Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, March 3, 2013

External Wonders - Asking Why

A recent ad running on the sports networks has a five or six year-old asking repeatedly, “Why?” to an increasingly frustrated father figure who eventually says, “Don’t you think you should ask your dad?”  The hook is that he is either an insurance agent or a financial analyst and the viewer is reminded that he knows all the answers.

I was trying to remember when my now eight year-old grandson last asked me, “Why?”  And I couldn’t remember any time since I introduced him to Balboa Island, its Ferry and the famous Balboa Bars.  I think he was four or five.  That short trip elicited at least five “Why?” questions.

When I was growing up my “Why?” phase lasted well into my early teens and encompassed such topics as: Why do we call it “internal combustion”? (there was a guy down the block who was building a car and became a magnet for us kids in the nether time between supper and bedtime), Why doesn’t dad hunt? (His father died when he was very young), why does the sun coming through a magnifying glass get so hot? (Concentration and focus, and so little boys can fry ants).

Of course it was more difficult to find answers ourselves then.  Google has replaced the Encyclopedia.  Kids own Smart Phones with internet access as early as nine (maybe earlier).  And adults have less time or inclination to become the reservoir of knowledge.  Teachers with stricter demands to teach to test, have more structure and less opportunity to answer individual questions.

And maybe there is less wonder at what is happening outside themselves.

Hubble Telescope
I feel there may be a loss in not having that curiosity about the wonders that are outside ourselves.  I worry that there may not be a future Hubble, curious about a world beyond our reach, or a Shackleton, braving elements and scarcities to save his crew from death in the Antarctic.

I shared my concern with my younger son, who has taught elementary students for almost fifteen years now.  He told me not to worry.  That Ethan asks him “Why?” questions all the time.  That there are probably three reasons I haven’t noticed his curiosity: I am not his recognized source of knowledge, the time we spend together is often time shared with his brother and/or father, and answers I may have given in the past were too long, complex, or vague for him to understand well.

“With kids, you have to keep it simple.”

I asked what kind of “Why?” questions he asks.  Tim said, “Start with the most common one, ‘Why is the sky blue?’”

“How did you answer?” I ask.

“Water.  Water disperses the sun, much like a prism.”

I feel better already.  My answer would have taken five minutes.

In my next post I will share some knowledge of a group I belong to: the American Institute of Wine and Food, which I have been asked to do a presentation on for a book group discussing one of the founders, Julia Child.

I think you will find it interesting and hope you will join me.

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