Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.
And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age, 5
named after the long driveways of the time.
The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?” 10
The War of Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped on tiny atom
The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak 15
and the smart,
messing up their hair and breaking their glasses,
while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers 20
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.
Collins uses irony in the use of humor for the reader but he also subtly preaches the message that unless children are stopped from bullying they will grow up to create more wars similar to the ones we learn in history classes. Collins starts of the poem by stating that the teacher’s motive for shielding them from the truth of the past is “to protect his students’ innocence” (1). He tells them that “the Ice Age was really just the Chilly Age, a period of a million years when everyone had to wear sweaters (2-4). He also says the Stone Age was “name after the long driveways of the time” (6). The history teacher lies to his students and tells them that these harsh periods in history were far from hard times. He understates these events in a very comical way.
Collins then goes on the explain how he tells his students that the Spanish Inquisition was “an outbreak of questions” (7), “the war of roses took place in a garden (11) and the atomic bomb dropped on Japan was merely one atom. He continues to shield the truth from his “innocent” students. Yet we find out they are not so innocent because they torment “the weak and the smart, messing up their hair and breaking their glasses” (14-16). These students are bullies. This may be partly fostered by the fact that they do not know of the violence that is prevalent in history. The History teacher teaches that only good events happen, so they are unaware that bullying can lead to anything bad. Yet, children who bully grow into children who create conflict and start wars. These kids are following the patterns of history.
As the History teacher walks home he passes “flower beds and white picket fences” (19). This is ironic because the History teacher walks home in a perfect world, but history has told the tale that the world is far from perfect. This irony emphasizes that we need to teach our children the facts so that they will not repeat the history of violence and wars.