I spent the last week of school teaching third, fourth and fifth graders about the shortest day of the year. Actually, a more accurate description of the activity would be that I instructed these kids to help each other figure out what the shortest day of the year was, and why. I had them search Al Gore's Internet for clues. Most of them found the Winter Solstice occurs on or around December twenty-first each year. Some of them even made the distinction that this is true for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Working in groups of four to six members, I understood that asking them to maintain their focus the week before Christmas vacation was going to be a challenge. It was the "why" part that stymied them.
To their credit, each class had a couple of kids who pushed themselves just a little harder and read past that first couple of lines, discovering something about the tilt of the earth's axis, and the Arctic Circle. I understood that I was asking elementary school kids to stretch their minds to imagine that the North Pole was tipped twenty-three degrees off the perpendicular, since most of them had not the slightest clue what perpendicular was, let alone the notion that we were all spinning more than a thousand miles an hour around this pole that runs through the center of the planet. I made a mental note of the number of globes I had seen in these classrooms: none.
But this is the challenge of the job that I do: getting kids whose world rarely extends beyond the end of the bus line to think and experience a bigger place. Their state. Their country. The world they share. It's a challenge, since Facebook and YouTube takes them to places they haven't fully imagined without leaving their couch, but they don't always understand the realities of all this globality.
That's why, when a fourth grade girl stood up and gave her answer to the reason why December 21 was the shortest day of the year, I gave her my full attention. "Because Jesus made it that way." I chose not to argue with her. It made the kind of sense that fourth graders can make. It was straightforward, and most of all, it was an answer. She probably read it on Wikipedia.