so on. And a good leader would put the needs and wants of the entire group (of which he is part) over his own needs and wants. He might pay for most or all the expenses, or if the others insist on paying but he knows they cannot afford it, choose inexpensive or free activities.

Another example would be that of a teacher whose goal is for everyone in the classroom to learn as much as possible, to learn the more important and useful skills and facts, to be motivated to learn. Such a teacher would be more than just responsive to questions and feedback; he would take into account which teaching methods and textbooks worked best, and use them so that there would be little need for questions and complaints.

I am convinced that at Linton Hall Military School, with its large number of rules covering the most minute details and every conceivable activity of the day, and scheduling every moment of the day, was an environment where the officers were simply enforcing rules that everyone had to follow, and not exercising true leadership. From personal experience (I was an officer during the entire school year while in eighth grade) I know that good leadership, true leadership, was not expected from me, nor was it really allowed. I was simply an enforcer. I used fear, intimidation, threats of punishment and actual punishment to achieve the objectives of the adults (ultimately the principal, Sister Mary David O.S.B.) who was the final authority on all matters. I was doing exactly what other officers were doing to others, what officers had done to me from the time I had entered Linton Hall, and what other officers would do for the rest of Linton Hall's existence as a military school (that is, until it became Linton Hall School.)

It was only on rare occasions that I and other officers were able to decide to do what was actually best for the cadets under our command, instead of what we were expected to do automatically and without question. This often happened during field hikes, but rarely during daily activities.

One such occasion, was when it was bitterly cold and windy during drill, as it often was in Bristow, Virginia. The officers were permitted to take us on bathroom breaks in the warm (but dirty and smelly) bathroom downstairs under the Commandant's office. I was still a private, and had no say in the matter, but the breaks on that day were unusually long, in order to give us a break from the bitter cold. I remember the platoon leaders and company commanders of different companies negotiating amongst themselves as to which platoons had had a long enough break and would have to return out into the cold, so that if Mary David or the Commandant were to look out from their warm offices, they would see some of us marching. It goes without saying that they were risking their rank by bending (or breaking) the rules to such an extent.

Another time was when the entire battallion was being punished because the culprit, or culprits for some infraction had not been identified. I don't remember what the infraction was, but there were so many rules that it well have been something that in most schools would have not been considered wrong at all. School administrators had no qualms about punishing the innocent; perhaps the school motto should have been "Better for many innocent boys to be punished, than for one guilty boy to go free."

The punishment was to run in circles, many circles, around the blacktop. Many of us were exhausted but had to keep on running under threat of even worse punishment -- beyond what was being meted out unjustly in the first place. There was a wall, called a windbreak, and the officers would allow a few cadets to rest and catch their breath while the rest of us kept running the circle around the blacktop. Every time the runners completed a circle and arrived at the windbreak, those who had been resting would rejoin the runners, and it would be time for some of the others to take their turn and rest. I was not an officer yet, and still marvel at how the officers were able to agree on doing this, and coordinate the change of who was running with who was resting, during the few seconds that we were behind the windbreak and were out of view of the Commandant. Keep in mind, we weren't just a disorganized group, but while running had to keep the same formation of platoons and squads as when we marched.

The only explanation I can think of is that all officers had been at Linton Hall Military School at least the previous year (this happened during my first year at Linton Hall) and that this had happened before, perhaps a long tradition of officers showing kindness, and of cadets remembering this kindness and passing it on when they became officers.

What amazes me even more is that, in an environment in which such a large proportion of the student body was ready to rat out on others and take pleasure in their being punished, not one cadet revealed what had happened, even though the whole battallion of 200 or more cadets knew what was going on. It is only now, over forty years later, that I am discussing this.

On the other hand, there were too many times when officers insisted on strict adherence to the rules, instead of doing what was best for either the individuals or the group. The first time I went camping at Linton Hall, we were getting our gear ready, and there was another cadet in my company who was having trouble rolling up his sleeping bag and tying it to his backpack with the two canvas straps. He was new (as I was) and had never done this before, and was getting extremely frustrated, so I decided to help him. It was easier for two people to do this, one holding the tightly rolled sleeping bag, the other tightening the straps. This was a minor act of kindness, like holding a door open, in the outside world; something most outsiders would do automatically, without even thinking about such a minor gesture. But no, my company commander saw me doing this and wouldn't allow me to help, or even to show him how to do it, so he would learn how. (I was still new, and actually asked the company commander to allow me to at least show the other cadet how it was done. A bit naive of a lowly private, or recruit, to even try getting a captain to allow me to do the right thing.)

I am embarrassed to admit (the fact that I write under a pen name comes in handy here) that by the time I had become an officer I too had lost much of my kindness. One time a boy in my company had dressed quickly and messily for the weekend parade. I yelled at him and called him a mess, embarrassing him in front of his peers, while attempting to enhance my image as a tough guy. How much better it would have been if I had said to him, "This is your first year here, and I know that it's hard to get your uniform on right . I had trouble with it too when I first came here. Here, let me show you how to put the elastic at the bottom of your pants so it's even. Make sure your tie is on straight too." I know this now, and probably knew it before I entered Linton Hall, but managed to un-learn it while I was there. I could have gotten far better results, and would have had the kid's respect and admiration, instead of his fear and contempt for being a total (insert here all the words that would have caused me to be forced to chew a bar of soap.)

To be fair to myself, there were many occasions when I could tell that someone had broken a rule unintentionally and I did not punish him, and one time when the prefect of our dorm told me to punish someone who I knew definitely did not deserve it, I very quietly ignored her instructions ond let him off. There were a couple of times too when I went to bat for someone who had been unjustly or excessively punished by either an equally-ranking officer, or a higher-ranking one, and I spoke with the other officer in private to have the punishment mitigated. I tried, but unfortunately don't remember ever succeeding.

And, finally, there was one time when Sister Mary David punished me for something I didn't do. Not that she would bother with such small details as guilt or innocence. I don't know exactly what went on, but I strongly suspect that she discussed this event with the Commandant, Max Du Charme, and that he went to bat for me. He couldn't overrule her since she was the final authority, but I think it extremely likely that he tried to intercede in my favor.

Okay, back to leadership. I would not argue that fear, intimidation and the use of physical punishment resulted in obedience at Linton Hall -- just as they do during an armed robbery. But did we learn anything about leadership? Anything that could be applied in the world outside the walls of Linton Hall Military School? I can only think of a few settings where such tactics would work, places like the military and prisons, whose inhabitants have little choice about whether or not they follow orders.

Outside of such settings, influence, not fear and intimidation, are the tools used to lead. This is the case with college students working on a group project, or even a group of friends coming to a consensus on how to spend the evening. Determining what the common goal is (or should be,) and organizing the means to do so are the way to lead and get results. I am saddened to say that these are not lessons I learned at Linton Hall. When I found myself in high school, working on a group project, I lacked the skills that I needed to work in a group in which there were no officers, no orders, and no rank. But I did notice that many of the kids who were involved in drugs, vandalism, shoplifting and other undesirable behaviors often came from the most autocratic homes, often a father who was or had been in the military or police and had been so strict that his children ended up rebelling in very self destructive ways.

Responses are always welcome. Please do not use names.

Copyright 2011 "Linton Hall Cadet" Please respect copyright by linking to this post instead of just copying and pasting. Thanks!
This blog is NOT affiliated with Linton Hall Military School. The opinions contained are those of the author.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What other Linton Hall Military School Alumni wrote

Other former Linton Hall cadets have written about their experiences:

Augustus Cho has written two books about Linton Hall Military School
The most recent covers his first year at Linton Hall during the 1968-1969 academic year, and my review is in my blog.  I highly recommended.

His earlier book begins with his immigrating to the US from South Korea, and continues with his being sent to Linton Hall approximately a month after arriving to the US. The month prior to his arrival at LH is marked with wonderful, exciting experiences: major one such as rejoining his mother who had immigrated to the US two years previously, spending a week in Japan, and vacationing in Florida, as well as minor experiences such as the joy of playing with the power windows in the car, described from the point of view of a child who has just turned ten.

Not only does his emigration from Korea mark a new chapter in his life, but beginning the narrative at that point allows the reader to see the sharp contrast between his life before and after entering Linton Hall.

With extremely limited knowledge of English, much of it learned by watching television over the previous month, and even less knowledge of American customs (gleaned from the same television shows) he faces greater hardships adjusting to Linton Hall Military School than others. He recounts a particular incident when he is unjustly punished for "not washing his face." As many, or possibly most, people outside the US, he washes his face by first soaping up his hands, without the use of a washcloth. An officer, too ignorant of foreign behaviors and too quick to jump to conclusions, notices his washcloth isn't wet and punishes him, with Kim unable to explain his innocence.

The book's greatest strength lies in the author's abilities to write from a child's point of view. Even though this book was published forty years after the events it describes, the author is able to describe them so clearly and accurately, that it is as if he were describing something that had happened only recently. In addition, in sidebars throughout the book, he discusses the meaning and value of his experiences from the point of view of an adult. Although he sees his experience at Linton Hall as being far more beneficial than I do, his book brings back many memories and provokes much thought. The sentence that resonated most deeply within me in the entire book is "It was LHMS' goal to break me down as an individual and rebuild me in their image, and I wasn't interested." (page 81.)

Great Light Will Shine III is the third volume in Cho's autobiography, and the volume that deals with Linton Hall Military School. He has told me that a sequel is being written and should be available sometime in 2012. The book (printed version) can be ordered from

Also available for the nook reader at

Another blog about Linton Hall Military School

has been started by an alumnus who calls himself "LHMS Cadet." (Despite the similarity in our pen names, we are two different people.) This alumnus has previously posted lengthy, detailed, and extremely perceptive comments on my blog.

In his own, excellent blog he describes "Growing up at Linton Hall Military School: the good, the bad, and the ugly" just as I remember it, and has also written extremely interesting details about two significant events at Linton Hall that I was not aware of until reading about them on his blog.

A recent blog post deals witht he ways in which cadets (children) were punished, and the author wisely notes how "They would stay on you until they either broke your spirit and if they could not do that, they found a way to expel you from school."

He is in the process of writing a book which I can't wait to read.   I will post further details as they become available.

"A day in the life of PFC Charles Carreon, nine years old" is an autobiographical account of just one day at Linton Hall, from Reveille to Taps, when "In the darkness Charles would have liked a piece of bread, some bit of luxury to comfort him, but he always forgot to bring his own contraband." Written in 1982

You tube video of Linton Hall

This is a 360-degree view of the front of the school and convent.

Linton Hall Military School photos

These were taken on 7/7/07 by the same person who took the video:

Linton Hall Military School alumni on Facebook

You are invited to share memories with me and others by sending a

friend request to "Linton Hall Cadet" on Facebook.

Two more websites

Opinions and memories from former cadets of Linton Hall: Linton Hall  Linton Hall Military School

Copyright 2011 "Linton Hall Cadet"
Please respect copyright by linking to this post instead of just copying and pasting. Thanks!
This blog is NOT affiliated with Linton Hall Military School. The opinions contained are those of the author.