Michelle Martin

Show and tell

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Consider it a first foray into public speaking. “Show and tell,” a tradition in primary school classrooms for decades, still goes on, with even the youngest students. It generally works something like this: A student is asked to bring in an item of some significance to him or her on a particular day. Then the student stands in front of the class, displays the item and explains what makes it important or interesting.

Teachers, no fools they, nearly always put some restrictions on what the item can be, requesting, for example, nothing alive. In the case of Teresa’s junior kindergarten class, it has to fit into a brown paper lunchbag, which eliminates all kinds of unwieldy things and more or less guarantees that a 4-year-old can carry it without help.

But choosing is always difficult. Even in preschool, Teresa considered all kinds of factors: What is important enough to bring, but not so important that it can’t leave the house lest it be lost? What will her classmates appreciate, but not like so much that they want to have it for themselves? What will the item say about her?

Teresa cycled through at least a dozen different ideas in the week before her appointed day: a variety of toy cars (Would the girls think they were too boyish? she wondered. No, I argued, or if they did, it shouldn’t matter); several different plastic dolls; a My Little Pony, complete with comb. Finally she settled on her new Hello Kitty nightlight, which casts pink and purple shapes on the wall before turning itself off after about 20 minutes. Apparently, in the pre-kindergarten years, sleeping with a nightlight is not cause for embarrassment.

Given that it’s a nightlight, she could not put it in her backpack the night before, so she set it on top of the brown paper lunchbag on the nightstand to make sure she remembered it.

In her class, the student who brings the showand- tell item keeps it in its bag and gives clues about what it is, allowing the other students to try to figure it out before the item is revealed. That provides a kind of script — most small children are not ready to give Toastmaster-style speeches yet — and works the logic muscles in both the hinters and the guessers. A win all around, with a payoff when everybody gets to admire the object in question.

Perhaps we would all be better off if we followed the show-and-tell pattern when we want to share something important, something as important as our faith. We are called to be witnesses to the Gospel, but just talking about it isn’t sufficient. We need to show what we are talking about at the same time, to let our audience think about it and reach their conclusions.

If we do it right, it’s a win all around.


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