choiceWhen I was in the classroom, I loved working through the first big ideas at the beginning of the year with my English III AP students. They would often enter they year ready to teach me a few things about English (since, you know, much like their 16 year old peers in high schools across America, they had things figured out pretty well). I hope that I’m pretty open about learning things (and I did learn a great deal from them), but I loved how we would stretch them at the start the year.

For many of my students, most of their work in school pushed them to either/or answers. There’s some good in being able to carefully trace a line of thought through a singular path, but we started disrupting this early in the fall. These students hadn’t often been exposed to questions with multiple correct answers, and I remember my students being really torn when we got to the point where there were multiple answers that were right to some of the questions we asked in class.

Is the way the community treats Hester’s failure to follow the rules fair?

In what way can a work of fiction be true?

Is technology more beneficial or detrimental to our society?

I would use an example in class that I’m sure I saw somewhere, but can’t recall when. I’d ask a student for a piece of paper, roll it up into a cylinder, and then position it so that from one student’s angle, it looked like a rectangle and from another student’s vantage point, it looked like a circle.

Like this:


When the first person looked at it and decided he saw a rectangle, he’s made an informed decision (from one perspective). He’s not likely to imagine that what he was looking at was actually a cylinder. From the second person’s perspective, he sees a circle instead of a cylinder. Here’s what I mean:


This sort of reaction is not unique to my high school juniors. You might not have this problem, but I do. If I’m not careful, when I see something, I’m prone to believe that I’m seeing it the right way. People everywhere are susceptible to this misinterpretation, and the only way I can seem to find to work around it is to make a habit of looking at things from multiple perspectives. The problem is, this ends up pointing out where I’m short sighted and flat out wrong. I don’t like that.

So, what does that mean for us as educators?

I wonder what questions we feel have to be answered with yes or no. If you’re anything like me, I like a sure thing. I like risk, but I like risk most when it works out. Surely I’m not alone in this, right? I need this reminder that there’s often another way, one that’s not my way, but one that will work just fine (or be even better than mine). If I’m not careful, I’ll start to equate my way with the way. At best, this is a nuisance to others. At worst, it stifles creativity, drowns ideas, and belittles those who might look for additional solutions. Obviously, that’s never going to be alright.

It’s always been much easier for me to find places where I feel others need some extra perspective. Here’s my challenge (for myself as much as for anyone else): For every issue you can think of that you feel others need to gain extra perspective, think of an issue where you need to do the same.

What are you so sure about that you haven’t reevaluated in years? I don’t have answers to these questions for myself yet, but I’m beginning to mull over what issues I face need to be rethought with a different perspective.

Who’s with me?