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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #55

Despite attempts to reopen the country, we may be stuck for a long while in our present maintaining-space condition. One of the more challenging aspects of this, for parents, is dealing with the education of their kids. This can be especially trying if parents are reaching too high. We should keep in mind that the prime objective of a good education has little to do with introducing a child to Charles Dickens, relativity theory, grammar, and math. If we handle things right, the kid will take care of it himself. And if he doesn’t, it won’t happen.

I’ll concede that we have to do some math. But the point of education is not to send the child home each day with a new splattering of knowledge. It is rather to create a passion for various topics. We want him, or her, to become fascinated with physics, intrigued by fiction, caught up in history, and so on. These qualities are important not merely because we want our kids to be able to do well in tests, but because we want them, in later years, to be able to vote intelligently, to make rational decisions, and to enjoy the world in which they live. Introduce a passion for literature, and we’ll never have to go into any details about Charles Dickens. Our kids will pick those up for themselves.

So how do we get children to care?

When we talk about history, let’s not get excited about details, who won which battle, who was the sixteenth president, and so on. Let’s talk about how the past affects our world. On December 13, 1931, Winston Churchill was struck and almost killed in New York by a car. What might the world look like today had Churchill not been around when Hitler gained power?

In 31 B.C., Cleopatra and Mark Antony took on a Roman naval force at the Battle of Actium. Had Cleopatra and Antony won, the Romans would have been forced to pull out of the eastern Mediterranean, and the Greeks would likely have taken control. Does that matter to us? Maybe. The Greeks did not do crucifixions.

So history can be interesting.

So can science. Forget about calculating how long it takes a person who falls off the roof of a 70-story building to hit the street. Ask instead why we fall at all? Why we leave the rooftop and don’t just continue across the sky? Leave a copy of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole (or a number of other science books) lying around the house, and our kids should develop a fascination for physics. Or biology. Or archeology. Or one of the other sciences.

As to literature: we had a high school English teacher who spent a long portion of the year reading to us each afternoon from A Tale of Two Cities. He was a dull reader and even if he’d been Conan O’Brien the book was way too long to persuade his students to start reading Dickens on their own. I stayed clear of him until I was well into college. My suggestion: settle for getting our children interested in reading. One way to do that is to read to them. But choose carefully.

We’ll find it hard to go wrong with James Thurber, especially “The Greatest Man in the World,” or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” A Sherlock Holmes story should work, something like “The Red-Headed League.” Or a science fiction story, possibly Ray Bradbury’s “The Martians,” from The Martian Chronicles, or Robert Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth.”

Get in front of the issue early and we should be able to sit back and enjoy watching our kids develop.

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