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The French Deflection: “Where Have You Gone Jean-Paul Sartre?”

France is currently experiencing a “crisis of identity”, where (the illusion of?) French Culture is increasingly less relevant in today’s distracted, anti-intellectual world. But the true origins of French malaise lie in a post World War II period first marked by liberation from Nazi occupation, then complicated by the Algerian War (1954-62).

Jean-Paul Sartre used the journal Les Temps Modernes (launched in 1945) as an instrument for the Existentialist “littérature engagée“:

“…an individual is responsible for making conscious decisions to commit socially useful acts.”

CV1_TNY_01_19_15Juan.inddSartre supported Algerian independence and the dismantling of French Imperialism, opposed the Vietnam War, and ultimately rejected Soviet Communism.

The terrorist assaults and the Charlie Hebdo shootings that have horrified the world in the past three years had as their precursor the French Government-sanctioned domestic attacks carried out by the paramilitary Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Sartre himself survived bombings on his Paris apartment (shared with his mother) and the offices of Les Temps Modernes. The Algerian War saw the French government use torture against Algerian Nationalists and sympathizers, just a decade after being under Nazi domination.

The nightmares of past French extremism will continue sans Sartre’s dreamed for “Authenticity“.

Public Education: Can Individual Excellence Reform Mediocracy?

   Nadia Lopez, Principal and Founder of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, a public middle school focusing on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) in “one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods” in Brooklyn, NY, is battling a true Shakespearean array of toil and trouble: The Public Education Mediocracy. Mediocracy Definition

In her newly released book “The Bridge To Brilliance”, she “faces challenging students, exhausted parents, overwhelmed teachers, and low test scores“. The true nemesis is a culture of low expectations and despair that defines many public schools in America.

She calls her students “scholars”, challenging teachers, parents, community and educational establishment to be engaged and accountable. She asks:

“How are you making the difference in the lives of children?”

Ms. Lopez is on the front line of education, motivating and inspiring students each day, leading  them on a path to college and lifetime success.

The NEA, the guardian of the status quo, provided a nice quote by the poet William Butler Yeats for its 2016 American Education Week:

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Ms. Lopez would agree, but would add a little Mahatma Gandhi:

The future depends on what you do today.

Hemingway And Montaigne: Do Actions Or Thought Maketh A Man?

   It can be very useful to contrast human character types, such as in Ivan Turgenev’s “Hamlet and Don Quixote” essay (1860). The lives of Ernest Hemingway and Michel de Montaigne highlight the dual nature of what it is to be a man.

To Hemingway, it is “…much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered…”. His writing venerated the “…macho façade of boxing, bullfighting, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing…”, primarily outdoor activities requiring courage and “grace under pressure“. One had to stare danger in the face to feel alive.

As for Montaigne: There is no exercise that is either feeble or more strenuous…than that of conversing with one’s own thoughts. The greatest men make it their vocation, “those for whom to live is to think. He sought the contemplative life, inside his tower and surrounded by books, valuing contentment in “…a private sphere in which individuals can attempt to realize that happiness without having to contend with the interference of society..”.

Hemingway lived life on the outer edge, while Montaigne preferred the calm of the center.

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