Last Day of Break

“Daddy, I don’t understand. OnĀ Sid the Science Kid, the teacher calls all of the children scientists.” The Boy paused for a moment: he’s learned how to pause to heighten the moment just a bit. “That can’t be right! They can’t be scientists!”

We were on our way home from shopping, leaving the girls at home this last day of break. K stayed home because of a lingering illness, so we were together for the morning, but the Boy and I headed out after lunch to do the week’s grocery shopping.

“Why can’t they be scientists?” I asked, wondering what he had in mind.

“They’re justĀ kids!”

“So?”

“To be a scientist, you have to have a job. That’s your job. A scientist,” he explained still frustrated, though sometimes with him it’s hard to tell if the frustration is real or just pretend, as if he’s trying it on for size.

I thought about his definition and reasoning for a few moments, thought about why the teacher would be calling children scientists — obvious for an adult, not so much for a child.

“Well, E, it’s a question of scientific thinking. She’s calling them scientists because they’re behaving like scientists. They’re thinking like scientists.” This satisfied him for a few moments, but it didn’t satisfy me. I was wondering if he would ask what it means to think scientifically, hoping he would ask. He didn’t, so I prompted him. “Do you know what that means, to think like a scientist?”

“No.”

“It’s a process. You observe. You think about why things happen. You make predictions about why things happen; you check those predictions…”

I fear a lot of Americans really have no clue what it means to think like a scientist.

The other night, while on a walk, I was listening to an old sermon by a religious leader, and he was railing against “intellectualism.” He never really defined it. He never really explained why it was so bad other than to say it was vanity. He was upset about how some Biblical scholars will spend so much time picking at the smallest little detail, and as he said that it occurred to me that he really didn’t have a firm grasp of what those scholars were doing, how they were examining the text, their methodology and the justification for it.

I think this is a common thread in America, this anti-intellectual position, and it’s directed at all sciences. People dismiss all sorts of things they, were they taught like Sid the Science Kid to think scientifically, they likely wouldn’t dismiss, and they accept things that, were they taught like Sid the Science Kid to think scientifically, they would dismiss out of hand.

So I was very pleased when E later spoke of thinking scientifically. And as he played Go Fish with the girls, it occurred to me that here is a perfect opportunity for some basic critical thinking: observe (listen to what others are asking for); test (ask for a few things in a systematic way); repeat.