Friday, April 13, 2012

History Never Repeats

"History," Voltaire said, "never repeats itself, man always does."

There are three players in this earlier French historical drama. The point of which is that even intelligent adults will find a way to squabble.

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694 – 1778), was a French writer, historian and philosopher, famous for his wit and willingness to tweak the noses of the establishment. He was one of the bellwethers of the Enlightenment, steadfast in his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, free trade and separation of church and state. Madame Françoise de Graffigny, née d'Issembourg Du Buisson d'Happoncourt (1695 - 1758) was a female French novelist, playwright and salon hostess. Madame Graffigny earned her own way though life, but she did so with difficulty. In 1738, needing a temporay place to stay, she managed an invitation to Cirey, the château where Émilie, marquise Du Châtelet, had been living since 1734 with her lover, Voltaire. Two women and one man in one household rarely works well. There were jealousies.  Eventually, a prise de bec, (literally in French a beak or nose tweaking, in English, a tiff or spat), split the two women. Presumably, Voltaire, master of the prise de bec, watched from the side, amused. As an aside, Gabrielle Émilie, marquise du Châtelet (1706 – 1749) was a French mathematician, physicist, and author during the Enlightenment. She translated into French Isaac Newton's work Principia Mathematica. She independently contributed to an understanding of physics that led to Albert Einstein's later Theory of Relativity. She died in childbirth, having been forewarned of its difficulty at her age.

Émilie Du Châtelet is not necessary to my story. I only mention her because far too few women are given credit for scientific advances. Hers, among others, a recognition of the fundamental law that energy and force are squarely proportionate to the speed of matter. Think of Einstein's famous formula: E = mc2. She is also an interesting study in human nature, for she proves the strong maternal instinct to preserve life, even at the risk of one's own.

I mention Madame Graffigny only because of her association with my family. The village of Graffigny in Haut-Marne,  once part of the larger independent Duchy of Lorraine, is where the French side of my family is from, dating from the Renaissance. The village of Cirey where Voltaire, Émilie Du Châtelet, and Madame Graffigny spent a few idealic months before their prise de bec is also part of the region of Haut-Marne, near Graffigny. The connections are admittedly tenuous, but it is still wondrous to wonder if a family member bumped into any one of the trio on the street.

Fast froward history to the year 2012.

My son is a senior in high school. He has three weeks to go before graduation and then we happily ship him out of state to college. His high school is a private parochial school where visitors are greeted with the message "God's Goodness is Everywhere."

My son is involved in a "spat" in his religion class which contains 28 students, both boys and girls. I call it a spat because I was not there. I don't know what happened. I read the redacted report from the substitute teacher and found it disturbing. Any parent would. Parents hope that they raise their children well. They hope that the school they send them to instills sound values. Then again, history intervenes and boys act up, inappropriately.

Students, boys 18 years old should treat any teacher, especially a female one, respectfully. Allegedly, my son is one of six male students who disrupted a religion class. That it was a class on religion, the letter said, was disturbing.  The disruption was "farting" and tossing tennis balls. One or more tennis balls struck the teacher, and one ball caused a red mark which was photographed by the school nurse. "It hurt!" she remarked. I don't doubt that. I don't like the disrespect. I don't like what happened. I am saddened that the teacher was put though this ordeal by boys who should know better. If I had been there, I would have taken the offending miscreants to the woodshed. That is what they did in my day, and in my father's day, and before that.

The teacher is female and a substitute. And the rule, now as always, is to give substitute teachers a hard time. History doesn't repeat itself, but the inappropriate conduct of the students does. There are inevitably the conflicting stories of witnesses, the involvement of authorities and parents. Eventually, it all gets resolved one way or another. History teaches us that.

There are few saints in life. Father Emil Kapaun, for whom the school is named, is one of them. And even he was a cut up in school. Unless one has been a saint though out one's life, a Joan of Arc, then at one time or another there is a clash with school administrators. Senior pranks, the movie Ferris Buhler, anyone. I for one was involved in incidents in second grade, fourth, and seventh grade. The history of each incident varies, they all do. And the way matters were handled by the school and my parents likewise varied.

The  historical perspective has changed. Now it is parent to child, instead of child to parent. In hindsight, I can compare my parent's reactions to my childhood foibles with my own reactions to my son's. In my case, things resolved themselves, mostly for the better. Sometimes changes were necessary, certainly on my part, and sometimes on the part of the school.

Hopefully, history is a predictor of the future.

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