If there is one thing which I have learned over many years of teaching, it is that our students learn by example. They learn not only the lessons which we try to teach them, but also lessons which by their very nature are perhaps more subtle and implied. These are the lessons which children often learn by osmosis or example.
I also know that the lessons learned and the impressions made when a child is young last a life-time. This is one of the biggest responsibilities which we teachers and parents have as adults. Young minds process information quite differently than adult minds do. We have to constantly be aware of that. That doesn't mean that we have to dumb down information and concepts. It just means that we can assume nothing when it comes to how a child's mind will process the information it receives.
The following is pure fiction, of course, but it makes one wonder how things might have turned out if some of these teachers had tried a different approach. Perhaps if they had framed their arguments differently or taken the time to ensure that their students understood what was been taught, there might have been different results.
Setting: High on one of the seven hills of Rome
Aurelius Flagellus Horribilis looked up from his table. The three discipuli in his charge were supposed to be working on their times tables. "What is taking them so long?" Flagellus muttered to himself, and got up to inspect their work more closely. As he came up behind Lucius Domitius Nero, a skinny thirteen year old with greasy hair in a retro Caesar cut and pocked skin, he was horrified to see that Nero was not writing at all. Rather he had broken his stylus and was trying to use his index finger to mark out the answer for IX times V. Sighing aloud, Flagellus handed Nero a new stylus and smacked him across the side of the head as he did . The boy winced and hurried to complete the assigned work. In a mocking voice Flagellus admonished the teenager, "Stop fiddling around so much!" The follow video is a rather complete look at Nero's life and times. 1700
Setting: The Thuringian town of Luneberg, Germany
Fifteen year old Johann Sebastian Bach loved his new school. He and his friend Georg Erdmann had left Ohrdruf to attend St. Michael's School, a Latin school in the old tradition where the great Praetorius had been Kantor. He was beside himself with excitement over the prospect of being able to study organ with the renowned Georg Bohm. Bohm knew everything there was to know about French music. And, as if that weren't enough, next summer Bach planned to journey to Hamburg to hear the patriarch of the Dutch school, Adam Reinken, play at the Katharinenkirche. In the meantime, thought Bach, "What shall I play for these great organists? Of course, let me write a new piece. That great tune Sei Gregrusset Jesu Gutig would make a stellar set of variations! Let me see now..."
Setting: Rural Hampshire, England
Miss St. John-Smith looked her young charge in the eye and asked, "Now why don't you want to be a wife and mother when you grow up? Why, my dear, that is what is expected of you!" Florence smiled politely back at her governess, thought a moment, then replied, "Miss St. John-Smith, I have the feeling that there is more to life than being a wife and a mother. So many things in this world need fixing or cleansing. People simply need somebody to care for them, to look after them. I will be one of those people." The governess knew better than to mock the quite unconventional views of her pupil. After all, did not Mr. Nightingale figure prominently in the anti-slavery movement and whatever other great causes came along nowadays? "In truth," thought Miss St. John-Smith, "Florence is the lucky one! She gets to realize dreams which most women of her generation scarcely dare to even dream." This short biography of Florence Nightgale captures the essence of this famous person. 1902
Setting: A farm near Lambach, Austria
Brother Rudolf BrunhildeVon Schwarzenegger thought he smelled smoke. "Aha! O mein gotte! It's das Hitler kid! Just wait until I tell Alois about this!!" muttered the monk as he swooped in on his unsuspecting prey. Young Adolf was blissfully unware of the impending disaster as he immolated the Turkish cigarette which he had obtained from his school chum Moishe Lebowitz. "Halt! I will take that! Vat do you think you are doing?" roared the good monk. "In the name of all the hakenkreuze in St. Martin's Abbey, I forbid you to ever smoke again." The boy meekly obeyed, though the brother did not see the smoldering look of resentment and hatred which filled the young lad's eyes. Adolf knew that Alois would deal with him harshly when he got home. He had to find a way to even the score, to rid the world of these religious who controlled him, and the tobacco sellers who got him in trouble in the first place. "Maybe I will create an ideal world where there is no human imperfection," he mused to himself. "A master race..."
Setting: Frozen Lung, Saskatchewan
Tim hurriedly pulled on his oversize cargo pants and brushed his teeth. It was 6 a.m. and the school bus was waiting outside to whisk him from the farm to the regional high school a mere 90 minute bus ride away. Another typical school day in rural western Canada. "Hey, mafia boy! How's it going?" barked Hal, Tim's neighbour from the farm 15 miles down the road. Hal and Tim hung out together on line whenever they could. They lived in an Internet world inhabited by hackers with names like Sloppy Chip and Scuzzy Breath. "I got in, man! Right in the back door!" whispered Tim. "Whaddya mean?" asked Hal, who was amazed at his buddy's obvious keen excitement. "My plan is going to work. I will be able to shut down CNN and eBay with just one command!" said Tim, lowering his voice even more than usual. "I'll show that Mr. Smith that there's more to computers than learning DOS commands and C+!" Ah! Now enjoy this short clip about some famous hackers.