This past week we have been discussing the Enlightenment in class. You know, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and the like. It's heavy stuff for sophomores. It's heavy stuff for me and I've been working on it for a few years! They are studying things like social contracts, natural law, the state of nature, and so on. Last year, Clark and I put together an assignment called the Tree of Enlightenment. We give them a short summary of the beliefs of 6 Enlightenment thinkers - Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot - and ask them to read the summaries and put them in order on a tree, from the base to the top. We ask them to judge who was influenced by whom, to pull out their most important idea, and it is not easy! In my opinion, this is one of the most challenging assignments we do all year.
And here's the twist. I call this the "magic assignment," because these kids who complain about EVERYTHING and whine when I ask them to turn in homework once a week, and who refuse to do anything if they run into a word they don't know, these kids ARGUED about who the original Enlightenment thinkers were! They sat there yesterday and read the information (even Matt!), highlighted and annotated, pulled out the main idea on their own, and then debated with each other as to who came first, second, and third. It was amazing.
These are the reasons I teach. This one day can make up for an entire year of bleah. Teachers require so little encouragement to keep going. One day where your kids get it, and all of a sudden you are floating on air and wondering why more people don't get into this profession.
Then today, when we discussed the tree (because I refused to tell them the correct order yesterday), in every class we had a 15-20 minute discussion on the beliefs of Diderot - who believed that people are a product of their upbringing but can change their character with their surroundings - basically, nature vs nurture. And then we talked for another 10 minutes about another belief of Diderot - who believed that only good people are truly happy. The kids really discussed this, had opposing opinions, and stated them clearly and respectfully.
If only every day was like this. Or at least one day a week!