Mr. Flynn had just asked his class of nine and ten year old Low Sixth-graders to define a point. He was, in fact, reviewing class material recently imparted to us in his personal pilot project of a local 1961 experiment in epistemological optimism. You see, Leonard Flynn sincerely believed that even little kids could benefit enormously from the careful introduction of advanced course material normally reserved for the vastly more mature intelligence of little kids in high school. His superiors would require persuasion.
I really wanted to help my teacher prove to his educational hierarchy that our minds were NOT too immature to engage in the wonders he himself had lately found in the expansive mysteries of Euclidean geometry.
Yet, like every other kid in the room, I didn’t raise my hand, knowing with some certainty that he wouldn’t like the answer I’d spent the past few days carefully considering. So affably, encouragingly, smilingly, like a young Spencer Tracy with wavy red hair and wrinkly forehead, he simply asked us once again to define a point. No answer.
The third attempt contained a subtle note of exasperated resignation, as though Leonard Flynn’s confidence in his rosy, private vision of education had been fundamentally shaken, drawing him slightly nearer to the darker view of brick-like students widely held by more senior officials in the educational establishment.
I raised my hand. He nodded sharply at me with the very-faint implication of exasperated relief.
“A point is an indeterminate location at which no line exists.”
I was absolutely right! He absolutely hated my answer, specifically because it helped none of the other kids in class remember the answer he’d given us a couple of days earlier.
Except for the fact that it did.
His next request of the class, “Define a line.”, sent little hands aloft like at Berchtesgaden. From that moment on through the end of the school year (which culminated in the combined grammar school assembly/Parent Teachers Association meeting in which we presented to excited younger kids and doting parents alike all the keen stuff we’d learned with nifty visual aids and memorized geometric axioms, that) our Sixth grade class amply justified Mr. Flynn’s faith in us kids and validated the glorious future for less-condescending education. Except that somebody left it to Beaver.
I’ve celebrated Define A Point Day every year since 1961, quietly preferring my own joy to missionary work; a lesson from another, later, more-reluctant teacher. It was probably my super first day.