Reposted from April 20, 2006

April 20, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in Essays | 1 Comment

I believe that children, young children, are very intelligent creatures. We start out in this world with no real knowledge and so we conduct ourselves with open minds at the start, simply because we know no different. So we go along absorbing information, this and that, pretty much whatever is presented, and it's the summation of these things that we absorb that builds the knowledge from which we later draw references from.

Whether or not this knowledge makes us more or less intelligent really, I think, depends on the situation presented. For example, while we're taught in school to "Stop, Drop, and Roll" in the event we catch fire. Not having such knowledge in the event that that we burst into flames could be fatal to even the most intelligent of us. On the other hand, having "Stop, Drop, and Roll" on our mind at all times may bias us, may close our minds, and we may find ourselves rolling furiously while burning in a boat on a lake.

By making these statements I don't mean to imply that having knowledge of "Stop, Drop, and Roll" is bad for a child to have. I think it's incredible knowledge for a child to have. But say that "Stop, Drop, and Roll" was substituted with "Run as fast as you can." We all must admit that at one point in our life the "Run as fast as you can," approach made sense. But we all now know that running simply makes the fire burn faster by supplying more oxygen.

The point I'm trying to make is that we need to make certain that the information we take as our knowledge is as accurate as possible. It does not matter how intelligent we are, if we're told that running faster would put a fire out and we don't already have a concept of what is physically going on while a material burns to dismiss that misinformation, that's all we have to go on and we accept it. Another evil is that to accept the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" method after accepting the "run faster" method, we have to qualify that it is in fact a better course of action to take when in flames. Whether or not we do that to our satisfaction before the time comes will determine how badly we're burned.

You're thinking that this is a ridiculous example, and it is. I agree. But this type of misinformation is constantly thrown at us by television, literature, and even well meaning people. When this sort of thing happens to other people I feel that we must interject, for the health and safety of those involved. As an example, I'll give a situation of where I failed to do so.

Over the summer I had two classes. One was Organic Chemistry and it got out at 11 AM. The second was Calculus 2, and it started at 7 PM. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm basically a homeless guy. I had no way to leave campus comfortably during these 8 hours in between so I spent this time studying on campus.

One day in June, about 11:30 in the morning. I'm walking along, minding my own business, sipping my coffee, hauling my gigantic backpack from the RSC to Jabara getting ready to stare at my Calc book. Everything was going along as it normally would until a woman who appeared to be in her early 30s finished walking in my direction carrying a bullhorn. She said something like, "Here we are." As I was passing by, 20 8 year olds stopped by her.

Their destination was a statue on the Wichita State campus. It's of 3 indian women. Indian as in from India in Asia. It's between Sri Lanka and the Himalayas. They appear to me to be mature women, in their native dress, barefoot, and a little chubby.


I couldn't help overhearring, not by snooping she had a bullhorn, her ask these children, "Now what do we notice that's different about these women?"

One kid said, "They're poor."

She said, "Yes, they don't appear to have much. Anything else?"

Another kid said, "They're fat."

She said, "Okay, okay. But what ELSE do we notice about these women?"

The kids said nothing.

She punctuated, "These women are Native Americans from India."

Obviously this woman meant well. I refuse to assume she's some sort of demon who gets off by teaching children the most inappropriate thing possible. She was trying to expose these children to other cultures through a work of art. She was attempting to do so senstively by using what she must have thought is the politically correct term. The only problem was she did not know what she was talking about.

I stopped in my tracks. I may have fainted, but I'm not sure. The next few minutes are fuzzy. I remember turning around and the kids were well on their way to another statue. I thought about tracking them down and clearing things up, but I didn't. I don't know why I didn't, because it seems like something I would do. Maybe I was in shock.

I didn't see either of my two young nieces until a month or so later. The minute I saw them I sat them down and explained the them that the term Native Americans is used for people who were in America before the Europeans came and took over, and that Indians are from India which is in Asia. Native Americans were called Indians because Christopher Columbus thought he was in India, and they're generally called Indians in the movies and the Cleveland baseball team. It's a misnomer and the correct term is Native American. I showed them India on a map. I showed them a necklace a Native American made me. I made sure they understood and then I made them repeat, "Native Americans are Americans, Indians are from India," a few times to really make sure my point was made.

They looked a little scared but I had to. I love my nieces.


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  1. […] Reposted from April 20, 2006 April 20, 2006 at 12:00 am | In Essays | Essay originally posted at my MySpace blog of a now defunct account and reposted originally on “Defending Science, Scientists, Non-Scientists” here. […]

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