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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Bombs, Farts, Ideas

A Story I Just Have to Tell

I seem to be the parent of choice for walking my third grader and his pals to school, because each trip we take up the same question: how could we have destroyed the Berlin Wall — what combination of atomic bombs, wrecking balls, stealth teams with special cutting devices, could have done the deed without causing us to be bombed in return (or does that matter?). But today I had a new question for the boys — which I’d already tried out on Sasha at home: "as you know, English is phonetic, but there is something you do everyday that can be understood in any language no matter how the letters and words are pronounced. What is that?" 

One boy immediately gave a great answer that I had not considered, "fart." While he was certainly right, that was not what I had in mind. He tried again and I misheard his second cool idea "laugh" for what is of course the response I had in mind, "math." The boys loved thinking about it. As Sasha and I discussed, a chimp first climbing down out of the trees who had no articulated language might still know two berries, two twigs, as different from one or three. Although, in very early counting in Sumer — I seem to recall reading — there was no such thing as "twoness" there was a word for "two cows" or even something like "this red and white cow along with this brown spotted one" — the numeral named the specific thing, it did not exist as an abstraction.

To me that short conversation covering bombs, farts, and ideas — all abubble in the alert freshness of kids’ brains — is so much more alive than the familiar idea that school should start with you, your home, your town and/or story and fable. Those boys are more martial, more material/gross, and more intellectual/abstract than the old school formula. Does that sound like kids you know? How can we harness all of that energy to learning?