Peanuts and people
It was quite common during my time as a classroom teacher for my students to refer to some of my lessons as “odd” or “weird”. Suffice it to say, I was far from conventional. Below is a story I wrote several years ago for a local newspaper, which describes one of my favorite classroom activities; the peanut game.
“Why is Mr. Sissel asking us to describe the outside of a peanut? This is kind of silly.”
These were just a few of the comments I heard as I crisscrossed the classroom, observing my students as they attempted to compile a list of adjectives which described the peanuts that occupied a large part of their desk space. Although they were certainly getting a great lesson on the use of adjectives, the smile on my face was attributed more to the life lesson they were about to learn from a good old-fashioned peanut.
“They’re round, bumpy, dull, and smelly,” I heard one group say as they carefully examined their stack.
“They’re chubby, rough, and deformed,” said another group.
I continued to watch as the students frantically wrote down adjectives, in hopes they would be the first to reach 25 (a little friendly competition works wonders with children). Not surprisingly, the words they were using to describe the outside of a peanut were very similar to the words they used when judging classmates or peers. Little did they know that this simple activity would eventually reveal an extremely powerful life lesson.
The second part of the “peanut game” involved compiling another list of adjectives; this time describing the taste of the actual peanut. Again, I listened attentively to the words my students were choosing. I heard words like delicious, scrumptious, tasty, and awesome.
“Alright, do you want to know what this activity has to do with life?” I asked as I stood in front of the class, devouring a few of the peanuts myself. The puzzled looks on their faces confirmed their interest in knowing. “The difference between peanuts and people is that while we simply observe material objects such as peanuts, we tend to judge human beings. Unfortunately, judgments often lead to stereotypes, which can be very harmful to our classroom and society as a whole.”
Many of the students failed to make the correlation right away, so I continued to share my insights. “By simply observing the outside of the peanut, you had no reservations about actually eating it, despite the fact that it may have been round, bumpy, or dull. However, if these peanuts suddenly became human beings, your observations would most likely turn into judgments, thus preventing many of you from even trying the peanut, or in this case getting to know someone. You see, each one of us is like a peanut. Our shapes, sizes, and appearances may differ, but the inside of the peanut always remains the same. It’s judgments and stereotypes that prevent us from looking beyond the shell.”
Are you willing to look beyond the shell?