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In The Beginning We Are Never The Same

A line of around one-hundred students stand shoulder to shoulder at the edge of a lawn, each holding a piece of paper. 

A teacher walks out in front.

“You should all have a number on your paper ranging from fourteen to negative twenty,” she says. “Right now, you’re all on the same line, but what we’re going to do next will teach you about social stratification.

The students shift their weight and shade their eyes from the sun. Some whisper to each other. Some look down the line to see how far it reaches. 

“First,” the teacher says, “who thinks they have the highest number.”

A boy on the left, toward the beginning of the line, raises his hand.

“What number?”


“Okay, fourteen, you come here. Does anyone else have a number close to fourteen?”

A thirteen follows the fourteen out. Then: two twelves, two elevens, and four tens. 

The teacher has number fourteen stand at the front and groups each descending number in their own rows facing his back. 

Eight nines form a row behind the tens. Seven eights. Eight sevens. Nine sixes. Five fives. Seven fours. Four threes. Four twos. Ten ones. Six zeros. Four negative ones. Three negative twos. Three negative threes. Five negative fours. Four negative sevens. One negative ten. Two negative elevens. One negative nineteen. 

What once stood a line like the beginning of a footrace is a clump of uneven lines like a bell-curve standing on top of a mirror. 

“What do you notice?” The teacher says.

Two students speak at once. Then one student says, “we’re not on the same line anymore.” 

Some students snicker at this.

“Exactly,” the teacher says. “Now,” she says turning around and walking eighty or ninety feet in front of them. “If I were to tell you to race to me,” she shouts, “what would happen?”

The group is mostly silent.

The teacher walks back. 

“Is it possible that the fastest person could lose the race?”

“Yes,” some students say aloud.


“Because not everybody gets to start in the same place.”

“Did you hear that?” She calls to the crowd, her voice bouncing off the walls of neighboring buildings. “We don’t all get to start in an equal place. Now, let’s go back inside and talk about it.”

The crowd disperses.

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