The Truth

(essay is based on "the History Teacher" by Billy Collins)
Is it better to tell the truth or not? In “The History Teacher” by Billy Collins, the poet’s use of poetic devices helps convey what the speaker thinks about the lies that adults tell children just to keep them away from the horrible truths of life. The poem tells of how a history teacher lies to his students, trying to protect their “innocence.” But the children, not knowing the consequences, start to bully others. Because the children are not taught the truth, they repeat the mistakes of history and make up their own period.
Imagery is used to portray the teacher’s idea of how chaste the children’s mind should be. The teacher would lie to his students, thinking of keeping them away from the cruelties of the world, because he is “trying to protect his students’ innocence” (1). He tries to mold their mind into something pristine, just like “the flower beds and white picket fence” (19). The flower beds, picket fence, and the children’s mind should develop on their own, but others interfere and shape it the way it is now. Each lie that the teacher tell represents another scene. When he talks about the Ice Age, he does not talk about the hardship humanity has to go through. Instead, he tells his students that it is just “the Chilly Age, a period of a million years/ when everyone had to wear sweaters” (3-4).
What the teacher tells the children paints a totally different picture than what actually happened. Every stanza speaks of a different time period. The children who bullies make up their own period: “The children would leave his classroom/ for the playground to torment the weak/ and the smart, / mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses” (14-17). Because history was not taught correctly to them, the children do not know of the consequences, and repeat the past.
In the poem, irony is used to single out the fact between what the teacher is trying to accomplish and what he does accomplish. “Trying to protect his students’ innocence…the children would leave…to torment the weak and the smart…” (1, 14-16) the teacher tries to prevent the children from seeing the harshness of the world, but he is far from succeeding. And when he tells them that “the Ice Age was really/ the Chilly Age” (2-3) and “the Stone Age became the Gravel Age” (5), he corrupts his moral while teaching them not to.
The author uses diction to express how the teacher explains. Instead of choosing names that are straight forward, the author chooses names that have double meanings, such as the Spanish Inquisition, and the War of the Roses. He tells that “the Spanish Inquisition was nothing more/ than an outbreak of question” (7-8) and that “the War of the Roses took place in a garden (11)”. Rather than telling the real meaning, the teacher distorts the name into something different, something that he has to lie about.
The teacher fails his attempts to protect his students. Collins’s use of poetic devices shows his dislike for the failure of the teacher, and the fact that adults protect their children at the expense of the truth. Because of the futile and misguided ways of the teacher, the children are not exposed to the world. They do not learn any consequences, and they repeat the same mistakes that others had made in history.

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