Friday, December 19, 2008

Great Unteachable Moments

Today was the last day of work, and a bunch of us were sitting around in the teachers' lounge, picking at giant piles of cake and chocolate and baklava and...well, pre-Christmas sugar-laced gunk. Mr. Zamir, the science teacher and football coach is grading a pile of finals. "Does anyone want to hear a student's definition of matter?" he asks.

"Sure," we say.

"Matter," he reads, solemnly, "is anything that takes up space and has gas."

Silence. Then "Mass," says one of the other PE teachers. "That has MASS."

Anyway, the conversation progressed to hilarious student misunderstandings of the theory of evolution, which led my own thoughts to my own horrifying classroom moment last year when the theory of evolution bit me on the tuchis on the second day of class.

No, I don't teach science. It was a history class. I wasn't even trying to argue for evolution. I was positing a heliocentric solar system, which has been pretty noncontroversial at least since the late 1980s. But I still think that what happened was largely the fault of Charles Darwin's detractors.

It was modern history, and I began with...Copernicus. Good ol' Nick, and his heir, good ol' Galileo, hero of my favorite Indigo Girls song. On day one I had each kid draw a solar system. This was harder than I expected, because they didn't know what the solar system looked like, but I forged on. Day two, I began by talking about the Scientific Revolution, and the enormous breakthroughs in science taking place in the late Renaissance, including the firm establishement of a heliocentric solar system.

My first class was pretty OK with this. My second class was not. When I asked for questions at one point, a girl raised her hand. "Yes?" I said cheerfully.

"How come you trying to tell us not to believe in God?" she said.

"Hawaahaahha?" I said intelligently. Then, "Uh, I'm not." Casting about for some link, I said, "although the Church was hostile to these thinkers at the time, hundreds of years ago, they've long since recognized the scientific validity of their work." I kept going.

Another hand. "Yeah?"

"How come you believe in SCIENCE and not GOD?"

And all hell broke loose. Metaphorically speaking.

What I was able to work out, eventually, was that for a number of my students, the word "science" had only one meaning, AKA "evolution theory", AKA "your grandpa is a monkey", AKA "the Bible isn't true", AKA "you don't believe in God", AKA "you want to get us to not believe in God".

Most of these kids also had major behavior problems, and hence were gone from George C. Moonbat long before Tante M. showed up to teach the science class. God knows what would have happened when these guys met Tante M., a stately six-foot-one West African lady who dressed traditionally and looked like a queen from a children's picture book. Tante M. took no crap.

I tried, really, I did. I discussed medicine, germ theory, electronics, telecommunication, trying to point all out of the scientifically based things in their lives which were even used to SPREAD the Gospel. No luck.

A truly Unteachable moment. It was me, with only the power of grades (like they mattered to kids from North Richmond), up against a preacher with the power of the Almighty on his side. I was well and truly doomed, and I sang "Give Me That Old-Time Religion" all the way home.

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