“One hundred pictures. One hundred Americans. The faces of American History. Our history.” Mr. Flynn had a way of speaking when he wanted to add dramatic effect. His sentences shortened, some not even sentences, and with pauses between each, they started to sound like lines in free verse poetry. “Your assignment is simple,” he continued, “identify these faces.”
There was a murmur in the room as we all looked around. Some were easy: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein. Others I was unsure of – was that Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson? But most, I had no idea. As I turned my head from side to side looking at each face, I discovered something. The faces alternated male, female, male, female. All the way around the room. Fifty men, fifty women. Clearly Mr. Flynn’s list of one hundred important Americans was not pulled from the pages of our history textbook. And though many of the faces staring back at me were white, some were black, Asian, Hispanic, two were clearly American Indian. Pretty significant considering everyone sitting in the classroom looked just like me.
“Your task is simple,” Mr. Flynn started again and then proceeded to explain an assignment that did not sound simple at all. “As a class, you need to identify these one hundred Americans. You’ll also need to explain in a sentence of twenty words or less why each deserves a place on these walls.” Twenty words or less was the sort of requirement that sounded easy but really wasn’t. Your average kid would think, “Cool, I only have to write one hundred short sentences.” But how do you explain why Abraham Lincoln was important in twenty words or less? Then there were all the faces that I didn’t recognize. Finding out who someone is based on their picture was like knowing someone’s phone number and trying to find out their name by looking in the phone book. Were we just supposed to start flipping through encyclopedia volumes until we came across someone who looked familiar?
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