Admiration, a feeling that makes us grow?


We all remember teachers we deeply admired. Personally, the only teachers who left an impression on me were those who counted for their generosity, the extent of their knowledge, the simplicity with which they managed to transmit something living. The deep interest they had in the subjects they taught made them brilliant. They managed to share their passion with us, without compromising on the rigor, seriousness, and completeness of their teaching.

Thus, these teachers combined several faculties that our classical school generally enjoined us to separate, namely reason on one side and passions on the other.

Should we not question this dividing line? Different from adoration or fascination, admiration propels us outside of ourselves without weakening us, as evidenced by the philosophers, scientists, artists and strangers encountered during my Admirer investigation. Praise of a feeling that makes us grow (ed. Premier Parallèle).

So, could we consider school teaching us lessons in admiration? Can we, should we learn to admire? So many questions that invite us to dispel misunderstandings around authority or to question the place of imitation in education.

A school world that opposes emotions and rationality

What could be more natural, ask the apostles of the republican school, than to dedicate the school to the training of rational intelligence and to distance the students as best as possible from their sensitivity, their traditions, their beliefs or still from their emotions?

For example , drawing, a cousin of geometry , was taught , not to encourage the “creativity” of students, but on the contrary to train them to discipline their hand and their eye so that they obediently capture “ the essence” of the things represented. The goal was certainly not to train artists but engineers to acquire the ideal of technical rationality which, according to her, France of the Third Republic  needed.

In his contribution to Ferdinand Buisson’s Dictionary of Pedagogy , Eugène Guillaume , whose texts provided the principles of teaching drawing in boys’ schools in 1880, thus asserts that “Drawing is, above all, a science which has his method, whose principles are rigorously linked and which, in its varied applications, gives results of incontestable certainty. »

There is another reason which contributed to driving admiration out of school: it is what Tocqueville called “the passion for equality” , with its procession of sad passions such as envy, competition , isolation, distrust. Until today, it is not uncommon to associate admiration with a feeling that diminishes us, generating a hierarchy, social distinctions, inequalities. To admire would then be to recognize one’s inferiority and resolve to follow in the footsteps of someone greater than oneself, or even to identify with one’s “hero”.

In reality, admiring in no way implies the reduction of oneself that we sometimes imagine. On the contrary, it is an interaction that makes us “grow”. The teacher I admire is not a guru but a person who pushes me to develop my personality, to achieve what is unique to me. Equality is not sacrificed but it changes in nature: it is no longer the same thing for everyone but each person according to their specificities and differences.

Admiration versus fascination

Admiration is an affect that introduces us into a world made of plurality. Far from pushing us to resemble, or even merge with, what we admire, as this completely different affect that is fascination wants, it pushes us down the path that is ours. Admiring is above all a living interaction, a way of connecting with the world that is both friendly and ecological.

To admire is also to consider with great attention the object or action which strikes us with its extraordinary character, it is for example to recognize the extraordinary merit that we attribute to a particularly courageous or virtuoso person, it is also seeking the word of the master or mistress whom we credit with the power to create in us a thirst for knowledge and to contribute to quenching it.

The interactions with the teacher I admire are therefore very far from the docile and vertical relationship which unites a disciple and a master. The disciple is in a relationship of submission and adulation at the same time. He renounces to a certain extent his own individuality. He identifies with the person to whom he confers superior authority, relying on his judgment in everything and thereby abandoning his faculty of reflection, his reflexivity and his sense of responsibility.

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Obedient relationships are anything but educational. They transform education into instruction, training, conditioning, formatting, as appropriate.

The master is not naturally surrounded by disciples. For a court to form around him, he must resort to a strategy whose posterity in politics is, incidentally, quite extraordinary. Basically, this strategy involves forming a self-image that others can identify with.

To educate is to involve

Undoubtedly, adults enjoy authority over young people who are searching for themselves, incapable of fully trusting themselves and looking for a model to imitate. But authority is not power .

It is therefore up to teachers to refuse as much as possible relationships of control which would lead their students to a form of subjection. Socrates , the “wisest of all men”, is known to have carefully prevented his students from losing the sense of the right distance.

The teachers we admire are the same: among the various methods they adopt, that of remaining modest , of putting themselves at the service of the texts, of studying them carefully, of expressing themselves about their choices and their preferences, all of this removes the leader-follower relationship, the absolutism of incontestable truth, the non-debatable slogan, the “take it or leave it” device.

Unlike instructing, to educate is to involve students, in other words, it is to provide them with materials which they themselves use, in order to forge their own experience – experience which is the main source of their knowledge. The educational experience cannot be experienced from the outside. It is only in the first person, otherwise it has no educational significance. Now admiration is a starter for the experience while adulation or any authoritarianism suppresses it at the root.

Rehabilitating imitation: the choice of authority versus power?

There was a time when admiration was seen as a primary educational tool. Until the end of the 18th century  , people were taught to admire. Students were presented with various illustrious people, ancient heroes, edifying characters, so many models to imitate and draw inspiration from. This is what we called “glory”, the opposite of infamy. We sought to train young people through edification, and not just through rationality. The epideictic style was appreciated. The glorious character of certain acts, works, writings and scientific discoveries was recognized and included in teaching programs.

We should rediscover the usefulness of imitation – from which Condillac wrote that admiration derives – for inspiration, emulation, respect too. Imitating is not copying or duplicating. It means closely observing a technique, a gesture, an attitude, in order to move from stage to stage to perfect one’s own performance. Imitating is neither automatic nor easy. Even cats, who only learn by imitating their peers, struggle to do so and take a long time to train. Imitating a “simple” gesture (for example, lifting a sea bream net or casting the line of a fishing rod) simultaneously involves sustained exercise and adaptation to the current situation.

At school, we could imagine exercises in physics or mathematics, or in any field, which call not on the duplication of the same thing but on the part of invention contained in it, as Gabriel Tarde has clearly shown , any imitation. At the same time, it would mean moving from the exercise of power to that of authority.

Finally, the teachers we admire are often admirers themselves. They develop the virtues of attention, scientific objectivity, vigilance, astonishment and curiosity which are implied by the act of admiring.

It is not what “my teacher is” that I admire but rather what he does, his attitude towards what he teaches, the fact for example that he presents himself as the servant and not the all-powerful master of the objects he teaches.

Just as we admire certain people because, for example, of their courage and their constancy in circumstances that could have brought them down, we admire teachers because of their attitude towards the knowledge they transmit to us. , the originality of the look they have on the events, sciences, facts, characters, texts, which are their subject, their essential contribution to making all of this become common to us and that we can possibly transmit it in our turn .

Author Bio: Joëlle Zask is a Lecturer in Social Philosophy, member of the IUF at Aix-Marseille University (AMU)