12 February 2008

Juniors and Jefferson

Every Friday, I assemble my students in Socratic Circles, where they discuss a given work of art amongst themselves while I observe and credit kids for talking.

My 4th-block class just loves this part of the week. They're very opinionated 11th-graders, and I'm happy to say that they even back up their opinions from time to time.

Last week I gave them a selection of quotes by Thomas Jefferson, America's founding father. We watched a video ahead of the discussion. The video discussed the many contradictions of Jefferson's life: how he initially supported royalists in France, despite the atrocious conditions of the poor; how he owned slaves at the same time that he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Justin V. had a strong opinion. "This guy owned slaves and wrote the Declaration of Independence?" he asked, before stating, "Jefferson is the second-biggest hypocrite in history, next to Adolf Hilter, who killed 6 million Jews even though he, himself, was Jewish."

Another boy pointed out that Hitler had killed himself last of all. "Then Jefferson is Number One," Justin huffed.

Justin S. had problems with another famous Jefferson quote. "'I cannot live without books.' What does that even mean?" he asked disgustedly. (Needless to say, this is a group of talkers, not readers.

"He's a nerd," answered Dorae, rattling her manicured nails on the floor of my room.

Am I a great teacher or what? My students now think that Thomas Jefferson was a "nerd" and a "hypocrite." That's not necessarily where I would have steered the discussion, but I'm proud to see them thinking, nonetheless.

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