“Of course, what we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man…
No boy can afford to neglect his work, and with a boy, work as a rule means study. Of course, there are occasionally brilliant successes in life where the man has been worthless as a student when a boy. To take these exceptions as examples would be as unsafe as it would be to advocate blindness because some blind men have won undying honor by triumphing over their physical infirmity and accomplishing great results in the world. I am no advocate of senseless and excessive cramming in studies, but a boy should work, and should work hard, at his lessons—in the first place, for the sake of what he will learn, and in the next place, for the sake of the effect upon his own character of resolutely settling down to learn it. Shiftlessness, slackness, indifference in studying, are almost certain to mean inability to get on in other walks of life. Of course, as a boy grows older it is a good thing if he can shape his studies in the direction toward which he has a natural bent, but whether he can do this or not, he must put his whole heart into them. I do not believe in mischief-doing in school hours or in the kind of animal spirits that results in making bad scholars, and I believe that those boys who take part in rough, hard play outside of school will not find any need for horseplay in school. While they study they should study just as hard as they play football in a match game. It is wise to obey the homely old adage, ‘Work while you work; play while you play.’
The boy can best become a good man by being a good boy—not a goody-goody boy, but just a plain good boy. I do not mean that he must love only the negative virtues; I mean he must love the positive virtues also. ‘Good,’ in the largest sense, should include whatever is fine, straightforward, clean, brave, and manly. The best boys I know—the best men I know—are good at their studies or their business, fearless and stalwart, hated and feared by all that is wicked and depraved, incapable of submitting to wrongdoing, and equally incapable of being aught but tender to the weak and helpless. A healthy-minded boy should feel hearty contempt for the coward, and even more hearty indignation for the boy who bullies girls or small boys or tortures animals. […]
In short, in life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is:
Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!”
From Teddy Roosevelt’s essay “The American Boy,” found in his collection The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses.