preschoolers and scholarship

When I started writing here, back at the beginning of a sabbatical in precambrian times, I imagined that there would be lots of development of scholarly ideas, the beginnings of pieces of writing that would lead to grant proposals and scholarly journals. Some of that has happened, but mostly I end up writing about the day-to-day, and usually the best writing is reserved for my family. I guess that’s just where I’ve been lately. Or, more likely, it’s where I seek solace.

I was lamenting this a bit as I was writing about family and fatherhood and a trip to Disneyland. That piece is not quite ripe yet, and maybe it won’t ever be. Working on the contrast between fathers and sorority girls in an amusement park was harder than I’d thought.

So, I turn to that scholarly page of my life, making sense of the academic obligations of my existence. Today it’s all about preschoolers.

Preschoolers are heard before they’re seen. You can hear the slight screech of the school bus brakes in the parking lot outside, followed by voices that emanate like fizz from a bottle of soda. They pour out of their ride, spill down the stairs and line up at the lecture hall. They all wear blue shirts, oversized and pulled over whatever they were dressed in that morning, a uniform of sorts, but more importantly a beacon of recognition for their field trips beyond the school walls. They step carefully into the room, slowly picking out one of the seats in the one of the first two rows. They boost themselves up into the yellow buckets, contrasting their blue shirts. Their feet all dangle. The chairs’ backs hover over their heads.

Within minutes they are cheering — yes, cheering — for a bowling ball to fall or a disk to roll or a cart to collide. And then one of them says, “I want to be a scientist!” And I tell them that’s a good idea. Their feet are still dangling 6 inches above the floor.

I said I’d “turn to that scholarly page,” and so far it sounds like I’m just writing about cute children in oversized shirts and seats. But, it turns out, this is all scholarly. And cute. These kids epitomize what I like about people. They’re eager, inquisitive, filled with wonder. A friend of mine studies early childhood science education, and emphasizes how these kids embody the scientific attitude. If we can just maintain the attitude of a 5-year-old, we’d have a much more scientifically minded society. I’m reviewing a book about this — another project that’s been sitting on a shelf . The text claims that it’s this group that is exactly primed for science, and that we need to do more to promote this. I didn’t ask the kids today what they thought of such an argument. They were too busy giving me hugs as they left to catch their school bus.

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