The Butterfly Effect

By Dr. Elaine Vaughan
Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

One single butterfly floating through the air with the flapping of the Monarch’s delicate wings during the winter season is an occurrence that one rarely sees. However, the butterfly brings a sense of hope and new beginnings for the future. Could this one single butterfly make a difference to the world? Edward Lorenz thought so, and in 1963 presented the following hypothesis to the scientific community: “A butterfly could flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, which would move other molecules of air, in turn moving more molecules of air that eventually would be capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the planet.” Envision the humiliation and frustration of Lorenz when the scientific community dismissed his theory as ridiculous and absurd. The Butterfly Effect was preposterous, yet fascinating. However, this account of Lorenz’s theory continued on.

Thirty years later, imagine the surprise and shock expressed by the scientific community when physics professors from around the world declared that the Butterfly Effect was authentic, accurate, and viable. The theory became known as the Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions; furthermore, this law represented the first movement of any form of matter including people. So what, really so what?

Over a century ago, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, was anxiously awaiting the sixth charge of the Confederate Army. With only eighty men left to prepare for the next attack, Chamberlain knew the end was near. At the beginning of the sixth charge, he knew he had to act quickly, so Chamberlain stepped on top of the wall in full view of both Confederate and Union troops, crossed his arms and stared the enemy down. Within seconds, he told his men to fix their bayonets and yelled, “Charge! Charge! Charge!” The eighty men also lifted their voices in one accord shouting, “Charge!” and tumbled over the wall. When the Confederate troops saw the men running towards them, they immediately stopped, threw down their weapons and ran. In less than ten minutes, Chamberlain’s group of eighty ragged soldiers had captured over 400 Confederate soldiers.

Historians regard the actions of Chamberlain as courageous and have determined that if the charge had not taken place that day, the South would have won the Civil War. Present day North America would be divided into many different countries. Also, without Chamberlain’s charge, when Hitler swept across Europe in the 1940’s, a United States of America might not have existed to help defeat the Nazis. The United States exists as it does today due to a single person, Chamberlain. However, his human example of the Butterfly Effect created the flapping of wings that joined others together to focus on one important cause, the union of North America. Chamberlain and his eighty men did make a difference that day and continue to do so.

In an educational era in which teacher evaluation and testing are focal points for the public, we cannot help but wonder, “Do we make a difference?” “Do I make a difference?” Each educator working together is no less an example of the Butterfly Effect than Chamberlain’s charge. Every teacher voice, every move or decision, and every action taken to promote student academic achievement and success matters. Share your teacher voice, continue to focus on students in the classroom and future generations of students and how their lives will be changed by the actions you take today and tomorrow and the next day and the next. Every single thing you do matters. Remember the Butterfly Effect and how the single fluttering of wings joined together with others can produce monumental results.

Adapted from The Butterfly Effect by Andy Andrews

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