I taught Character Education lessons to students for about 16 years as a guidance counselor and principal in middle and elementary schools, and I can honestly say I never asked this question. We did talk about the courage certain characters in history and fiction possessed; we talked about ethical dilemmas and if there was ever a time when it was okay not to be honest; we discussed how standing up for the right thing may be hard to do but it's the right thing to do; we created skits about good character; we even adopted Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people as our school theme to encourage good character among students, staff and faculty, and parents. And yet, we neglected to talk about popcorn.
Today, our Episcopal Diocesan Bishop talked about popcorn, however, and it has really made me think. She said she was in a seminar a few years ago when the presenter mentioned that a popcorn kernel was the pinnacle of integrity. The Right Reverend Jennifer said she wrestled with it for a couple of days, but when the speaker brought it up again, she had to say something. Up went her hand, she was called on, and she said, "I just don't understand. Isn't the popcorn kernel's purpose in life to become popcorn?" She argued that when a kernel is fully formed or living with integrity (as it is doing its primary purpose), it is a piece of popcorn. The presenter had other ideas, though, and proceeded to argue his point. He said, "The popcorn kernel contains a droplet of water. When heated, the water transforms into steam, and it builds up pressure, which causes the kernel to pop." He went on to say that when a kernel remains a kernel, it is showing integrity by not succumbing to "pressure" to be something else. Too deep? I don't think so. I think it is actually a great topic to pose to students and adults alike.
At what stage is a kernel of popcorn demonstrating the most integrity?
I sure would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others, as it has stirred up some pretty great conversation at our house. Dave even brought in the notion of "old maids". You know, we've all had the experience of thinking we were putting what looked like a fully formed piece of popcorn in our mouth, only to bite down on a hard kernel. What a disappointment, especially if it results in a trip to the dentist! Does the partially popped kernel contain any amount of integrity? I would argue a vehement "No way, Jose!" as it is quite deceptive and cunning.
What's the point? I believe that our Bishop posed the question so that we do just that---think. I love thinking, and I love thinking about my own thinking---the true definition of metacognition, right? I think, just as with any ethical question I might have posed to my students when I was a counselor or principal, the point is not just to answer the question above. In fact, if we stop there, we've missed the point entirely. We need to follow up with:
For what reason do you believe what you believe about the kernel of popcorn?
Without the follow-up, the question might just be silly. But if I say I truly believe the kernel is at its fullest development, including spiritually, physically, cognitively, and mentally when it is "popcorn", I can begin talking about what it means to be at my fullest development in each of those areas. Thinking breeds thinking, in other words.
Some people might say, "We have too much to teach in school without adding something else to the curriculum". I firmly believe that character education isn't something else we teach, but rather it should be infused into every single thing we teach. When talking about the Civil War, doesn't the issue of family loyalty versus "what you believe" arise? When teaching about formulas in trigonometry, what would you do if you discovered a new formula---would you sell it to the highest bidder? When teaching about science, doesn't the evolution/creation topic almost always arise? The cool thing, to me, is that everyone can hold their own beliefs but be willing to listen to those of other people in class. I hold a firm belief that if we taught our students how to listen while suspending their own inner agendas, those same students would become adults who might be able to do the same thing.
And then...what a wonderful world it would be!
So, what do you think about the popcorn kernel??