Teacher Bret Turner thought he'd kick off the morning with his first-grade students using a little riddle.
On the whiteboard in the front of the class, he scrawled it out in black marker:
"I am the beginning of everything, the end of everywhere. I'm the beginning of eternity, the end of time & space."
<p>One student raised their hand, the first to venture a guess. </p><p>Now, the answer, of course, is the letter "E." (Get it!?) But the student had a different idea.</p><p>"Death?"</p><p>Turner later described the incident <a href="https://twitter.com/bretjturner/status/948336006054395904" target="_blank">on Twitter</a> in a post that's now gone massively viral. "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," he wrote.</p><div id="00d7f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="XXJ8Y91559350121"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="948336006054395904" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… https://t.co/gP4YmJkvTY</div> — Bret Turner (@Bret Turner)<a href="https://twitter.com/bretjturner/statuses/948336006054395904">1514935897.0</a></blockquote></div><h2>People on Twitter got a huge kick out of the somewhat dark, existential moment. But there might just be an important lesson buried in this story somewhere about how to process "the end."</h2><p>Many users who replied to the Tweet were impressed by the unnamed kid's thoughtfulness and ability to understand the concept of death at such a young age. (How many first graders would peg death as "the beginning of eternity?")</p><p>But it turns out that kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for.</p><p>An article in <a href="http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/26/when-do-kids-understand-death/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a> breaks down the three key truths that children must eventually learn about death. First, that it's <strong>irreversible</strong> (people who die aren't just on vacation). Second, it makes your body <strong>non-functional</strong> (people who are dead aren't just asleep). And third, it's <strong>universal</strong> (everything and everybody dies eventually).</p><p>Some studies have shown that kids start to understand the concept <a href="http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/26/when-do-kids-understand-death/" target="_blank">as young as 3 years old</a> and gradually learn to accept the many layers of it in the years that follow.</p><h2>It takes time for anyone to fully grasp the gravity and foreverness of death. But we ought to learn to appreciate the whimsical, partial understanding that young children have.</h2><p>Some Twitter users who read Turner's account of the riddle <a href="https://twitter.com/furmple/status/948698307345367040" target="_blank">accused</a> the student in question of having a morbid personality or an unusual fascination with the macabre. After all, few adults would be brave enough to blurt out something so dark.</p><p>It's a lot more likely the kid just hasn't been conditioned to fear death yet, to speak about it in hushed tones — if at all. This might be the same kind of kid who finds out his grandma has died and says, casually, "Oh, OK. Bye, grandma! See you soon!"</p><p>When you think about it, that's actually a pretty sweet and remarkably peaceful way of thinking about death. So let's stop rushing kids into having adult-sized worries about the world and let them discover it at their own pace.</p><p>As long as it gives us funny moments like this one, anyway.</p>
Keep Reading Show less