“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
- Declaration of Independence
Last week I was in the middle of teaching my eighth-grade class about Humanism during the Renaissance period. I had some interesting connections planned to do with Socrates and Plato as well as John Locke and Thomas Paine. Oh, and a little thing called the American Revolution.
But that’s not all. I was going to contrast people’s lack of choice during Medieval Times as opposed to do individualism during the Renaissance. Oh yeah, it was gonna be AMAZING.
The students were engaged; quiet when I was talking, answering questions when I asked, and participating in discussion.
Then a female student to my left asked, “Do you dye your hair?”
I get this a lot, especially from teenage girls. The difference is it’s not usually asked in the middle of a lesson. See, my hair is black. With my pale skin, it must not seem real.
Ironically, when I was a teenager punk-artist, I dyed my then medium brown hair black. But now I hate when people think I dye it because I don’t.
So, instead of telling her, the question was inappropriate,
Instead of ignoring her,
“No, see all these grays.” I leaned over so she could get a good look at my bangs.
I told the whole class, “When I was your age, my hair used to be a lighter brown.”
“Really?” a startled brunette with hair like in a shampoo commercial asked to my right.
“Really. Your hair darkens as you age.”
She looked horrified.
I surveyed the entire class. “My hair is going to be on the test.”
Then I returned to the lesson.
Students love sidetracking teachers. We have to make sure they don’t let our sidetracks get in the way of the material. But sometimes we can fool them and tell them a story so they get lulled into listening when I’m really teaching them. Whenever I can, I tell a story about my life if it will make a point about the lesson.
This was (obviously) not one of those times.
Later, I wondered what they’d remember from that lesson:
- Plato trying to convince Socrates to escape prison, but Socrates refusing because he’d rather accept a death sentence than undermine democracy? (The idea was more important than the individual.)
- Feudalism making generations of families stuck in the same occupation? The idea of the individual didn’t exist.
- Humanists promoting the idea of individualism was against church teachings. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic.
- The idea of individualism continued with Enlightenment Thinkers.
- One Enlightenment Thinker, John Locke inspired the Founding Fathers. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property was changed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. (How much property can you promise, after all.)
- Americans, like Socrates, were willing to die for democracy. But this time, they were willing to die so their new government could maintain their freedoms.
If I had been the student, I would’ve remembered that my hair was going to get darker as I aged. That thought would probably freak me out. But back then I would’ve laughed because that would be a LONG - WAY - OFF.
(Should I tell the students time accelerates as you get older?)