What does the narrator believe is his purpose as a teacher at St. Benedict's school?

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Mr. Hundert is a teacher in the liberal humanist tradition. He believes it is his purpose in life not only to instruct the boys of St. Benedict's, but to civilize them and to prepare them for an honorable and productive place within the history of civilization.

St. Benedict's is an elite school. Hundert says that he taught the sons of nineteen United States senators as well as one boy who almost became president. He aims to encourage their ambitions to serve their country and humanity but also, he says, to "temper their ambition with humility." This, as he relates, entails a certain amount of conflict with the boys' natural instincts and previous training:

I battled their indolence with discipline, their boorishness with philosophy, and the arrogance of their stations with the history of great men before them.

Hundert says that his classroom is "a tribute to the lofty ideals of man." He has a ritual for the first day of a new class in which he introduces the boys to the career of the Mesopotamian King Shutruk-Nahhunte, pointing out that the achievements of this potentate were completely forgotten many centuries before they were born. They then read Shelley's "Ozymandias," which makes the same point about the vanity of earthly greatness. In this way, Hundert seeks to prepare the boys for careers of service to their country and the world, without permitting them the arrogance that so often accompanies lofty ambition.

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