Jan 8, 2014

News Graphs

Last winter 6 year old Oyon took to leafing through the Boston Globe newspaper that his grandmother left every day on the dining table. And demanding explanations that I was hesitant to offer.

His Dad often discusses current affairs with him as they browse news magazines together but this was new territory for me. I periodically shared a few dumbed-down headlines with him but my day of reckoning came when he declared that it looked like the world was in really bad shape and that he didn't want to hear any more news.

He didn't look happy. He can be a brooder and his sadness was unmistakable.

Not surprising either as the winter of 2012 was particularly brutal in our world. The Newtown school shootings were followed closely by the Delhi bus gang-rape, there was war everywhere, we lost 2 family members and people close to us were suffering from a gamut of very real challenges. There wasn't exactly sunshine and light surrounding him no matter how tightly we tried to keep the filters in place.

Plus, 6 year olds can take things quite literally: if the newspaper was reporting that the world was in a bad way, it must be true. That particular Saturday morning, when my little son gave up on the world with a heavy sigh, I bristled at what the world was doing to this little mind, what dark perspectives were etching themselves across this blank page full of promise. This little person, who would one day go on to shape the world we are leaving to him, was learning to give up before he even got started. I've no soaring hope from him that he'll become a world-changing leader. Good for him if he does, but I don't need him to. I DO need him to the best person he can be and that involves thinking for himself .

So I wasn't going to give in so easily. The 'graphs' his Kindergarten class had been drawing and their science game of Disproving Hypotheses flashed across my mind.  I scribbled a little chart with multiple columns, labelled the first 2 -'Good news' and 'Bad News' and handed it to him along with a few markers. I told him we were going to investigate what he just said.

We then got to work trying to see if all the news really WAS as bad as it seemed. No declared hypothesis but he understood (I think) that we were testing a notion for validity. We fetched his little globe so we knew where in the world the news was and I verbally summarized each article on the front page for him. He happily evaluated each news item then filled in a cell in the appropriate column (good vs. bad news) for a little while.

Then he piped up with one of the most wonderful insights that I have ever encountered in my 42 years on this planet. Paraphrased, it went something like this:
    "We need some more words, Mummum. It's not all 'good news' or 'bad news'. Some stuff starts out 'good' then turns into 'bad news'. But some OTHER stuff is sad but actually, kind of good!"

To my puzzled look he patiently explained the following about all the A380 Dreamliner aircraft that were just grounded (because of battery caused fires). Again , paraphrased, it went something like this:
  " It's BAD NEWS that people can't use those new, expensive planes. But isn't it actually 'GOOD news that they're fixing it so people don't suddenly fall out of the sky?"

I can no longer remember an example of how 'good news' proved to not be so. Suffice it to say, he didn't find too many of these instances. Already, he had learned to read what he WANTED to but I was happy to have him err on the side of optimism: there's plenty of time to teach him about Reality and introduce him to Cynicism.

The clincher came though when he asked me to add a category for 'Kind of silly'. The news item that prompted this was that some drunk police officers from our neighboring town, Newton, had chucked eggs at their supervisors house and then got caught. He refused to really qualify this as 'news' of  any sort and insisted on the special category. He chuckled a bit at the silly choice they made ("Didn't they know they'd get in trouble?!") but also at the thought of them handcuffing themselves since they were both THE law AND breaking it! When he'd recovered from that particular giggling fit we incorporated some basic math and took a look at just how bad the news really was.

This is how the world looked, per the The Boston Globe to my 6 year old Son in early 2012. In case you can't read it, there are 13 pieces of good headlines vs. 6 bad:

We repeated the exercise the following month:

The 'Kind of silly' article was a picture of some Patriots (our football team) fans crying in a sports bar over the team's loss. He not only thought it was silly to cry when you lost, he wondered why anyone would put that picture in the paper! I didn't have an answer for that one.

I really liked the way he categorized the world though. I love that when you add it all up, there's always more in the 'Good' column than the 'bad', that not everything is how it seems and that my little man learnt first-hand that the world is as good or as bad as you make it out to be.

1 comment:

  1. A lesson learnt well, while still young! I still sometimes toss the paper aside and wail about all the bad that's going on in this world! Maybe I ought to do the graph exercise too....today's Times of India had way too many "Silly" articles. Come to think of it, they usually do :-) It's a lesson we all must definitely learn, that not only is the world the way we perceive it, one can always find the Silly in anything and that can only help our perceptions!