This I Believe

Charlie - Mission Hills, Kansas
Entered on March 31, 2007

Start with a mind. A mind that is untouched, uncorrupted, un-everythinged. Start with a mind that knows absolutely nothing. What do you have? You have a child with a mind that is waiting for someone to unlock her first door with her first key. Waiting for the first person to destroy her complete and utter innocence forever.

I believe that teachers are the most important people on this earth. They possess the most precious and dangerous power of all: control of knowledge. Deciding what you are allowed to know and what you aren’t. Doors are locked and only they can determine whether or not you are worthy enough to hold the key.

I believe there is one teacher who will change the way you look at the world. One person who you will remember until the day you die. I met mine this year. He turned my world and views upside down, sideways, and inside out three times over. Name: Mr. Hanson. Subject: World Geography Honors, though he never wanted to teach Honors (“You guys think weird. You’re the first class I’ve ever had who asked for their homework, not if they had any. That’s fricken’ stupid.”)

Sitting in a black rolly chair behind his desk he poses questions designed to provoke thought: What defines a hero? We’ll rattle off the usual answers: kind, daring, standing up for what’s right, selfless, etc. Then we get the follow up: Who is considered a hero? Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., FDR, George Washington, names pounded into our heads since kindergarten.

Before entering this classroom, if forced to answer this question, I would have listed the same people, but not now. Not bothering to raise my hand, I shout, “What about the suicide bombers? They did what they thought was right. Aren’t they heroes to someone?” Laughter erupts throughout the room at this detour from the norm.

Standing there with his goofy smile, Mr. Hanson says, “Exactly,” silencing the laughter. My classmates await further explanation, which comes in the form of huge block letters forming the word ‘subjective’ on the backboard. Maintaining his silly grin, he attempts to explain the simple word scrawled in front of us. “Depending on where you live, the suicide bombers may be heroes to you. I know it seems outrageous to us, but remember all this”- he pauses to tap the board with his blue Expo marker for effect – “is subjective. Who you consider to be a hero will be different from the people sitting next to you. Isn’t that great?!”

‘Socially acceptable’ answers are not in any way important to him. They never are; he couldn’t care less. Thinking outside the box and giving answers outside our comfort zone, contemplating, analyzing, debating, questioning authority, even risking getting laughed at for a few seconds – these are his objectives. There’s no coddling or spoon-feeding. When we’re dead wrong, he tells us. Sometimes even laughs. But when we finally understand the concept he wants us to comprehend – when we’re ‘enlightened’- it’s as if we get to a whole new level of our mind that we never even knew existed. We look at the world in a fresh way. And that’s true knowledge. The greatest key any one human could possibly give to another.

Meet Mr. Hanson. Freshman World Geography teacher at Shawnee Mission East. He gave me my key. My key to higher thinking. My key to becoming a more tolerant human being. Who gave you yours?