Tuesday, February 2, 2010


My major achievement on this fine morning (or not so fine as the case may be; come back sunshine!): I happened to know that Richelieu was Louis XIII's adviser. Score. I don't have anything really interesting to say about him except that he was burned into my memory by my history teacher. When I think Richelieu I think France and Centralization. I have long wondered whether my teacher was in favor of Richelieu or against him. He was one of those characters that the teacher goes on about and seems to speak highly of, and yet in the back of my mind there is a seed of doubt as to whether he was truly as great a man as I understood him to be. Perhaps it was the fact that Richelieu sided with Protestant factions in his political struggles for the supremacy of France and that this was in direct conflict with his role as bishop and Cardinal of the Catholic Church. However, that was unclear to me at 14(?)... It may be that I had an innate bias against the Hapsburgs! ;)

There have been several similar things I wondered about throughout my K-12 years; things I misunderstood, or things that were left unexplained. Sometimes I wonder if teachers left us to wonder about these things because they recognized that we did not yet have the sophistication of discernment to understand the small nuances of a subject, and that understanding would come later, with more study. Take Blake's "The Tyger", a poem I learned in middle school. I could not understand how they got the metaphor of the poet out of the poem. Certainly this time they were stretching the whole allusion thing too far. Yet lacking an explanation I just went on about my schooling, only to discover it later. But could not the power of inspiration as represented in the power of the tiger be explained to a young teen? I wonder if it was a failing of the teacher or a failing of the student. We think our teachers gods, and hardly question that they could be wrong or confused themselves. At least I did, and even in my senior year, when I questioned everything, I ultimately believed that they had the answer for me. I wanted to know and I would not accept a sidestepping answer. I think this sort of trust in a teacher is a good thing, even if potentially dangerous. Is it better that a student come out of primary school with a certain set of ideas that will often be challenged in secondary school, than no certain ideas at all? I thinks so.

Perhaps I had too much confidence in my teachers. I see many students who were taught to doubt their teachers almost religiously, and it bothers me that I may have students who come to me with this frame of mind. I want to know the balance between the all knowing teacher and the teacher who can willingly admit ignorance, without compromising authority and respect. I grew to respect those teachers who could admit ignorance of something, but I always trusted that they had the tools to find the answer. But for those teachers who insisted on having no definite opinions I ultimately lost all respect. Perhaps that balance is one which comes with experience. Perhaps it is a certain frame of mind and the way in which one approaches the student teacher relationship. I'm wondering for now.

In the meantime, I knew who Louis XIII's adviser was, and that has to count for something! ha!

Motte's painting of Richelieu is the one which I always remember, reproduced here in LIFE.

embedded photo via Matthias Seifert

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