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Tom C.

Very interesting, Rebecca. Thank you for this. I'm still not convinced, though, that Norpois does not have a more debilitating purpose in mind than mere mentoring. I guess I'm more with the author Bergotte when he says of Norpois: "But he's an old goose!... He keeps on pecking at you because he imagines all the time that you're a piece of cake, or a slice of cuttle-fish" (ML, 186). I think a more mentoring relationship is expressed in the way that Bergotte discusses the actress Berma's performance in Phèdra with the Narrator. When they disagree about the green light effect in the play, he remarks: "I must say, myself, that I don't care for it much, it bathes everything in a sort of sea-green glow, little Phèdra standing there looks too like a branch of coral on the floor of an aquarium. You will tell me, of course, that it brings out the cosmic aspect of the play. That's quite true. All the same..." And he goes on. Educating, listening, acknowledging a diversity of viewpoints, but drawing sharp distinctions all the same.

Heather Clague

This is a hot controversy these days - from Amy Chua's Tiger Mother and now Pamela Druckerman's adulation of French parenting (see recent WSJ article http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204740904577196931457473816.html). I'm hardly offended by descriptions of our American parenting foibles, many of which are quite correct(that excessive praise underminds self confidence, that children are not helped by parents who can't be authoritative, etc). However, I object to the idea that the only other option to educating children is to be overtly sarcastic, insulting and negative. Shame is a notoriously difficult emotion to regulate, and I would argue that public humiliation is NOT the best way to motivate people to strive for excellence. There are plenty of French people who can testify to the deleterious effects of the "French way" including one of our wonderful EB teachers who did not feel helped or inspired by having her cahier thrown across the room in disgust by her teacher. There is a lot of space between coddling and abuse - lots of room for engaging, educating, critiquing, listening...


Wow, the French way sounds really harsh. I am glad I wasn't raised in such a country. Wait. I was. Either I have blocked off the traumatizing memories or I got lucky.

Jokes aside. Yes, there are some cultural differences in the upbringing of children between America and France but they are subtle, IMHO. Bad teachers and stupid people happen in every culture. I highly doubt Narpois is supposed to be a positive character, any way you slice it.

Rebecca Valette

My earlier reflection on Norpois and French education was not meant to imply that Norpois was a good mentor. Au contraire, he is pompous and unsupportive.

What is true is that, generally speaking, the French in conversation tend to criticize first and make positive comments second, while Americans do it the other way around. "I really found the movie rather boring. Actor X overplayed his role. However, there were some really beautiful scenes of Paris." vs. "I loved the way Paris was portrayed in the movie. It made me want to go back. The film itself, though, was a bit boring, and Actor X was too pompous."

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