An English teacher asks his class: ‘What’s the opposite of a gun?’
If you’ve spent even a minute with a child, you know that asking them a single question can kindle any number of surprising counter-questions, tangents, emotions and insights. This is especially true in a classroom, where, subject to the whims of a sea of passionate and developing minds, a lesson can change course or sink in an instant. Inspired by events in his own English classroom, the US writer and teacher Brendan Constantine’s poem ‘The Opposites Game’ traces an exercise in which a teacher asks young students to identify antonyms for each word from the title of Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’. After working through the more obvious answers – ‘your’, ‘death’ and so on – an argument begins to brew when the class reaches the final word. The question ‘What is the opposite of a gun?’ unleashes a heated debate, with the children insisting everything from a whisper to a star, sword, snowball or midwife must be the correct answer.