Odd conjunction of history: January 21, Louis XVI and Vladimir I. Lenin

January 21, 2012

The Dallas Morning News and the Associated Press inform us that France’s King Louis XVI died on January 21, 1793.  In 1924, Russian revolutionary Vladimir I. Lenin died on January 21.

Portrait of Louis XVI

France's King Louis XVI died on January 21, 1793. He is seen here in his most famous portrait, in happier times. Image via Wikipedia

Both died of strokes, but of different kinds of strokes.  Lenin’s was a cerebral stroke; Louis’s was the stroke of the blade of a guillotine.

Painting of Lenin in front of the Smolny Institute, circa 1925,  by Isaak Brodsky - Wikipedia

Lenin died on January 21, 1924. Painting of Lenin in front of the Smolny Institute, circa 1925, by Isaak Brodsky

Ruminations on the date, and the men:  How much of current history can be understood by studying those two events, and those two men?  How much if we add in George Washington, and Napoleon, other men affected by revolution?

A few years ago I had a sophomore student spell out the importance of people in history.  Israel Pena observed that  Americans got rid of their king through revolution, and ended up with George Washington as leader, and then president.  Washington’s modeling of his life after the Roman patriot Cincinattus led Washington to resign as commander of the Continental Army when the warring was done, instead of declaring himself king, and then later to step down from the presidency after two terms, to promote peaceful retirement of presidents.  The French got rid of their king through revolution in 1789, but in the chaos that followed, got Napoleon who took over the government after battlefield victories against France’s enemies.  Then Napoleon declared himself emperor, and took off on a reign of conquest and war across Europe.

Mr. Pena’s commentary compared only those two nations.  What if we add in a third, Russia?  Russia got rid of its king (czar) through revolution in 1917.  In the chaos that followed it got a government led by Lenin, and upon Lenin’s early death, taken over by Joseph Stalin.

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart - Wikipedia

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart - Wikipedia

Is the future written by the character of the men who run the government?  One might make a good case of that in the deaths paint most of the picture we really need to have, that of Louis XVI, at the age of 39, on the guillotine; of Vladimir I. Lenin, at the age of 53, of stroke, both still working to cling to the strings of power; and compare the death in 1799 of George Washington, at the age of 67, of complications from a strep throat, in retirement and in his bed at Mount Vernon, Virginia; and of Napoleon Bonaparte, 52, probably from stomach cancer, while he suffered in humiliating exile on the far distant South Atlantic isle of St. Helena, in 1821.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812 - Wikipedia

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812 - Wikipedia

Revolution marked these men, three of whom led them, and the fourth of whom was put out of power by one.  Whose life would you have preferred to follow?  Which of these lives is most meritorious of modeling?

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Boys’ Life on YouTube, February issue preview

January 21, 2012

Every time I pick up an issue of Boys’ Life I think how much better students could perform if they just looked that this magazine once a month; you don’t have to be a Scout to subscribe, but why not live the adventures, too?

Will 30-second montages sell more magazines?  What more could/should Boys’ Life do on the web?

Here’s an example of the sorts of skills I wish my students had, again from the Boys’ Life YouTube offerings.  In “Cache Me If You Can,” these are young Scouts, I’m guessing ages 11 to about 13 from a Troop 6 somewhere in Colorado, out navigating a path through the woods using GPS and hand-held ham radios.  I fear most of my 16-18-year-old students would be challenged to do the stuff these younger kids are doing, if they could do it at all.

Of course, while those skills would make them better students more able to understand and use maps and charts, very little of those skills are listed in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.  I’m given neither time nor resources to teach them.

More, resources: 

  • A feature at the Boys’ Life site I really like is the “Wayback Machine,” which allows viewing of many issues of the magazine dating back to 1911 — actualy from March 1911 through December 2009.  Alas, the features uses Google Books, so viewing at the site is about all you can do — no copying of the great covers by Boy Scouts of America art director Norman Rockwell, no copying of articles with teachable skills for use as illustrations in lessons.   This would be a good research site for high school history projects — Scouts in time of war, Scouting and education, map use, youth in exploration, etc.

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