Learning Skepticism

Third Grade was a turning point. First and second grade crawled by, from day to day. I didn’t really mind as I found them interesting. The introduction of a store and a system of exchange in second grade kept me motivated, too. But I remember time speeding up, very distinctively, between the start and end of third grade. I felt it at the time, and I’ve always believed it since: my sense of time passing became keener after that year.

Now I take this to mark a change in my intellectual development, as well as a developing perception of my settings. At the same time I began to see the world turning quicker I also started to question the individuals who filled that world.

My parents are very special people. They believe in objective truth, and live accordingly. I believe generally in the former and I occasionally attempt to behave like it. Mom and Dad made a concerted effort to never lie to their children, as far as I’ve been able to recall. They plead the Fifth plenty of times, but they never told an outright lie. What they told us, they believed. Teasing generally came from other sources (grandpas, mostly), but my parents were wedded first to verity. I didn’t always agree with their concepts of truth, but I couldn’t challenge their resolve.

As I consider the impending birth of my own child, I wonder if I’ll do the same thing. Very unlikely. I think I’ll try to make it clear that I’m joking sometimes. We’ll see.

Which brings us back to third grade. In third grade (and perhaps fifth grade—it starts to run together) we had a couple of memorable assignments. One was to argue against the end of recess. Fine, I can make a case for the social, physical, emotional, and even the intellectual benefits of activity, exercise, fresh air, and general childish chaos. But the assignment didn’t stop there: it meant to light a fire under our plastic desks by suggesting that the principal (who was no “pal” on this day) thought recess a needless extravagance or an assault on our rigorous third-grade curriculum, or some similar nonsense.

The assignment worked, probably; kids who had before had no reason to write so much as a sentence suddenly found the Muse breathing down their necks. We filled out notebooks with pleas for sanity as fast as our pencils could move. I put on my lawyer’s wig and poured my love of recess onto those pages, attempting to make the man see reason.

Perhaps my arguments would have swayed him, too, had he actually read these many missives. But eventually the word was out: the principal had commissioned no such letters; there was no move to ban recess. Our teacher shrugged it off: that was the end of that. While my classmates seemed satisfied with the return of a privilege, I was offended by the loss of a right: a right to the truth.

I was being toyed with. My parents hadn’t prepared me for this. Adults could be liars.

Later we were to design a new Cheerios box: General Mills had entrusted the research and development of its billion-dollar business to a collection of grade-schoolers in Oregon. I didn’t stop to question their business decisions, though, since I was in too much of a rush to produce a perfect prototype. The box I created was pentagonal, with a flat top and a bottom and a latch that would (ideally) keep the lid on when desired. Was it more efficient than the traditional box? No. The volume was greater, but little did I know that the trend in cereal production would soon be to shrink the amount going into the boxes, rather than to increase it. Was it prettier? Well, I tried: there was some sort of blue-and-pink striping where the sides met, I think, to dress up the traditional yellow.

It was, actually, a heart-shaped box. When I found out that this “contest” was also a fake, I was once more disgusted, disappointed, and defeated.

I wanted to tell my teachers: I would have made the box anyway. You didn’t need to sell it. I enjoyed school—everything we did was something new and interesting, to me. All they managed to do was waste my trust.

We were told to write something Christmas-themed that winter. I wrote a story proving the fallacy of a belief in Santa Claus. My teacher preferred I keep that one to myself. The people, I insisted, had a right to know.

2 comments on “Learning Skepticism

  1. mama cheryl says:

    I’m sure as a parent you will find the place of truth & joking around with no substantial damage to your child. Ha! You’re gonna be a fantastic parent – no joking….it’s the TRUTH

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