Thursday, October 2, 2014

Real Life

I love being a teacher.  I've had lots of different jobs in my life, most of them not the kind that I woke up in the morning wanting to get out of bed for.  This one is different.  I like almost everything about it.  I like the actual teaching part - love it.  I love talking and I love to hear myself talk and, to my shame, I love that other people have to sit there and listen to me talk!  It's true - terrible, but true.  It is God's goodness to me that I am not blind to it.

     One of my favorite things about teaching is making connections between what we're studying and real life.  I say real life like there's something else, but maybe an example will help you see what I mean.  I teach social studies - Civics and US History - which means I teach just about everything.  Right now in US1 we are studying the Road to the Revolution.  Today we talked about John Hancock, and this is what I really love; we talked about John Hancock in a way I bet most of them had never thought about Hancock before.  In all our studies about Hancock as kids he's the larger than life revolutionary famous for what? Yes, for his super sized signing of the Declaration of Independence.  And maybe a few of us remember that he presided over the Continental Congress.  But how many of us knew that he was a wealthy man? OK, maybe you say that's not all that important, whether he was rich or not.  OK, but did you know he made his fortune by breaking the law? Yes, John Hancock got rich through smuggling illegal goods past the British in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.  He made money by bribing British customs officials to turn their heads and look the other way.  Does that change how you view Hancock? It sure made a difference in the way I saw him the first time I read that.

     Now, as I was careful to say to my impressionable tenth graders this morning, being a rich man shouldn't cause us to necessarily have a higher or lower view of Hancock as a freedom fighter.  And I was even more careful to point out to the class that although Hancock made his fortune by breaking the law, it was not quite so cut and dried.  We must also remember that the men who gathered to represent the Continental Congress were almost all reputable men, men of character who most definitely would not have elected as their presiding officer a man with questionable character himself.  The issue, as so many we study in history, is not black and white.

     Back to reality, to real life.  How does the story of John Hancock, an all too real story that we have no way of understanding completely, so in that sense it is not real to us; how does this story help us as students today? It's easy really. We just learned something about Hancock we didn't know; what we learned changes the way we think about him.  We all have presuppositions, basic assumptions about people and arguments that we bring to the table before the argument even begins. When we learn facts contrary to these assumptions our worlds tend to become less real before they again shift into focus.  This can be difficult - I think much more so the older you get - unless you learn early on, say tenth grade for example, that your presuppositions, while innocently inherited, can be and often are wrong.

   And that's what I love about teaching, watching kids change the way they think about a person or event as they learn more about it.  It's a great job; sometimes kids can find it unsettling to have their assumptions challenged (certainly their parents don't like it at times either!); but that's the great thing about school and about being a teacher - this is a safe place to have your presuppositions challenged.  If I'm careful not to ignore my own blind spots, I can help them on the way.

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