Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day One, Harry Wong, and Pie

The first day of school isn't, really.

I mean, it's not a normal day of school. Colleagues who ordinarily wear polo shirts are wearing ties. Every student's binder is perfectly neat and orderly. Usually, not the least because teacher demigod Harry Wong says to, the hour is spent establishing the rules and norms of the classroom.

I try something different.

As I wrap up a truncated version of The Rules & Consequences information, I pass out slices of pumpkin pie to random students. The slices are not evenly cut--some are wide wedges; others, narrow slivers. Not everyone gets a piece. In fact, only about ten kids get any at all.

I ask them what they think is going on. The unusual event--random, unequal pie distribution on the first day of school--is enough to get the conversation going, something that can be reallllly hard at the beginning of the year.

"You gave us pie," says one genius.

 "No, I didn't. I gave SOME of you pie."

"You gave pie to the people who weren't talking."

"Nobody was talking when I gave out the pie."

"Some pieces were bigger." "We didn't all get any." "The pie is pumpkin." "I'm hungry."

"This year, we will be looking at three big ideas that drive everything that happens in US history: ideals, economy, and POWER. I gave you pie to symbolize power. In a society, power is not usually distributed equally, and sometimes not everyone gets any power at all. Is that fair?"

A strong chorus of Nos, mostly from boys who received no pie.

"Should I take away pie from kids who had it and divide it that way?" I query.

In fluent Middleschool-ese, a student points out "there wouldn't barely be nothing for no one, just a crumb." Another student, full of pie, points out that taking away his pie would make him mad, even if it was more fair that way. "So would you agree that making a society more fair could be a struggle? Maybe people don't want to share their pie--er, their power. That is what this year is about, folks--trying to build a country where more and more people get a piece of pie--preventing some people from hogging it--all sorts of power struggles."

"Couldn't you just buy more pie so we all could have some?"  It's too early for me to tell if he is wisecracking or serious. I choose to believe he is joking. "Uh oh, no pie for you, ever!" I laugh, and the class laughs with me.

Do you know it can be hard to find pumpkin pie in September? I needed a pie that was easy to slice and would maintain its shape and not schmoosh all over the tables or kids' new clothes.

We end by taking notes (some groan--work already? ha! I am establishing the norm of the class--academic and hardworking from day one, but hopefully unpredictable) on the nature of power, and the bell rings, but they wait to be dismissed by me, because, after all, I have more pie than they do: I am the Pie Master.


  1. Wow, that is quite a brilliant use of pie, and an awesome lesson!

    My favorite comment is "I'm hungry." - haha there's an honest answer for you!

    Also love the kid with pie pointing out he would be mad - definitely shows one of the problems of power struggles! I love it.

  2. Yeah, I was pretty pleased how it went. I will be making many references to pie next week--we begin the Declaration of Independence, a very pie-y subject. :-) I'm glad you liked the lesson!