What I Learned

Last Friday night, Maren and I went to a storytelling event in SLC. As we sat in our seats waiting for the show to start, I complained to her that a student from two years ago had come up to me in the hall that day to ask me how my sister’s leg was. When I asked her what she was talking about, she said, “You know, that one time your sister came home from work and you were having a sleepover with one of your friends and your sister was really tired and she asked you guys to carry her down the stairs and you did but you dropped her and she hurt her leg?”

“You mean that thing that happened 15 years ago?” I asked.

“Yeah, that one.”

I assured the student that the bruise had healed in the decade and a half since it happened. Maren told me that her students constantly ask her to re-tell them the story of how she lost her boot in a blizzard as a kid. I started listing things that my students remember (that I have ten fewer teeth than the average person, how I’ve had a slew of historically named fish that have died, about when I lived in Russia for a while and took too many benadryl on a train back from Latvia and fell asleep on a luggage rack at the border) and things my students don’t remember (the difference between latitude and longitude, that globalization is not the title of a Pitbull album, to bring a pencil to class and write their names on their papers).

Eventually, the event we came for began. The last storyteller related an incident that had happened to him in the first grade. I suggest you all go read the transcript of his story because 1) it’s hilarious, and 2) I’m about to tell you the punchline of the whole thing. He closed with, “I am sorely unsure of the basic rules of primary colors. I don’t know the names of any dinosaurs. I struggle with long division. But I remember that Ms. Beckstead had a boyfriend named Harley.”

Maren and I were both heartened to know that other teachers have been similarly ineffectual in their endeavors to have any meaningful influence on the lives or minds of their students.

At the close of the semester, I always ask my students to write about a few things that they learned in the class. In light of my recent conversation with Maren, I was particularly interested to see what my kids would say. Here are some of their replies:

  1. Having a “single story” of a group gives us an incomplete and inaccurate view of the world.  
  2. Non-violence can actually work
  3. Ukraine is not called THE Ukraine.
  4. When you try your best, it’s worth it sooner or later.
  5. Ms. Poulson hates the song “Reflection” from Mulan.
  6. I’m in charge of my life and I can choose what to do with it.
  7. When you invade Russia, DO NOT invade in the winter.
  8. When Ms. Poulson says “Shhhhh,” she ends it with a hard “t” sound.
  9. Things in the world affect us, even if we never leave the US.
  10. I learned what palindromes are and that Ms. Poulson’s favorite is “Dammit, I’m  mad.”
  11. People have been fighting over the same things for thousands of years and we still haven’t figured it out.
  12. Ms. Poulson has a large collection of shirts with weird people from history on them. 
  13. Young people can be easily influenced, like in China’s Cultural Revolution. You need to take a step back and look at the situation before acting. And, also, if you are going to start a cult, that’s your target demographic.
  14. Get off your spaghetti when Ms. Poulson is talking
  15. Humans have a hard time being around people whom they disagree with.
  16. “There are lots of jerks in this world and you get to decide if you are one of them.” – Ms. P
  17. Russia keeps this dead dude on display because some people liked him and some people hated him.
  18. Ms. Poulson’s mom won’t let her listen to the Shrek soundtrack
  19. Having a port in the middle of a continent doesn’t do much good for your shipping business.
  20. Not everybody lives the same way I do and that’s okay.
  21. The Prime Meridian is not the same as the Bermuda Triangle.
  22. There are two sides to the Israel-Palestine conflict and both are valid.
  23. Millions of people in China died because Mao traded away their food for steel.
  24. You should always let an old man take you into a back room and rip out any amount of your teeth that he chooses.
  25. There have been lots of terrible leaders and genocides in history but Hitler and the Holocaust are the only ones anyone ever talks about
  26. Asia isn’t a country. Neither is Africa.
  27. Ms. Poulson is a communist that feeds off of student suffering.
  28. When I blow my nose, I need to close my mouth because if I don’t, I will get blood all over the car.
  29. Many people in the world don’t have things that I have, like clean water and education and freedom of speech, and I shouldn’t take those things for granted, but actually appreciate them and use them.
  30. It’s amazing that humans have come so far. What’s also amazing is how far we have to go still.
  31. Human trafficking and slavery are still a thing.
  32. It’s easier to pass when you study.
  33. Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake.”
  34. Ms. Poulson will throw a marker at you if you don’t pay attention. But it’s okay because she can’t aim.
  35. People are much quicker to point fingers at other people and blame them than try to fix things in their own control.
  36. When Ms. Poulson starts to laugh, she can’t stop.
  37. The Pacific Ocean isn’t the Specific Ocean.
  38. Grass mixed with castor oil is not bulletproof.
  39. Ms. Poulson deserves a donut.
  40. It’s harder to move up in the world than we make it sound.
  41. Ms. Poulson probably has too much fun at her job.

Yeah, well, they were right about that one.

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