Bug periods

I’m reading the autobiography of the entomologist Edward Wilson who began studying the behavior of very small creatures as a young child in Alabama in the 1930s. I picked it up in part because I know lots of children with sustained and sustaining fascination with small wildlife, and in part because I’m generally interested in the forces that focus any person on a thing the way Wilson has remained focused on ants.

Also, when Howard Gardner revisited his multiple intelligence theory, one of the intelligences he added to his original seven is a naturalist intelligence.  Wilson writes “Most children have a bug period.  I never grew out of mine.” I think there’s an extent, as he suggests, to which there may well be something about bugs in particular that enchants many young minds just by virtue of recent arrival on the planet.  But I also wonder how many of us “grow out of” the pursuits and fascinations we’re best suited to because they don’t sufficiently impress the adults around us or bear upon the things that have been declared of import.  Many a critical eye would have looked upon (and likely did look upon) Wilson’s early attention on the machinations of the ant community as a frivolous waste of time, just as many such eyes look upon much of what young children do now as such.  A book like this one sets out in part to identify and articulate the forces that held steady in the face of whatever opposed perseverance, and even after only 50 pages it’s clear that in Wilson’s case those forces were many.

One of the things that makes it tricky to know exactly how to support and guide a young person is that often the very things that throw themselves in our paths, compelling us to adjust ourselves to get around or through them, are the ones that lead us to our best or most fulfilling work.  I’ve often heard that fact used as justification for insisting that young people continue to suffer and struggle at the hand of academic training even when they’re craving other kinds of work.  But it seems to me as though the world manages to offer up plenty, to each of us, in the way of heartbreak and other hindrance that we needn’t go looking for ways to provide it for one another in the interest of building strength and character.

But I digress a bit.  I’m wondering this morning what it would be like if we directed our attention to the fascinations of children such that our strongest communication to them was of curiosity. Of an eagerness to find out, over time, which of the many things that enthrall them when they are very young they will leave behind, having wrung all the learning and growth from them that they need, and which they will keep as companions for the rest their journeys.

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