I hate to call another skeptic dad to task, but I read Dale McGowan’s latest blog post and… well. It’s complicated.
Dale advises that you don’t teach grade school kids about evolution all in one chunk, because they really can’t handle it or something like that. This is because he didn’t understand evolution until he was 19 or so. Now, Dale gives some advice that is good, and some that is bad. Some things he says (like the story about his son and the dog’s food bowl) is downright irresponsible and dangerous: if your dog growls at you when you pretend to eat his food, you put that mutt in a settle right away and take away his food. You alpha dog. Son beta dog. Dog gamma dog, and you should never, ever let a large dog think anything else. My dog is allowed to chase cats out of his food bowl. The Highlander takes his food away with absolutely no fear, and the dog lets him. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen a twenty pound toddler put a fifty pound lab/chow mix in a settle.
Where was I? Right, evolution. When I was in second, or maybe third grade, my Dad (Our Father, who Art in University) was in an old time string band. The string band met at one of the members houses about twice a week to practice, drink beer, and eat tacos and spaghetti, and I went along on those jaunts. It was pretty cool, funky houses in a weird neighborhood in Columbia, SC. And the house owner had a bunch of those “Cartoon History” books about the origin of life and evolution and so forth.
I read them, along with a stack of “Flash Gordon” and whatever else was on hand. And I understood them. It wasn’t that hard. Because the books started with the beginning, and ended with the present. They weren’t presented as “We used to be apes”, but took the story from fish getting legs to the monkey to the people, and told that way it made sense. Plenty of sense. Those books were awesome and engrossing and helped me to become a young science geek.
Part of the problem of parenting is that you feel like you have to be an expert on everything, and sometimes you just aren’t. And when you aren’t, you have to know it. I wasn’t born knowing how to make a dog take crap from a six month old (Dark Phoenix orders him around too), but when I got Dog I hired an expert to help me understand him. I had had dogs when I was a kid, but I knew that as the primary trainer I needed a refresher at least.
Similarly, I’m not an expert in writing accessible cartoon books that tell stories about science appropriate for 6-year olds. But there are people who are. And if you want to teach a child, it’s probably okay to hire them… that is, to buy the books. Your 7 year old is smarter than you think, if you let them put the ideas in their head at their own pace.