A few nights ago, we were at my parents' house for dinner. And, after dinner, Baboo and The Boy retired to the playroom to build with blocks and chat. After the usual small talk, the topic turned to Stonehenge.
"You know, Baboo," The Boy said authoritatively, "some theorists think that aliens visited earth thousands of years ago and built Stonehenge using advanced technology."
Baboo raised an eyebrow. "You don't say," she replied, then shot a look at me in the doorway, where I was eavesdropping.
Later that evening, as we were putting away the supper dishes with The Boy out of earshot, she complimented his vocabulary and his curiosity, while adding a cautionary observation. "With him being as smart as he is, it must be hard for him to sort out all of that nonsense he hears that's presented as fact. You know, because he's so imaginative."
OK, first of all, big points for the compliment sandwich! That was good, the way she did that. And, in the interest of full disclosure, both The Boy and his father are enormous geeks when it comes to History Channel shows about things like aliens and Bigfoot and ghosts. If you give The Boy a choice between watching a cartoon and watching crazy-haired Giorgio Tsoukalos rant about prehistoric space travel, he's Giorgio's huckleberry all the way. That kid loves a good theory. No matter how far out.
But here's where I might lose some of you, including Baboo (sorry, Baboo): I have no problem with him believing in ancient astronauts, or ghosts, or Bigfoot. Do we have proof that they exist? No, not definitively. Without getting all theological on you, we don't have proof that God exists, either, but raising children to believe in God isn't considered to be crazy, you know? And most of us tell our kids that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy exist, so where's the accountability there? It's a slippery slope. My feeling is that you might as well throw up your hands and shout "Wheeee!" because if you're a parent, you're going down it whether you want to or not.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that I believe in every single crackpot theory that the History Channel devotes an hour to hyping, but at the same time, I don't see where it's a bad thing to raise kids to be open to the possibility that these things could exist. If we limit ourselves to only thinking about things that were proven as fact, we'll never come up with anything new and innovative. What if Edison's mother had told him to stop thinking about light bulbs because they didn't exist? OK, maybe he wasn't 5 years old, but Leeuwenhoek came up with an improved microscope when he was 16, and Westinghouse patented his first engine at 19. And I've got to think that somewhere in the background, there was a parent encouraging them to imagine.
When I was a kid during the SOL-less 1970s, my Richmond Public School classrooms were frequently host to visiting thinkers and artists in bell-bottoms and ponytails who lit candles and encouraged us all to close our eyes and imagine. Then we would brainstorm, and free-associate, and do all kinds of other crazy, non-fact-based activities that gave me the decent set of mental chops I have today. I remember spending what seemed like a whole semester at Henderson Middle School working on plans for a community on the moon. How would we breathe? What would we do about gravity? Food? Toilets? More important, how incredibly awesome would a theme park on the moon be? Hey, when you're in seventh grade, a theme park is a necessity, not a luxury. Most of our time was spent planning the theme park.
Part of the reason we chose to home-school was because we would rather see The Boy planning theme parks on the moon than memorizing the answers on a standardized test, and these days I don't see that happening as much as it should in the classroom. When he asks me if there is life on other planets, or if Bigfoot exists, I am perfectly OK with telling him that I don't know. Because I don't. And neither does anybody else. But maybe one day, he'll be the one to figure it out.