WHY I TEACH (IN FRANCE)
As many of you know, I am more than just an attorney.
In addition to being an amateur gas dynamics engineer, cheese fermentation expert and an antique podiatry tool enthusiast, once a year I travel to France to teach negotiations to law and business students at the University of Poitiers. I am leaving at the end of this week to do it again.
On first impression, it seems like a bad idea. It takes a few weeks to prepare my lectures. My classes last two weeks. Together, this means I must put my legal practice on hold for a month or more. The University of Poitiers pays me a little for my efforts, but it doesn’t make up for the income I lose during that month.
In addition to an income drop, I feel a profound sense of isolation when I am in France.
I don’t speak much French (my students are from all over the world and my classes are taught in English). Poitiers is off the beaten path for English speaking people, which means that, for the most part, my time in France is very lonely. Sometimes I find myself asking directions to destinations I know just for the interaction.
And then there is the weight problem. Every time I teach in France, I come home weighing 10 pounds more.
French food tastes great and, frankly, when I am there I eat a lot of it.
So why do I do it? Why not teach closer to home and avoid loneliness, jet lag, weight gain and income loss? Well, I tried that but I didn’t like it very much because my American law students were just too darned lazy.
Over these years I’ve experimented with many teaching methods. I’ve discovered that the best way to teach negotiations is through lectures combined with exercises where groups of students practice negotiating. This method works extremely well to teach negotiations theory and practice. However, my American students constantly complained about it. They grumbled about the effort the exercises require and repeatedly asked: “why don’t you just give us the answers?”
None of my foreign law or business students ever asked for easy answers. None of them ever complained about the amount of effort it takes to learn how to negotiate effectively. All of them are in class on time and participate enthusiastically – and they do it in a foreign language: English. A big reason why I go to France to teach – and am willing to experience sleep deprivation, weigh-gain, income loss and isolation – is because I prefer teaching non-American students. I wish it weren’t true, but they are just better students.
There is another reason why I travel so far to teach. I believe that the American Empire is in decline. In addition to being an amateur gas dynamics engineer, cheese fermentation expert, antique podiatry tool enthusiast and a teacher, I am also a student of history – and history shows that the great empires of the world declined and atrophied when their governments became so corrupt that they became unable to solve even simple problems. It happened to Imperial Persia. It happened to Imperial Rome. It happened to Imperial China. It happened to Imperial Brittan.
And it is happening to us. Lobbyists for special interests are so influential that our local, regional and national elected officials cannot get anything meaningful done. For example, there is no question that our health care system needs fixing. We spend more for less than even some Third World nations. But there is no chance our health care system will be fixed because there are too many people making money off of the system, and they are using this money – billions and billions of dollars – to pay lobbyists to buy politicians who work hard to keep thing exactly the way they are.
The same is true for any number of important, pressing problems. Name it: if it is important and pressing, nothing will be done about it. There will be plenty of talk and maybe a law or two will be enacted, but nothing will change and the problem will definitely not be remedied. Our political system is corrupt, the corruption cannot be fixed, and so we have no chance of effectively solving the important problems facing our nation. Our standard of living is falling. Our international power is slowly slipping away.
However, where we are falling, I believe that Europe [lead by France, Germany and Britain] is rising. I am included in the faculty of one of the oldest and best universities in Europe. My students will be decision makers in business, law and government. In my own small way, I am trying to influence these new Masters of the Earth. When they are voting on treaties and drafting trade agreements that will affect American lives, I want them to remember Professor Boylan and, hopefully, judge Americans more kindly than they would have if not for my example.
I realize this sounds simplistic, even hubristic, probably illusory. But it is why I do it.
And so, once again, I will be tolerating the many indignities of international travel.
I will rent a car in Paris and make the 3 hour drive down the A-10 past Orleans, past Tours to Poitiers. That night I will have dinner (salad, duck, a glass of wine and profiteroles for dessert) at Le Serrurier, my favorite café.
Let the weight gain begin.
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