I have been holding onto this lesson all year because it works best when the students stumble upon it. Last week as we were talking about the distribution of resources and the causes of conflict, they stumbled upon it and I got to teach it.
I introduced the idea of 80 20. That is, 80% of the worlds population has 20% of the world’s resources and 20% of the world’s population has 80% of the world’s resources. (A crude distinction if for no other reason as what counts as a resource can be debated. None the less it is an often quoted statistic and one that can fuel thought.)
To demonstrate this I chose ten students and asked them to stand in a line in front of the class. I then divided them into a group of eight and a group of two. I then gave the group of eight two books, the group of two eight books and promptly told them it was time for silent reading. The two students with eight books happily sat down and started flipping through books, not exactly reading but browsing, trying to decide which book they felt like reading. The eight students with two books stood there almost dazed wondering if it was a joke. I just kept insisting it was time for silent reading and they should read.
It took about twenty seconds before students from the group of eight started making their way towards the two students with the eight books and eying the books and making subtle indications that they wanted some. This is the second time I have taught this lesson and both times I have been amazed at how quickly the two students assume an air of entitlement. They placed themselves between the books and the group of eight and continued to browse.
It only took about another thirty seconds until leaders began to emerge out of the eight and we started hearing calls of “this isn’t fair!” One student in particular was becoming viscerally incensed by the injustice. He was calling out to the teachers for help and when this came to no avail he started rallying the other seven. Two girls among the seven quietly got hold of one of the two books that were given to the eight and slipped to the back and started reading while the others were getting worked up in their call for justice. The boy who was increasingly leading the charge began reaching for books. Another boy among the eight began encouraging him on and then moved to position himself on the other side of the two students with the eight books and while they became increasingly distracted by the attempts to grab books, the other boy reached around, took a book at a time and passed them to other members of the eight.
There came the moment where I said “OK, lets stop… if you have ever wondered about how wars start, maybe this is part of your answer.”
This is a very rare moment in my class where I have created conflict. Perhaps to teach, to really teach and not preach, about the causes of war we have to allow these rare exceptions where we allow conflict.