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Coming Too High

“Watch me!  Watch me!”

The bicycle rack seemed innocent enough in its simplicity, three metal tubes about the width of flag poles that had been bent into flat bottomed ‘U’s which were then inverted so their legs could be bolted to the concrete below leaving the flat bottom for bicycles to lean against.  The rack was innocent alright, but the gang had attacked it anyway.  Now, having suitably pacified the beleaguered bike rack, they were all demanding attention.  Each of them had turned upside down supported only by their hands, their legs lying flat back across their bodies, feet beyond their heads.  The older two, seven year-old No. One and five year-old No. Two had started seated on the horizontal cross bar, then swung themselves back hanging on with their hands.  The youngest, three year-old No. Three stood about head level with the cross bar, so she started from below, squatted down a bit, took hold of the bar, swung her feet up to it, and finally laid her legs back along her torso, exactly like her older sibs.  Three bicycle racks, three upside down kids.  “Why’s everything upside down?”, they clamored and giggled as they swung back and forth. 

Their new gymnastic prowess could be directly attributed to a movement class they’d attended once a week for the preceding month or so.  The class was put together by a super-nice trainer the kids had run into.  She normally worked with adults, and had learned several of the techniques she was now teaching the gang in a class created for adults.  Perhaps as a result of this, or perhaps just because she was a really good teacher, the kids were learning how to do everything she’d learned in her class, nothing was watered down.  It paid off: the kids sense of balance rocketed.  They hopped on top of walls and railings all over town, trying out new maneuvers of their own invention.  They hung from monkey bars in the playgrounds like pros, and to the slight chagrin of some of the drivers, the gang put together that the bars intended for standing passengers on the bus could also be used to hang from jungle gym style. 

Their physical renaissance resurfaced a question that’s nagged me for some time.  What if, as a culture, we’re coming too low when we teach kids.  What if they have talents that remain hidden, unutilized for too long because of a baseline societal assumption that kids can’t.  What if we’re wrong?  What if our assumptions about ‘appropriate age ranges’ are off base?  What are we, and more importantly, what are kids missing out on as a result?

I’m not saying that the silly and frivolous stuff should be ignored, or is lost on kids, or for that matter on adults.  Silly stuff—’age appropriate’ stuff—will always have a place.  It’s fun to be silly.  No. One—the reader in our gang—loves a good cupcake princess book set in a world populated with fairies and dragons.  I mean really, who doesn’t?  But what if silly ‘age appropriate’ stuff didn’t have to be the only thing?

Earlier this week as we were transiting San Francisco, One, looking over my shoulder at a paper I was proofing, asked, “What’cha doin’?”

“Editing a paper Ithat’s due in a few days.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure!”, I handed her the first page of the paper.  “Read through, and let me know what you think.”

Her editing efforts paid off almost instantly, “Dad, what’s a DUT?”

I’d forgotten to define the paper’s first, and most frequently used acronym.  “A DUT’s a Design Under Test.”

“What’s a design?”

From there, we were off and running.  She had built circuits before, so I explained that a design was a model of a circuit just like the ones she worked on, a model we could simulate on a computer before we built the real thing.  I drew a circuit diagram, and then wrote the components—a resistor and a capacitor—as well as their series connection down as code.  When One asked what there was to test, I explained we needed to make sure every part of the design had been exercised and that it did what it was supposed to do correctly.  That brought us to code coverage, so we switched to programming rather than circuit code, and discussed how a branch of an ‘if-then’ conditional tree could be missed.  In the course of a bus ride, we’d discussed circuits, simulations, programming, and code coverage.  The kid was easily grasping the basics of my admittedly pretty simple job.

What if we hadn’t had that conversation?  What if I’d simply assumed No. One would never understand?  Think of what I would have missed.  Never mind we’d had fun discussing it all, it was worth it if for no other reason than my paper might have gone through with undefined acronyms.

So, I know it’s generally assumed that we should cover the basics at an age-appropriate level and at an age appropriate pace, but wow!  It’s so much more empowering to assume the opposite of society, to assume kids can!  What if we aimed high first, and then backtracked when and if we had to?  How much more fun could we have?  How much more could we all learn?  Where could we go from there?

“But Will if you come to high, that’ll alienate folks and they won’t buy it.”
—Will Smith 

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