Monday, October 16, 2006

The Nerd Educates Young People About van Gogh, Native Americans and the Art of Conversation

My parents threw a party this past weekend. What is a Pakistani party without crazy children being loud, disruptive and posing a threat to themselves and other partygoers? And why, oh why, do I--after 27 years and 7 months of being Pakistani--still become shocked and outraged at the lack of interest most Pakistani parents have in instilling their children with manners? "Oh, they're just kids," I've heard them say time and again. Yes, they're kids, BUT THEY'RE NOT MONKEYS. Teach them how to be human, dammit because they'll be ridiculous adults before you know it.

So, there were three little boys (the oldest was 7; his younger brother and their friend were 5) who were behaving most abhorrently and monkey-like at the party on Saturday. At one point they nearly mowed down this very pregnant woman and after no one else censured, them, I stepped in.

I demanded that they slow down, motioned for them to zip their lips and throw out the keys and sent them--mimicking me--to a smaller room off the community center's main room. Not three minutes had passed when I started hearing a ruckus of Johnny-Depp-trashing-his-hotel-room-back-in-the-day proportions. I walked into the room and the boys froze.

MUST you kids play ALL of the time? I asked them to which they cheekily replied that, yes, they must. I asked them if they'd ever just sat down and talked. No, they told me. Well, what did they do when they weren't running around? They played video games, of course.

And we wonder how George W. was reelected to office. Sigh.

Listen very carefully to me, I said, because the words I'm sharing with you are words of wisdom. YOU MUST LEARN HOW TO TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE, TO CARRY ON CONVERSATION. They looked up at me blankly. But we don't know what to talk about, the smallest of the three boys said. I sighed some more and asked them about what they were learning in school.

The other 5 year, who struck me as a studious type albeit--I won't lie--a bit of a show off, started telling me about a painter who'd, after eating his own paint, gone insane and chopped off his ear. Clearly, his art teacher had reduced Vincent van Gogh to a cautionary tale about the evils of eating finger paint, so I explained to the boys that the verdict was still out among experts about why van Gogh chopped off his ear and eventually committed suiced and that, while some folk do believe that consumption of paint might have been a contributing factor, there are way too many theories out there on the source of his mental illness to definitively conclude anything…unless you're an expert…and a kindergarten art teacher is no expert. I told the 5 year olds to confront the art teacher with this new, expanded information. She'd also, apparently, taught these boys that blue means sad and cold and red means hot. This reminded me of when, several years back, my cousin's children--a boy and a girl, who were 4 and 5 years old at the time--came running up to me and announced: I LIKE PINK, BECAUSE PINK IS FOR GIRLS (said by the girl); AND I LIKE BLUE BECAUSE BLUE IS FOR BOYS (said by the boy). Shudder. I instructed them to tell their teachers that red and blue could mean whatever the hell they wanted the colors to mean. They nodded with wide eyes. The studious boy then proceeded to summarize a book he'd read about King Tut. I told the boys it was very apparent to me that they needed to visit the Met. They promised to ask their parents to take them.

I was surprised when the two younger boys told me they hadn't learned anything about Native Americans while all the older boy knew about them was, "they're dying out, I think. They live someplace else, far away from us" and scratched his head in confusion.

I warned them that the Native American history they were likely going to learn in school would be a sanitized, watered down, bastardization of the truth; that from the moment Columbus first sighted American land, the Native Americans were murdered, marginalized and essentially raped of their humanity. It's a brutal history as most history is. Their task, I told them, is to question the perspectives that their very narrowly focused textbooks present. They said that the would. What's more, they actually appeared to be interested in what I told them and, dammit, they asked me questions! One of the boys (the studious one), my brother later told me, when leaving with his father, told him that a nice lady had been teaching him and his friends about the Native Americans and whether or not they could check out a book on the topic later that week.

This all goes to prove my belief that if you treat children like sub-intelligent alien lifeforms, you're going to raise idiots.They're way smarter than we think they are so, please, start giving them some credit.


Anonymous said...

You'll make a good mother; marry some poor soul already!

mist1 said...

Well said.

I am still trying to learn how to make conversation. It's the listening part that's hard.

Cocaine said...

I am not sure if it was the wisest thing to do. Children, especially of the age that you mention, can not comprehend the notion of context. They need for things to be told to them in black white.
And you went on disparaging their teacher who happens to be an important source of knowledge for them, some one they may not be able to trust again.
I see your point that a child’s energy needs to be focused in the right direction instead of them just gallivanting around and causing trouble. But just making them sit in a corner and talking won’t help develop the imaginative capabilities that nurtures a child’s mind. I am certain that when you were 5 or 7 you weren’t aware of the any Pluto other than the Disney one and even if you were there were other, more interesting things in your life.
At the same time, becoming more intellectual than their age isn’t good either. They are five year olds socializing with other five year olds so its not like they would be discussing the causes that led to Van Gogh’s demise. It will be GI Joes and such fads that would be at the center of discussions and thats how their communication skills would develop gradually. They would learn things with time, Enid Blyton at 6, Hardy Boys at 10, Shakespeare at 16 that’s the natural progression.
People become good communicators when they learn to think and not by being sponges of information. Thought develops with time and experience and we cant expect a 5 to 7 year olds to comprehend the complexities of life and death and cosmological facts. I am sure you may have had a more entertaining conversation with them had you asked them their opinion of what a martian or a plutonian looks like. Something that could contribute to more, I guess that may have been more conducive to developing their abilities to communicate.

rizwan said...

the indigenous people of the America's have had it terrible ever since that columbus fellow turned up off the coast.

so hats off to you for making some kids realize that. the most important lesson in my humble opinion about american history... the grandest genocide on the globe ever.

Anonymous said...

i have to side with cocaine here. their teachers are important in their development and that trust is important. undermining it doesn't do any good.

political correctness at ages 5-7. ha. what a notion! they're excited about something they learned and you throw back at them the 'correct' version of events, advising them to defy their teachers. i think nerddd, you might need to hit the books again and add a fourth 'd'. hold off on becoming a mother as commenter #1 suggests, puh-leeez.

SabilaK said...

It's not a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of questioning authority, questioning everything we're taught and knowing that nothing in this world is black and white. Fine, maybe it wasn't right for me to try to broaden the horizons of someone else's children but, rest assured, when it comes time for me to raise my own children, I'll be damnedddd (that's with four d's) if I bring them up to be anything less than independent thinkers.