The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made me think of Dennis the Menace.
There are, famously, two menacing Dennises. Both of them were created in 1951. Both of them were released on March 12. Shockingly, this is a complete coincidence — their creators had no way of knowing what the other was doing.
There were also two Isaac Newtons — or at least, there were two inventors of the calculus. Gottfried Willhelm Liebnitz and Newton argued for years over whether one of them had plagiarized the other; the modern consensus is that both men developed their ideas independently and nearly simultaneously.
Sometimes, an idea has its time. The word “menace” spiked in popularity from 1900 into the 1950s. The popularity of the name “Dennis” peaked in 1947. In 1951, there were a lot of four-year-old boys making mischief and the rhyming moniker just kind of… presented itself.
One of a Kind
Call me naïve, but I had always assumed that women’s rights were an idea whose time, in the 1960s, had come. The language of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination against any person born or naturalized in the United States, pretty obviously should have applied to women. In 1968, it had been around for a hundred years — long enough for biased generations to have passed away and for new ideas to take hold.
But the more I’ve learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the more I wonder. There was no second Einstein; physicists speculate that without his groundbreaking work, his theory of general relativity would not have happened for decades. The more you learn about RBG, the more you see her as an Einstein in her field. Her contributions were truly one-of-a-kind.
Look at the major court decisions involving women’s rights. Her name is all over the list — and that’s not counting the work she did behind the scenes. Or listen to the way in which she fought against injustice and marvel at her grit and ingenuity. Maybe women’s rights were an idea whose time had come. Maybe they were like calculus or Dennis the Menace. But maybe it took someone to stand out from the crowd. Maybe it takes one voice to change the world.
You have that voice. Every day, you wake up and you change the world — maybe not for millions, but for the children who walk into your classroom. Sometimes, in the everyday drudgery of teaching, we miss that truth — we forget our power and lose our voice. Don’t let it be the case today. Teach passionately, teach positively, and teach with purpose.
Struggling? Think about the content you love — the big ideas that fill you with awe. Integrate those awesome understandings into your classroom every day. Think about why you got into teaching. Remember your passion for your profession. Post a reminder somewhere you’ll see every day and give yourself a little pep talk. Your passion changes the world.
And bring yourself into your teaching. Think about the things you love in life — whether that’s gardening or spreadsheets or video production. Use them to teach your students; they’ll notice that you are happy and inspired, and that positive energy will flow out into your classroom.
Want your voice to change the world? Empower your students to use theirs. The next Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sitting in a fourth-grade classroom right now. The next Martin Luther King Jr. is collaborating on a school project. The girl you inspire today might someday be the first human being to set foot on Mars.
Last year, I helped to create Blue Apple projects. The name Blue Apple grew out of our belief that teachers have the incredible ability to stand out from the crowd — to do things that have a unique and lasting impact. You do this by shaping students’ lives, today, in your classroom — and also by planting seeds for the future. Thank you for the work you do to inspire your students, to empower your students, and to fill them with a passion to make the world a better place.