Like many educators, Bret Turner, a teacher at Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA, offers up a “Puzzle of the Week” for students to try and solve. To kick off 2018, the puzzle he presented his students was:”I am the beginning of everything, the end of everywhere. I’m the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space. What am I?”
Usually, such a puzzle would lead to a fun discussion of possible answers from the students. But, before the conversation could get going, one student guessed that the answer was death. According to Turner, who posted about the incident on Twitter, an “awed, somber, reflective hush fell over his class” after the student accidentally forced everyone in the class to consider what death truly means for us as humans. Is the end of life truly the end? Is death meant to be feared or embraced? It’s the type of stuff that would overwhelm a college philosophy class, let alone a bunch of six-year-olds.
The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and 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 pic.twitter.com/7sYFxHNcZk
— Bret Turner (@bretjturner) January 2, 2018
The real answer to the riddle is, of course, the letter ‘E’. But Turner admitted he felt a little foolish offering up such an adorable answer after hearing an answer that would make Sartre and Camus proud.
“I didn’t want to tell them that actually the answer is the letter e, which just seemed so banal in the moment,” Turner explained in a tweet.
Before I finally revealed the "correct" answer to the riddle, to a largely unimpressed audience, I fielded other guesses that continued along a similarly existential vein. There was "NOT everything," "all stuff," "the end," and maybe my favorite, "nothingthing."
— Bret Turner (@bretjturner) January 3, 2018
Turner allowed a few other students to guess the answer to try and lighten the mood but their answers —
which included “all stuff,” “the end” and “nothing” — continued to ponder the meaninglessness of life. When Turner finally revealed the true answer, the class was unsurprisingly underwhelmed by this unsatisfactory explanation. Let’s just hope these kids make it to the second grade without having full-blown existential crises.