There are times when you are teaching school when the whole lesson plan goes straight out the window. (I use this "window" idea metaphorically, of course, because the classroom in question has no windows.) This was one of those days.
I teach reading, which sometimes means teaching science texts. For some reason I don't understand, the sweet children hate this. They think that reading class should be all about novels. So when I got out the "Life Cycle of a Star" text, they were a bit put out. The main one talking, Student 1, I had never heard say a word until Tuesday, when this happened. I mean, really. I just learned his name for certain last week, because he was always simply an observer. But something happened to him on Tuesday, when I got out the Life Cycle of Stars. It started out with the description of a Nebula, which is a cloud of dust and gas that later pulls itself together and becomes a star.
Student 1 (angrily): "My science teacher says that I'm made of stardust. I don't believe him. How could that be true? I don't believe him."
Me: "He said you were made of stardust? What a beautiful thought."
Student 2: "What is stardust, anyway?"
Student 1: "I don't believe him. I don't think so."
Me: "If you're not made of stardust, what are you made of?"
Student 1: "I don't know. God? I think I'm made of God. Maybe."
Student 3: "I think stars are made of God."
Student 4: "Maybe God is stardust? Then we're made of stardust."
Student 5: "What is God?"
Students 3, 5, 6, 7: "Yeah, what is God?" [This all seems so innocent when I write it hear, but they were confrontational.]
Me: "Oh, I... darn. I don't think we can talk about what God is. This is a public school."
Everyone: "What? Why not?"
Me: "It's a religious issue. We don't talk about religious issues in public school."
Student 5: "Our social studies teacher talks about what God is."
Me: "She's better at that stuff than I am. She's a social studies teacher."
Student 1 (angrily, again): "So we can't talk about it because someone might be atheist."
Later in the class, we ended up going around what literature is, what different kinds of reading are, what their purposes are. Then, Student 1 came up with this comment, something about, "You do this and that and then you end up in the retard class." Then someone joked to him,
"Don't say the "r" word!" and giggled. I ignored the whole thing.
But later, I thought I should have said,
"This is not the retard class. You have to be pretty darn smart to question whether or not God is made of stardust." Or something like that. Sometimes, if I'm in the zone, I can be convincing. But the other thing is, sometimes I'm not in the zone, and I just screw everything up. And I never really know when I'm in the zone.
As it was, though, I ended up quoting Glory von Hathor (uncredited- sorry) about how people are all meaning making machines, and the novels are about us making meaning of our lives, as are the movies and tv shows and all that, and the science text is doing the same thing but also telling us all the things those who came before us discovered, over hundreds and thousands of years... I went off on a serious tangent, in other words. They were just hounding me with questions about everything.
At the end of class, I was exhausted. We had covered virtually none of the text. I said as much, and Student 1 said,
"But we had a good discussion."
Initially, I disagreed, but later thought better.
I mean, is God made of stardust or what? Are you made of stardust?