Mr. Mauntler’s Flat Earth

October 2, 2007
By John Chen, Troy, OH

With only a few months before retirement, Mr. Mauntler realized that, before the school board could have a chance to fire him, he would already have packed up and settled down to the full-time jobs of babysitting grandchildren and attempting golf. With this in mind, Mr. Mauntler garnered the galls to do something outrageously heretical and, ultimately, truly inspiring.
As the bell rang, Mr. Mauntler sauntered into the classroom and managed to state, without a stutter, “the world is flat.” The dumbfounded class stared at this miniature, ruddy man with frosted hair and wondered whether this was a crude joke or a symptom of senility. But I knew it was not the former when Mr. Mauntler nonchalantly continued, “and Earth is at the center of the universe, which means that all stars revolve around Earth. Any questions?”
There was a pressurized, stagnant pause. I raised a quivering hand. “Um, Isn’t Earth a sphere?” Mr. Mauntler glared at me, but I saw a glimmering smile in his eyes when he uttered the words: “prove it.”
Neglecting my other homework, I spent the night pondering and researching, and came to class the next day prepared to wage battle against Mr. Mauntler. I proved that Earth was indeed round; when a boat approaches shore, an observer onshore always sees the mast of the boat first. Another student used the phenomenon of retrograde motion to prove that it was impossible for stars to revolve around Earth. Forty-watt light bulbs was flickering on inside our heads. Mr. Mauntler even went as far as claiming the sun was a hoax; he argued that it was impossible for the sun to be burning in outer space where there was no oxygen. I was stumped until I learned that the sun was not burning at all; it carried out nuclear fission, which did not require the presence of oxygen.
So as that ball of nuclear fission slowly crept over the horizon that morning, saliva and astronomical theories were hurled across the classroom, while Mr. Mauntler sat on his swivel stool, grinning. When the period was over, Mr. Mauntler had to bulldoze his students out of his classroom, like a shepherd driving his herd of teenagers. The flat Earth frenzy infected lunch table conversations and even after-school instant messaging chats.
The next morning, after Mr. Mauntler finally threw up his hands and surrendered to the class, admitting that Earth was indeed a sphere revolving around the sun, I realized what he had just done. He had purposely invited us to discredit his claims with our own intuition; an extraordinary learning process had taken place. I realized that Mr. Mauntler’s class had taught me that superficial facts did not constitute knowledge; knowledge was comprehension of why and how things worked. Before those days, I had never deemed it necessary to prove the validity of facts that were so commonly accepted, but I soon saw that it was vital. In fact, until then, I had not truly known that Earth was round; I had simply swallowed some factual bits that previous teachers had spoon-fed to me.
This refreshing mentality has strengthened my dedication to medicine. The mystery of the human body is as deep and as wide as Mr. Mauntler’s universe. I yearn for uncovering the answers to biological secrets, only to have them disproved months later by a colleague or even myself. But such is science, and such is why I love it. And as Earth continues its journey around the sun, so I shall start mine, always remembering Mr. Mauntler’s glaring eyes when he challenged me to “prove it.”

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