What is CRAP? That's CRAP! The Power of Perspective!

  • The Power of Perspective


    My American Studies & Minnesota Studies classes took part in an interesting way to hypothesize about history. In an effort to understand the power of perspective, I showed students a portion of a picture and asked them to analyze it, and then hypothesize what the object was. They shared answers with classmates before we zoomed out, exposing more of the picture. They guessed again. Some students were influenced by their peers answers and created new hypotheses based on that, while others guessed something completely different for the second time. We zoomed out again. This time, the image was becoming more clear, but we still couldn't fully tell what the object was. Finally, we zoomed out all the way to reveal an old teddy bear. Students quickly noticed that the teddy bear was missing hair, had no eyes, a messed up mouth, and stitching in numerous places. Many students automatically assumed that the teddy bear was neglected, abused and not well taken care of. Then, the brilliantness of student inquiry kicked in! One student said, "I don't think it was neglected. I think it was overly loved." After a few chuckles, students could be seen examining the teddy bear again, creating new hypotheses that could demonstrate that the bear was in fact loved. They examined the artifact even more, looking for clues to support their educated guess. 

    Then, I shared with them the back story of Frank, my childhood teddy bear, and how/why he had no eyes, sewn up arms, missing fur, etc. They laughed at the fact that I had my mother and mother-in-law sew up the not-so-pristine teddy bear and how my wife would roll her eyes as I would gently set Frank on our bed and even tuck him in from time to time. They said "EWWWWWWWE!" as they learned that I threw up on the teddy bear numerous times when I was sick, and said "awwwwwwwe" as they learned that my children loved to play with the bear as they grew up. I'm certain I even saw a few tears when I told them about the day Frank was lost in a blizzard in St. Paul, and how a student attempted to make me feel better by bringing me a new teddy bear that looked somewhat similar to Frank. The student and her mom cut the bear so they could sew it back up, tossed it in the washing machine in an effort to lose some of his hair (the effort failed, but still an incredible gesture).

    We learned a powerful set of lessons in class that day. 1) Teachers are human and have families. 2) How to look for evidence in clues while analyzing artifacts or photographs. 3) Possible most important, we learned the power of perspective. We may think we know the answers, especially after we study an artifact, object or picture, but there is always more to the story. As historians, we are tasked with discovering new information, keeping an open mind about what we are investigating/studying, and that we must be willing to change our minds (and that it is ok to do so!) when we learn more about something. That is how we grow.

    So, what did Frank look like? Check him out. https://twitter.com/MarkJWestpfahl/status/507580496076111872. I miss you buddy! Thanks for the great memories and always making me feel better!