My geometry class was learning about Euclid’s postulates last week. I started the class with a quick introduction to Euclid (lived from 365 – 275 BC in Alexandria, Egypt, then part of Ancient Greece, back in the days when great mathematicians debated the concepts we now teach eighth graders). This being a middle school classroom, nothing about this introduction went as planned.
“Wait, how come the years are going backwards?”
[I had to draw a timeline and explain the concept of BC.]
“What does BC stand for?”
[I paused long enough to let a student call out “Before Christ”, as that’s what I know it as but I wasn’t sure if there was really a Latin phrase and I don’t know at what point me saying “Christ” gets me in trouble with church and state.]
I try to change the subject from religion to postulates, which are statements that are accepted as true without proof basically because they are so fundamental there’s no way to prove them. One of my students volunteers the example, “A postulate could be that Jesus existed!”
Oh dear. I was thinking more like, “Given any two points, a line segment can be drawn that connects them.” I carefully explain that the existence of a person is typically provable and that Jesus is a little more controversial than mathematical postulates. He comes back with, “Well then how about that everyone in the world came from Jesus? Or that Jesus came from God?”
Ok now I’m really stuck… I don’t think anyone in any religion thinks that Jesus spawned humanity, and I don’t need to debate Jesus’ parentage. Luckily, one of his friends also laughs at the humanity-spawning idea and leans over to explain things to him. I switch to the next slide right as this boy lets out a gasp of comprehension and replies loudly to his friend, “OH!!! That’s why they call her the Virgin Mary?! I GET it!”
The whole class erupts into laughter. This poor kid has clearly gone through his life not getting what being a virgin had to do with it and suddenly he sees the light. He announced that he was going to tell his mother that he learned something useful in school for once. I can hear the conversation already… “Mom, guess what?! In math class today I learned why she’s called the Virgin Mary!” This is how people get fired for First Amendment violations. Awesome.