Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Academics Too Low in America? Change the Paradigm

On our trip, we were often asked what we think of when we think of France. Do we think of Paris, French cuisine, wine, the French fashion centers, the Cannes Film Festival? Before this trip, I usually thought of Paris, the Impressionists, and French cuisine. After this trip, I’ll also think about how the French respect and honor their intelligent people, especially those who had significant achievements. 

We took a Viking River Cruise from Chalons-Sur-Saone to Avignon. Our first stop was Beaune in Burgundy. We visited a Vineyard, toured the Hotel Dieu, and walked through Beaune. The town was lovely and I was surprised to see a statue in the park dedicated to a teacher, Gaspard Mongé. He was born in Beaune and was also a prominent mathematician who participated in the Revolution in 1792.

statue of Gaspard Monge
Our next stop was Lyon where we saw wall murals on several buildings of prominent citizens current and past of Lyon. One of these gave prominence to the Lumière Brothers, initiators of the first motion pictures. The main university in Lyon is named after them as well. 

wall painting of the Lumiere Brothers

Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, was also featured on several murals. Their airport is named after Saint-Exupéry as well. 

the Little Prince and Saint-Exupery
In Bellecour Square, Lyon's main plaza, there is a statue of André-Marie Ampère, physicist and mathematician for whom the measurement of electric current is named. Next time you want to know how many amps an electric appliance has, you can think of him.

statue of Andre-Marie Ampere

In Tournon, as we got off the boat, we saw a statue of Marc Seguin, engineer and inventor of the first suspension bridge. As we looked across the Rhone, we saw that bridge spanning the river.
statue of Marc Seguin
the first suspension bridge

Arles, as expected, had many statues and sites dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh. He spent the last two years of his life in Arles and painted many pictures in Arles enthralled by the sunlight and colors of the south of France. All over Arles there are monuments and other signs indicating that he was there. The people of Arles have kept the memory of his stay there so palpable that I could almost feel his presence as we walked through that beautiful town. 

hospital in Arles where Van Gogh was treated

picture and actual Cafe Van Gogh
Here in the United States we could learn from this French example. We certainly have many people who have achieved considerable feats but most are not esteemed every day in the general culture. Let’s start erecting statues of our teachers, engineers, scientists, writers, social workers, and thinkers and honoring them. Maybe when our children see alternatives to gaining fame, respect, and fortune as athletes and celebrities, some will change their choices of role models.  Maybe with the ubiquitous presence of our instant news cycles and instant messages it's too late, but I think it’s worth a try.

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