Tonight on the way home from dinner, two students engaged me in conversation. They had heard this morning about the missile test of North Korea, and both were New Yorkers… was their city safe? Were their families safe? Could they expect to have a home to go home to in the event of an attack?
We spoke about some of the issues involved: the size of a potential nuclear weapon, the size of the retaliation from America, the size of the American military force in South Korea, the reasons why North Korea might want nuclear weapons. Question led to question: what is the the size of the American army relative to China’ army? What’s the Yalu River? What happened during the Korean War? Who did we fight then? How many missing men are there from the Korean War? So a lot of those guys must have been World War II veterans? Who was Douglas MacArthur? Was this the same Truman as President Truman? If a nuclear bomb hit here, what would happen? Does the U.S. take over territory? So a bunch of pineapple farmers overthrew the Hawaiian government??
When I first came to teach, I did this sort of thing all the time; I’d have deep conversations with kids that consisted mostly of questions at first, and then gradually became kids and me answering questions together, and then became kids contributing as equals to a conversation that could go pretty deep. It feels like those conversations have gotten rarer over the years, though, and the last class that really cared about that sort of conversation about to graduate. I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I’m also not sure what’s been different about what I did then to engender such talk, against what I do now. It’s a puzzlement.
Today in class I made a map of a typical manor in medieval Europe. One of my students poses with the picture.