She Taught Us How To Think – He Didn’t

I had a wonderful 9th grade social studies teacher. She taught us how to think.

I attended a school that had kids from all over the world! We had white kids, black kids, Filipino kids, Vietnamese kids, Hispanic kids – and those are just the ones I can remember. When it came time to study world religions, the teacher had us examine the main tenets of each. There were students represented from each of the major religions we studied – Christian, Jewish, Muslim – and we were encouraged to share, to ask questions, to disagree, to agree, to debate. We were not allowed to demean or ridicule or be disrespectful. Did the discussions start to lean that way at times? Of course, we were 14 and 15 year olds. But the teacher – as leader of the class – steered us back to being appropriate.

This teacher made class so much fun. We often had a cultural exchange day. Students would bring food that represented their families, their cultures. The food was delicious. I am on a quest to find lumpia that tastes as good as what my classmates brought. She often questioned us, examined the merits of our discussion and caused us to go beyond “this is how I feel” to the “why” of what we were studying.

The funny thing is…I never knew what she believed!

I could speculate and guess. But it would only be a guess. She wasn’t out to teach us a certain ideology. She was out to teach us HOW TO THINK! For ourselves.

My 8th grade physical sciences teacher taught us about evolution. Towards the end of the unit, he pulled out a bible. He made sure we knew the only reason he was doing that was because he was “required by law to teach you about creation.” He made sure we knew that he thought “this is a bunch of nonsense.” He asked. “Is there anyone who believes in this idiocy?” My hand timidly went up. He proceeded to ridicule me in front of the entire class. He stated that only an idiot would believe such a thing as the universe being created.

Needless to say, I did not feel welcomed in that class after that. I was not engaged. I did not have a desire to learn what he was teaching.

The difference between the two teachers? One got me thinking, encouraged me to challenge my own way of seeing the world, and encouraged question and debate. The other was more interested in getting students to believe like he did.

Thanks to the first teacher mentioned, I dug deep into the why of what I believe about creation. I studied materials from both sides. And although there’s no way in this life to prove the universe was created, I’m proud to say I’m still an “idiot”.

Let’s all be more like my social studies teacher.

***James is a middle school teacher, husband, and grandfather. He is the author of Jimmy: A True Story of Abuse, Poverty, Forgiveness and Redemption. Order it on amazon. Check out my Speaking Page.