“Where does a pickle come from?” I asked my second grade class.
“It comes from a diner,” one student answered.
“And before it got to the diner, what was it?”
“It was always a pickle,” he said.
“It was once a cucumber,” I countered. “It was soaked in vinegar until it became a pickle.”
“You’re wrong,” he argued. “My mother cut them in half. There was no cucumber inside. It was all pickle.”
Thus ended my attempt to educate my class on the origins of pickles. My student’s view was accepted over mine. I couldn’t override his experience.
Teaching, I have come to realize, is a race to see who can get to impressionable children’s minds first. There are educational experts who claim that using the scientific method – hands-on experiments – work best. But I tried that once and it didn’t go over well: I was teaching the principle of gravity. I had each student put a stalk of celery in a cup of red dye. I wanted to show them that sometimes, nature works against gravity (the red dye creeps up the stalk). But I had to discontinue the experiment when I discovered that a student had been eating the celery. The other students were so angry about the missing stalks that they weren’t able to concentrate on their schoolwork.
A few weeks later, I taught my class about how to protect themselves against diseases. I gave each student a slice of white bread, which was already moldy. I figured that would ruin the thief’s appetite. I was trying to show them how the refrigerator protects food from going bad. But I hadn’t foreseen the invasion of ants. They swarmed into the classroom every night.
In the end, I tried to look on the bright side: at least the ants in our ant farm had made some new friends.