I did some rather crazy things as a high school English teacher. It was my first class of the day… AP English 12. (Advanced Placement classes are the cream of the crop… supposedly) As the students entered, I pulled Jake aside and told him that I needed his help. I asked him to yell out “ferret” when I asked the class to name weird animals that could be hiding in the closet.
I took the usual boring attendance, and then began the lesson with, “Think of some unusual animal that could possibly be in this locked closet?” I pointed to the corner: a large wall closet to the right of the students by the front chalkboard. “Yell out the names of some weird animals.”
Even Grade 12 students like to let loose, and a loud chorus of animals species erupted. I’m sure they listed every animal in Noah’s Ark as well as all of those on the Galapogas Islands. Because I always looked for an opportunity to be sarcastic, and because one of my favorite pastimes was to ridicule students, I gently harassed Michelle for shouting out dog. ”Come on, Michelle, get with it. Is a dog a weird and unusual animal? Let’s be creative here!” Don wasn’t much better for shouting unicorn. “Come on, Don. To begin with, a unicorn can’t fit in the closet, and furthermore, they don’t even exist.”
And as more names of weird, bizarre animals were shouted, Jake, with his booming voice yelled, “FERRET” loudly and clearly, right on cue.
“Ferret! Thanks Jake, I like that choice. It’s certainly a weird animal. And it’s definitely unusual. I know that some people keep them as pets, but apparently they really stink. You have to be a bit crazy to have one as a pet. Anyway, good choice. Let’s go with your pick, Jake.”
“OK, class. How many of you think there is a ferret behind that locked door of the closet?”
Of course, no hands went up. Again, this was a Gr 12 AP English class… smart kids. If it was a Gr. 2 class, I may have expected a couple of hands.
“Alright. I’m telling you, there is a ferret in that closet. Now, how many of you believe in the ferret behind that door?”
Katie put up her hand.
Wow, a person like Katie is gullible beyond gullible, a prime candidate for any cult recruiter. If I told Katie to wear an orange robe, shave her head, cover her scalp with peanut butter, and chant nursery rhymes on the street corner in order to become at one with the universe, she would jump.
“Listen! I’m your English teacher. I am telling the absolute truth; there is a ferret in that closet! Now, how many of you believe there is a genuine, living ferret in that closet?”
And now Jesse also put up his hand. I had two believers. Quite frankly, Jesse wasn’t much brighter than Katie.
“Congratulations! You two are the only ones with the correct answer. There is a ferret in the closet. Everybody else is wrong!”
And of course, the class started laughing, again. Perhaps the class was laughing at gullible Katie and Jesse. Perhaps they were laughing at me, and my stupid statement, “There is a ferret in that closet.”
“Well, guys. I’m telling the truth. I’ll say it again. You have known me for a few of months. Have I ever lied to you? It’s not cool for teachers to tell lies. There is a ferret in that closet. Now, how many of you “BELIEVE” there is a ferret in there?”
Several more accepted belief in the existence of a ferret. And then I started laughing, not realizing the impact it would have on a few of the unsteady, recent converts. I am sure that a couple of them gave up their very newly founded faith in a ferret.
“Those who really believe there is a ferret in there, stand up. Stand up for your convictions.” Putting your hand up six inches is one thing, standing up with your peers staring at you is quite another. Several stood up. (I must add, it was all in good humor, and none of those who stood up was emotionally scarred for life, I hope.)
“Guess what? Many things in life are indeed black or white. There are absolutes. Often there are only two choices, A or B, and nothing else. This is not relativism, with a multitude of differing options that are viable. It must be A or B. If A is right, then B is wrong and vice versa. There is either a live ferret in that closet or there is NOT!”
I hammered the class again, stating categorically that a live ferret was in the closet, and a few more students converted to “Ferretism.” In spite of my efforts, I could not break a 20% conversion rate. The majority were still ferret atheists. The majority were stubborn and unwilling to accept my teaching.
I picked a student at random. “Brianna, please come up to the closet. Put your ear against the door. Do you hear anything?”
A few moments later, her jaw suddenly dropped, her eyes opened wide, and she shouted, “There’s something alive in there!”
I tried again, “Now, how many of you believe?”
That last tactic worked as I gained quite a few believers. I now had about one third of the class in my camp. Of course, the skeptics started yelling that this was a setup, and that Brianna was a ringer and part of the deception. Brianna seemed offended at the false accusations coming from the skeptics. I asked Brianna if this was staged, and of course she denied any collusion. Again, I stated that Brianna knew nothing about any of this. And one or two more converted to Ferretism.
I told Brianna to put her head close to the door. I unlocked it and opened the door just an inch to let her peek in. Her shocked expression was absolutely amazing! Her face radiated (now let’s not go as far as saying it was like the face of Moses whose face radiated when he saw God and received the Ten Commandment. Come on, we’re just talking about a ferret in a closet!) … Brianna started yelling repeatedly, “There’s a ferret in the closet!”
Brianna’s revelation did have a profound impact on the class. I told her to walk around the class and share her belief in the existence of a ferret in my closet. She convincingly taught them about the reality of its existence. She went up to her friends and uttered things like, “This is no BS; he’s got a ferret in there!”
And the number of those who believed grew… and soon two-thirds of the class were Ferretians. (I just made up that term and wondered… Am I the first in human history to use that word? Nope, I just googled it, and there are some crazies who go by that name.)
We hit another plateau. The last one-third was beyond stubborn. I opened the door just wide enough so that a few students sitting at the front could see inside the closet, and immediately they also yelled, “There’s a ferret in there! … Deutsch is telling the truth!”
Now we were left with only half a dozen non-believers. I told the students who had actually seen the ferret to walk around and convert the remaining few. The Ferretians zealously got up to share their newly acquired belief in the ferret’s existence.
Within a few minutes, all were converted, except for Ryan. The class was perplexed about Ryan’s reluctance to accept the truth. Many had seen the ferret with their own eyes, and they tried ever so hard to convert Ryan. They pleaded with Ryan. He would not budge. I even sent a few more students, including one of his close friends, to look in the closet and report back to Ryan. And Ryan still did not believe. So I walked up to the closet, took the cage with my son’s ferret in it, and plunked it on Ryan’s desk. Then he believed.
The moral of the tale?
Don’t be a Ryan, or a Katie and Jesse. Instead, examine the claims with critical thinking and an open mind. Ryan’s mind was closed; Katie and Jesse were not champions of critical thinking.
I posted this tale on a reddit site: (Atheism Community, 1.7 milllion members) C…Dragon responded with,
“Ryan didn’t have a closed mind, he waited until sufficient evidence was presented instead of hearsay.”
An interesting response. If you agree with CDragon, I would question your judgment. I have had enough debates with atheists to recognize this angle of attack. I completely agree with the atheists when they say we must rid ourselves of hearsay. Hearsay is bad. But this story does not present hearsay. What is hearsay?
Wikipedia: Information received from other people that cannot be adequately substantiated; rumor.
The information that Ryan received was not rumor. And certainly the information was substantiated. When a dozen students tell Ryan that they saw a live ferret in the closet, that is extremely well substantiated. CDragon feels that a dozen eye-witness accounts is not sufficient. He maintained that Ryan was right because he waited until he saw the ferret with his own eyes. My heart goes out for CDragon…. a dozen people tell him the gas station five miles down the road is closed (no longer in business) ….but he must drive the five miles and see it with his own eyes as he is not able to rely on their eye-witness accounts as he thinks that is hearsay.
When I hear from a dozen independent sources, and they all tell me the same thing, “The gas station down the road is closed,” I accept those statements, by faith. (It’s not a great leap of faith.) I am the first to admit that I do not know with absolute certainty that the gas station is closed, but 99% is good enough for me. But if just one person tells me it’s closed, I would probably get a second opinion.
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