First grader's incredibly deep response to a teacher's riddle goes viral
Kids can be annoying sometimes, like when they throw a temper tantrum on the airplane or turn their dinner into a Jackson Pollack painting on the living room wall. But they can also be surprisingly thoughtful. They don't see the world like we do. Everything is fresh and new and fascinating. You think they're predictable, or not very bright. Then they'll say or do something clever, or witty, or deep, and it blows you away. There are moments when we all wish we could look at the world through a child's eyes again.
Bret Turner teaches first grade in the San Francisco Bay area, and every week he gives the students a puzzle to solve. This week he gave the students a riddle - you know, like the ones Bilbo Baggins had to answer in The Hobbit. See if you can solve it: It goes, "I am the beginning of everything, the end of everything, the end of everywhere. I'm the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space. What am I?"
Give up? The answer is the letter E, since it's literally the beginning of the word 'everything' and the end of the words 'time' and 'space.' However, the first grade students did not interpret the riddle quite so literally. In fact, they got downright existential.
Bret tweeted, "The first guess from one of my 1st graders was 'death' and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the class that I didn’t want to tell them that actually the answer is the letter e, which just seemed so banal in the moment."
Whoa! Death is a much better answer than 'E,' if you ask me. We assume that kids think they're invincible, and don't know anything about death, but maybe they understand the whole thing better than we do. Do you think that kid's last name was Sartre or Kierkegaard?
However, "death" wasn't the only philosophical answer. On Twitter, Brett shared the other student's responses, which were also deep: "Before I finally revealed the 'correct' answer to the riddle, to a largely unimpressed audience, I fielded other guesses that continued along a similarly existential vein. There was 'NOT everything,' 'all stuff,' 'the end,' and maybe my favorite, 'nothingthing.' "
'Nothingthing' is a pretty great word. It sounds like the name of an unspeakable horror from an H.P. Lovecraft story. You know, these kids are way too smart for first grade. They're beyond spelling and arithmetic and fingerpainting. They should be leading a discussion on Camus and Nietzsche on a college campus.
Bret's Tweet about the riddle went viral, getting over 90,000 retweets and 250,000 likes. However, he said that if he tells the kids about their fame, they won't care very much: "I’m considering telling the kids tomorrow that a tweet about them went viral, and given their facility with the internets, I expect their response will be 'sure but did it go SUPERviral' and 'just how many retweets are we talking about here' and 'can I go to the bathroom.'
Well, I'm going to go contemplate my mortality. Thanks, kids.