Tonight, Oot brought me a penny he’d found on the floor.
“Look,” he said. “It’s burned.”
It wasn’t a bad guess, everything said. A good guess, but wrong. It’s corroded.
For half a moment I thought about correcting him on this, but I didn’t.
Looking back, I could come up with some excuse for *why* I didn’t correct him. I could claim that corrosion is sort of like a slow chemical burning. But that would be bullshittery. The truth was, at that moment, it didn’t feel right to correct my boy. So I didn’t. I went with my gut.
“Maybe it got too close to the sun,” Oot said.
This was another good guess. Though it was probably wrong as well.
What pleased me is that my decision to keep my mouth shut paid such an immediate dividend.
If I’d told my boy the truth right away, he would have nodded and said, “Oh of course!” Or “Oh, I see!” And he would have gained a tiny fact. Namely, that a coin that looks like this is corroded. (Something he could have parroted back to me. But that he wouldn’t have understood in any meaningful way.)
But that’s not what happened. Instead, left to himself. His curiosity was engaged. He asked a question of himself, “How could this have gotten burned?”
Then he came up with an answer: It might have gotten to close to the sun.
This isn’t a bad guess. He knows fire would have to be pretty hot to burn metal. A match isn’t going to do it. What’s hotter than that? The sun.
And here’s the thing. He’s wrong. But the process he’s going though is good. What he’s actually doing, asking questions and attempting to figure out the answers, it’s the roots of rationality. The process he’s undertaking is the core of all true philosophy and science.
He looked at the penny again. “Actually,” He says. “It looks like moss.”
It’s called “verdigris,” I thought. It’s like rust, but it happens on copper instead of iron. Also, interesting fact, it’s mildly poisonous.
I thought that, but I kept my mouth shut.
Why? Because I am occasionally wise.
Because this is not the internet.
(Comic loveliness from the brilliant XKCD, of course.)
Because when a child comes to you in the full flush of discovery, brimming with excitement, correcting them is not the proper thing to do.
Because the truth is, facts can be small, sad things.
But learning to ask questions and guess at answers? That is the beginning of true understanding. Those are the bones of the world.
* * *
I have news. I’ll be posting about it as soon as I have internet in my house again. Stay tuned.