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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Learning to Say, "I Don't Know"

The Washington Post reports that much of what fathers (and mothers) tell their children is wrong:

Doug Hardy was barely inside the door of the National Air and Space Museum when he made up his first "fact."

On a sunny morning a few days before Father's Day, Hardy and his son Andrei were huddled under the Mercury capsule. Like countless dads before him, he was explaining rocket science to his boy, in this case how the mottled heat shield protected John Glenn from a fiery death as the craft plunged through the atmosphere.

Then Andrei, 12, asked: What are these dark disks made of?

Again, like countless dads before him, Hardy answered confidently -- even though he didn't have a clue.

"Steel," he said.

(The shield is actually made from a plastic-fiberglass composite, said Michael Neufeld, chairman of the museum's space history division. The disks are plugs left over from post-flight analysis.)

If it didn't occur to Hardy to say, "I don't know," he's not alone. The phenomenon of the "know-it-all dad" is a familiar one to the docents, curators and keepers of America's museums and zoos.

"Just about every time I'm on the floor, I hear a father say something incorrect to his kids," said Bobbe Dyke, who has been a docent and tour guide at Air and Space for 31 years. "You can't butt in and correct them in front of the kids. You just have to cringe."

Oh, yeah, I've cringed, too.

I've heard a man reading the Macy's window display placards to his kids and he said the word "scuzzy" for "scullery" maid.

I've heard a father tell his kids that all sharks were dangerous and that they mostly liked to eat people.

I've confronted a father who told his son that the woman who was giving the presentation on the space shuttle at Cape Canaveral was "Just making things up to pretend that she was smart."

"I'm just kidding," he sneered at me after I confronted him (I was around seventeen years old, folks. Because I'm an angry young woman).

I wish that I had had a retort to that. If I had been more on the ball, I would have said, "Oh, you mean, you're 'just making things up to pretend that you're smart?'"

Why didn't I think of that then?

I don't know.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents frequently said, "I don't know." Then we looked it up. Sometimes at home and sometimes at the library and sometimes we asked other people.

You have to be really smart to admit that you don't know. You can make smart kids - by teaching them how to admit that they don't know things...

June 16, 2007 8:39 PM  
Anonymous AJ Milne said...

I frequently say "I don't know", too.

I probably would have, in any case... think I always have been pretty comfortable saying just that...

But what also helps, well, geez, you should hear the questions my kids ask me.

'Sides. My daughter's too alert. She'd catch me. I can absolutely picture her in that Smithsonian situation: 'Steel? Are you sure? Doesn't look like anything like steel to me. And wouldn't a metal that conducts heat pretty well kinda be a stupid thing to make a heat shield out of? Hey... Let's ask someone who really knows...'

(Okay... she's six, and maybe I'm exaggerating, slightly... but only a little.)

June 17, 2007 9:31 AM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

"I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." -- attributed to Socrates

June 17, 2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Yeah, my parents said, "I don't know" and then we'd look it up. Frankly, I don't think you can fool smart kids for long.

Which is probably what got Socrates in trouble. ;-)

June 17, 2007 10:33 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I meant, his not fooling the youth.

June 17, 2007 10:34 PM  
Blogger kop_op said...

This is a rather late reaction, but I feel like posting it anyway.
The moment I started reasoning -whenever that might have been (I'm nearing 80 now-, I rejected anything my parents and other well-inteded people wanted me to accept about Christianity. Likewise, I would have disapproved of any religious teaching, for that matter. That didn't make me an atheist, my reply to startled questions from my religious environment has always been "I don't know". And I feel unbelievingly comfortable with that doubt. Why SHOULD we be dead sure about everything?
I also doubt that you will be reading this, nearly four years after your original entry, I want you to know that your blogname Amused Muse amuses me. What definitely does not amuse me, is the story of Stephen Hatfill you commented about.

May 16, 2011 10:00 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Kop op, as fate (and me pulling out all the stops on my application) would have it, I landed an internship at the National Air and Space Museum! Did I hear parents make stuff up on the fly? Yes! *Gasp* At least no one said that the moon landings never happened.

Since I wrote this, I got my Master's and interned in DC, then landed a part-time job while volunteering for an aviation museum. One of the employees died and I took on the work of completing their inventory - talk about not knowing shit! It has been a challenge. All grad school gives you is the right tools - to dig out of the mud, or to dig yourself a really deep hole! ;-)

We're all improvising - anyone who says they aren't is selling you some swamp land.

May 16, 2011 11:08 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

But what's the deal with the Hatfill post? I have taken so much grief over that! Jeepers, why does he inspire so much resentment? I must be doing something right!

May 16, 2011 11:10 PM  

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