|Image via Akseli Koskela|
A statue of Niccolò Machiavelli out the
front of the Uffizi, Florence.
Niccolò Machiavelli was a Renaissance Florentine statesman, and it is his famous book “The Prince” which gave him the reputation from which the word “Machiavellian” derives. He has a, perhaps misplaced, reputation for “strategic thinking”, “self-interest”, “deception” and “manipulation”.
And it is for precisely this reason that his book comes with excellent references to the teacher’s professional library. A little deception and manipulation never go astray in a teacher’s arsenal of techniques for what the academic textbooks blandly call “behaviour management” but which Machiavelli refers to as the “concerns of Princes”. I used to think that writing “Fun” in front of “Reading Comprehension” was a clever little deception - now I can deliver a lesson on assonance by looking at the lyrics in rap music. As an aside, finding examples of assonance in rap music is easy - finding four consecutive lines of rap music without a swear-word in them is another question altogether!
So here’s a tidbit of Florentine wisdom:
“I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency.”
If I swap a word or two of old Niccolò’s vocabulary you will find that Machiavelli advises that “a teacher... ought not to to mind the reproach of being strict; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise”.
Despite being an archaic old prescription for an absolutist ruler in a time not unacquainted with violence, all I had to do was swap two words in the sentence to make it seem sage advice. Ever been in that classroom which began great because the teacher was really relaxed and laid back but finished in a state of chaos with the teacher blowing steam like a little Chernobyl? I’ve been there. However, I would like to add one caveat to Machiavelli's instructions for medieval dictators: that consistency beats just plain “strictness” any day of the week.
Ruthless, unflinching consistency that is. And maintaining consistency in the face of all the excuses known to mankind and new ones added daily is not as easy as you'd imagine.
So to close: why Machiavelli advises that it is better to be feared than loved:
“for love is preserved by a the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
Hmm, maybe not that ruthless.