Wednesday, July 06, 2005

"Tribute"

In ancient Rome, a conquering general would return to Rome with his conquered enemies in tow. A grand parade would lead to the Senate building. The general would ride at the head, in a chariot, while a slave, standing behind him would whisper in his ear, “Thou are mortal” repeatedly, lest the celebration swell his head. Behind his chariot, trumpeters and drummers would mark the pace of the parade. Troops, and dancers, followed by the conquered chieftain, usually in chains, and his captains followed. Any treasure captured followed along, and then came the tribute – that collection of goods and valuables assessed almost like a tax.

After a while, the tribute became the whole event, and eventually, tribute took on a whole different meaning. Tribute became an event in which praise and glory were heaped upon someone who accomplished something special. Even today, we see tributes on TV to long time entertainment or sports stars. We used to see tributes to our military leaders, in days long past, when ticker-tape parades through the great cities of the United States left no doubt who our heroes were.

I have been blessed in my life with a number of teachers who had a profound influence on me. In kindergarten many years ago, Mrs. Slavin, who had the smallest waist that I have ever seen, encouraged me to produce a performance of Snow White one week. My classmates and I rehearsed during recess. When the day of the performance came, all of us did our parts. Unfortunately, every time we rode off somewhere looking for this prince, or that dwarf, we rode out of the Kindergarten part of the playground and off into the older kids area, lost from view.

In fourth grade, dear Mrs. Campbell relied on me to lead studies, and activities. She taught me the difference between leading and being bossy. In high school, Ms. Boyle encouraged the fascination I had with every sample I collected in the pools and currents of the creek that ran behind my home. So fascinated was I that I took Biology for a second year, and considered a career in botany or biology.

And then there was my father. He taught senior English, a year of English literature, ending with an intense study of Hamlet. His insights taught me to love language, and to ask myself “Why?” when something odd stuck out. He used to say that there is a reason for everything, you just have to look for it. In Act II, Scene 2, of Hamlet, the King and Queen have a discussion with two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. at the end of the discussion, the king says, “Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.” The Queen follows by saying, “Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz.” As my father the English teacher put it, the reversal of the names is simply due to where the two were standing in relation to the King and Queen. They would address the closest one first. Things like this taught me to look for the anomalies, and then ask “Why?” they occur. That detail taught me to look deeply into things and try to analyze them.

This kind of thinking allowed me to embrace learning through discovery – to seek things out, and delve into them, determine the what and why and how, and so on. Back then, however, we did not have the advantage of personal computers, and the Internet.

Recently I encountered two college professors that have had a profound influence on me. One was not my instructor, but the short time I spent at a conference this past spring with Dr. Tom Hanks of Baylor University was both enlightening, and thrilling. He was instructive, and encouraging, and lit a fire in me that eventually found its way into a presentation in the class of the other professor. Dr. Hanks dangled a presentation about Thomas Mallory and William Caxton, and the printing press that made both of them famous. Along the way he implanted a seed in my mind that the wonderful writers of the Elizabethan era that followed were the builders of modern English. They took the Middle English language and, when structured by the new inventions of punctuation added by Caxton and the other printers, ran with the language, in poetry, and dramas for the masses. The printers were the architects, and the writers were the builders.

The “other” professor led two semesters of exploration into the history of Western Civilization. Because I am older, and had visited many of the places we discussed, I was able to share some personal experiences. Some professors would have resented such intrusions. Not this one. He encouraged it for the depth and background it gave to the course. Indeed, he encouraged Internet research, as well. I took advantage of the course to fill in a lot of blanks, between my reading and my travels. In this, I was warmly encouraged by this educator who believes that education is not telling someone something, but showing them where to look, and what to look for in order to discover it for ones’ self. He loves history, as do I.

Each of these educators imbued in me a love of discovery. The Internet allows me to “connect the dots” of history, and even to explore across disciplines to archaeology, anthropology, and geology in order to find links between events in those disciplines that correspond to those of man’s history. I believe the days of “stove-piped science” need to end, and scientists from all disciplines need to cross-link to find these connections.

I am in eternal debt to these educators, and this is my tribute to them.

Novus Livy

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