The following was written by a friend of mine who teaches Middle School. My hope is that they are many more teachers like him and many more students like his students.
Sharing a Wonderful Experience
I know many of us grow weary and worried for the future of our great nation. This is often amplified when we look at our younger generations and the fruit of our educational system. It can certainly be food for depression. However, I would like to share a dose of superb sunshine and positive encouragement I recently received while working with two classes of middle-school students.
I was presenting material on folk literature – oral traditions. We were specifically studying fables. I had selected two pieces which create an opportunity for challenging and discussing some of the troubling modern thinking. The first selection was “The Grasshopper and the Ants.” The second was “The Scorpion and the Frog.”
The students were given the first passage to read for homework. In addition to reading the selection, the students were to answer one question, were the ants right in their response to the grasshopper? They were to write three brief paragraphs which would include their answer and support for their answer. On the following day, I asked the students to get into one of two groups – those who thought the ants were wrong, and those who thought the ants were right. We then proceeded to have a structured debate with opening comments, rebuttal statements, a period for questions and answers, and closing statements. It was an absolute joy to see the majority, about 4/5, of my students supporting the ants. Through the course of the debate/discussion, my students further impressed me with their passionate arguments supporting the rights of the producer/worker to reap the rewards of his labor. When presented with the counter argument that the ants should have at least been a little helpful to the starving grasshopper, a few students promptly set the record straight by arguing that the ants had tried to help by warning the grasshopper and encouraging him to do some work in preparation for the coming winter. When asked if it would be right for some outside force, The Grasshopper Protection Society of the Universe, to pressure/force the ants to give a portion of their goods to the grasshopper, my students responded with a resounding no. They did acknowledge that the ants could choose, on their own, to give some of their goods away, but the choice belonged to the ants. Even when applying to real-life situations – one of which was the sharing of academic success with under-achieving students – my students argued that those who worked for successful outcomes should benefit from their work and choose how to help others. They submitted that if others wanted to be successful they need to work for that success.
A real encouragement came when similar results occurred in my second class.
The second fable, given for the next day’s assignment, dealt more with the influence of our nature – i.e. the scorpion stings and kills the frog saying he had to because that is what scorpions do. The question for my students was, did the scorpion have to do what he did. Again, we had a group discussion – not a debate, but a sort of panel with a randomly selected student to represent the frog and another to represent the scorpion. At the conclusion of this discussion, I presented the students with a final question, what is stronger and more important – your nature or your power of choice? My students warmed my heart with a unanimous outcry that our choices are the most powerful.
Again, similar outcomes for both classes.
While this year has been a good year already, these two days were extraordinary! Our country will be great if these young people have anything to do with it. Find them, and encourage them.