Through my seventeen years of school, I completed a lot of research papers. Over the course of writing those papers, I crammed a lot of information into my brain, most of which is now inaccessible because it is buried beneath more recently accumulated knowledge like how to change a diaper, fix a drain pipe and reassemble damaged Lego sets. Trying to have an enlightened, intellectual conversation would require preparation on my part akin to digging the Christmas decorations that you swear you didn't throw away but which you haven't seen for several years (the ones from your old apartment) out from the crawl space.
While I can now appreciate the knowledge and skill in presenting a point of view that these projects helped me develop at the time they were assigned each and every one of them seemed nothing more than a torture device used by my teachers to crush my youthful spirit. They asked me how Kant's philosophy both built upon and differed from the theories of Leibniz and Newton but the question I heard was, "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?"
Knowing that my interest in writing research papers increased in direct correlation to the amount of time that had passed since I last wrote one, when my third grader came home with his first research paper assignment (the first to be done on his own that is), I hoped that he would take a genuine interest in completing it. I waned the work he did to produce the finished product to be fulfilling and meaningful without applying too much pressure. I wanted him to look back on his paper once he was finished and be able to see the glorious achievement that is knowledge for its own sake.
I also hoped that his research into polar bears would spark some kind of epiphany causing him to realize at the ripe old age of nine that his calling is to become a zoologist or marine biologist. I imagine this was similar to how my parents were convinced I would become an architect due to my obsession with Lego (an assumption we can all look back on now and laugh...while crying on the inside). I pictured him making plenty of money performing in a career that truly inspired and drove him instead of being stuck in a job he didn't like just to make ends meet. I recognized those feelings as my own baggage, however, and promptly buried them next to the old Christmas decorations and my knowledge of metaphysics.
My wife assisted my oldest son in finding some reference materials. She then quickly showed him how to look information up in the index of a book and released him to fly on his own. I pretended not to pay too close attention to any of this and tried my best to ignore my desire to watch over his shoulder as he worked.
Last evening, several days after the start of the project, he had completed his rough draft and his work space looked like this:
To be honest, it is a lot more organized and thorough than anything I did, even in college. Notice the colored Post-It Note tabs to mark the locations of useful information. Also, the polar bears and seal on the left shall be used in his diorama of the polar bear's habitat to be completed later today.
I hope that this experience will be something he can use for the rest of his life. I hope it drives him to keep learning all that he can. I hope he uses his budding research skills for better purposes than his father, who these days researches toys and video games in an attempt to stage a presentation to his mother about why they are worth the money and, more importantly, time to be spent on them
No matter what this means for the future, it is obvious my little man is growing up fast and learning so much about the world around him and that's enough for now. I'm very proud.
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