Back in October I had an opportunity to attend a Justice Talking training. Justice talking is an exercise designed to invite reflection about civically engaged activity. The rationale behind this exercise is that civically engaged people (can be anyone VISTAs, your co-workers, volunteers, etc.) want to think more deeply and to talk more comfortably with colleagues about the beliefs and opinions that inform their activity. Moreover, this dialogue through reflection will help strengthen the reasons you initially decided to take up your civic task.   

To get started, please read the poem below.  

 The History Teacher

Trying to protect his student's innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just 

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years

when everyone had to wear sweaters. 


And the Stone Age become the Gravel Age,

named after the long driveways of the time.


The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more

than an outbreak of questions such as 

"How far is it from here to Madrid?"

"What do you call the matador's hat?"


The War of the Roses took place in a garden and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.


The children would leave his classroom

for the playground to torment the weak

and the smart,

mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,


while he gathered up his notes and walked home

past flower beds and white picket fences,

wondering if they would believe that soldiers

in the Boer War told long, rambling stories

designed to make the enemy nod off.


Now - I do not doubt your ability to de-construct this poem and analyze it as an ardent student of English literature. That is not the goal of reading this poem. Instead I am going to list a few questions regarding how the poem, the teacher, the students and the act of learning relate to you and your civic duty. To get the most of this exercise – it requires you to reflect regarding your work and share. Share your thoughts, raise questions, explore your reasons, and don’t hesitate to leave comments. I hope you find this refreshing.


Few questions to get started – 

                What is the teacher trying to protect his students from?

                Why does Collins make the teacher’s explanations of history comical to us? Would they also be comical to his students?

                Are the teacher’s explanations of historical events just harmless stories?

                Why are we told that when “the children would leave his classroom,” they would “torment the weak and the smart”?