Epiphany–noun: (1) a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure (b) a revealing scene or moment.
I had one of these last night while thinking about what I wanted to do for my weekly education article. There is never a lack of material, but I try to avoid the overdone and common. And then it came to me, a sudden burst of insight, an epiphany: write an article about epiphanies in education, and encourage readers to add their own! Let’s do just that, shall we, gentle readers? If not, I’ll send “does not work and play well with others” notes home to your mommies.
It is epiphanies teachers live for, those “light bulb” moments when a student suddenly “gets it.” It’s impossible to tell when they will happen. A teacher may be presenting the most brilliant lesson they’ve ever conceived, sure that it will advance the knowledge and understanding of their students, but see not a glimmer of insight. Yet, at the strangest times, kids suddenly sit up straight, a look of delighted wonder engulfs them, and a thousand watt bulb flares into life above their pointed little heads. I know this could also be a hormonal release at the thought of a girlfriend, but usually, it’s an epiphany, and often, they’re anxious to share it.
As a sophomore in high school back in the 1400s, I was the virtual definition of sophomoric. Open the dictionary to that word and you would have found my picture. It’s often been said that if you’re not a liberal when young you don’t have a heart, but if you’re not a conservative as an adult, you don’t have a brain. I was full of myself, but also full of longings for justice and righteousness and fairness. I couldn’t define any of those ideals, but oh boy was I for them!
Thus it was that when President Nixon nominated G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, and a Senator produced this argument for his nomination, I bought it:
Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers, and they are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?
That sounded awfully fair to my 15-year old brain. I knew plenty of mediocre people and it seemed right somehow that they should be represented. After all, democracy and all…
But then I stumbled into the classroom of Bert Elliott, my social studies teacher. He explained, in terms even 15-year olds could understand, the idiocy of that suggestion. The very idea that anyone should think Supreme Court justices should be anything less than the most brilliant and patriotic people possible outraged him, and whether it was his passion or his reasoning that triggered the epiphany, I had an epiphany then and there, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’m certain he didn’t notice. Back then in those thrilling days of yesteryear the bulb I mustered was probably no brighter than one of those in the back of a refrigerator, obscured by countless cartons of milk and juice, but it stuck. It started me on the path that has brought me to my present state of relative enlightenment.
In fact, decades later, I ran into Elliott in a town on the other side of the state–he was long retired–at a Quick Shop, and told him the story, thanking him for that bit of enlightenment. He seemed a little stunned. He certainly didn’t remember me–there was no reason he should have remembered one of thousands of unremarkable kids–but he seemed, just a bit, touched.
So how about it, gentle readers? Let’s hear about your epiphanies. Let’s hear about what set you on your path.