PATRICK DORINSON: At Graduation Time, I Think of Ann Moore, My Kind of Teacher

By Patrick DorinsonPolitical Commentator

Its graduation time in America and in college and high school football stadiums and gymnasiums around the country students will don caps and gowns and participate in one of the many rites of passage that will mark their lives.

I want to tell you a story about a high school graduation at Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colorado an upscale suburb of Denver.


Cowboy ethics and the Code of the West change the lives of high school students forever.

The speakers were not some famous celebrity or God forbid a politician. They were not students with the highest grade point averages or the captain of the football team or the student body president, just four students out of a class of 905. These students were what society has labeled "at risk", a horrible term to use for kids who probably just need a little extra guidance. They received that guidance and went through a collective learning experience that changed their lives in a way that no amount of book learnin' could ever do.

But I'm getting ahead of the story.

In the summer of 2008 a Cherry Creek English teacher Ann Moore was preparing lesson plans for a class she was going to teach in the fall called, "Reading and Studying for Success." It was an elective course for juniors and seniors intended to prepare them for life beyond high school whether they were going to college or entering the military or going right into the workforce. The previous curriculum was based on Dr. Phil's son Jay's book, "Life Strategies for Teens."

In June she had received a book from her family investment counselor who had just attended a seminar conducted by James Owen the author of "Cowboy Ethics." I wrote about the book here in the FOX Forumin February.

He thought that Ann should see this book and the lessons it taught. Maybe she could use it in her classes.

Ann told me she placed it on the nightstand and there it sat until July. When she read it she knew what she was going to teach her class that fall.

She e-mailed the author at his Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership. She then received a call from Jim. Jim said he thought she had a great idea and that he would provide the books for free. His only request was that the course be academically rigorous stressing writing and speaking. Ann agreed and then she set about putting together the lesson plan. Her lesson plan was approved by the school's administration and that September she greeted her first class using Cowboy Ethics as her textbook.

At first the students were skeptical. Cowboys? Ethics? Some thought it was childish and others were just not "into cowboys." But they plowed ahead nonetheless.

The class was a mixture of students from many different backgrounds, ethnicity and skill levels but as they read and discussed the book and what it meant they became as one student put it "family."

The author himself came to the class to support Ann in what she was trying to accomplish. And he brought with him something they had never seen-- a real working cowboy and rodeo champion named Josh Peek. In Josh they got to see someone who actually lives by the Code of the West every day. He did not learn it from a book like they were doing it was just the way he was raised. He told them, "At the end of the day your character is all you have." That is a lesson many adults need to learn.

Ann gave each student a business card with the Code of the West from the book. She had them write their own code and then put it on the back of the card so that when they faced tough life decisions they could make them based on their code. As one student put it, "If I'm having a tough day I can just look at those and remind myself how to live my life."

At the end of the class the students were presented with plaque recognizing their achievement. For some it was the first recognition for any activity they had ever received. They showed them to their friends with great pride and hung them on the walls of their rooms as a symbol of what they had accomplished.

As Ann said, "If I can send a handful of students out on to college or the military or vocational work with these principles under their belt it lays the foundation for them to contribute to society."

But Ann went even further pushing to have some of them to audition to speak at their graduation. They auditioned and were chosen.

On Thursday May 21st on a cool and cloudy spring day, four students from Ann's class proudly addressed their fellow graduates about the life lessons they had learned and what it meant to them. They received a thunderous ovation from their fellow students and the families in attendance.

Others might have given up on these kids but Ann Moore refused to and didn't let them give up on themselves. And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that wherever they go or whatever they do in their lives they will be successful because they will make decisions not simply based on "what's in it for me" but "is it compatible with my code."

To paraphrase cinema cowboy John Wayne, "A person's got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter their job."

The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership has given Ann its first "Teacher of the Year" award. It is a well deserved honor. We sure could use a lot more Ann Moores in this country.

Here is a link to a videothat tells the story. Share it with your kid's teachers or better yet share it with your kids.

Patrick Dorinson is a radio talk show host and commentator who goes by the name"The Cowboy Libertarian." He can be heard on a radio program with the same name Saturdays, from 5-6 p.m. PT on Clear Channel's KFBK radio in Sacramento, California.