Fragile Young Minds

I had a most unusual dream…

The bright and warm morning was one of those gifts of the Gods, the perfect weather in which even decrepit old coots like myself crave the great outdoors. With a sense of hope, and a bit of dread, I arrived for my indoor duty at Jefferson Middle School to engage in a debate on the topic of global warming. I am but a humble mathematician, my contributions to the science of climate are paltry, but since they have tended toward revealing nonsense to be what it is, they have garnered some little attention, mainly from politicians who spout nonsense — a behavior which might appall my readers but is hardly likely to surprise them.

My adversary was to be one of my adversaries, a certain senator from Texas who preached the gospel of Jesus Christ while lobbying for as many bombs as his home state can produce; both his fervor for the manufacture of explosives, and his Christian charity, rarely stray outside the borders of the lone star state. I was well prepared to rebut his usual talking points, having heard them often. Yet I worried about his renowned rhetorical skill, fearing especially his ability to manipulate fragile young minds, so eager to absorb the wisdom of their venerable elders. Humble me, accustomed as I was to seeking truth among dry academics armed with figures and charts and equations, might be no match for one so practiced in the art of winning, at all costs and by any means necessary, the heart of the common man. As for our youthful audience, I could not help but feel a tinge of sadness remembering that the world we seem bent on ruining is not inherited from our fathers, it’s borrowed from our children. From them.

The audience itself was much too young to be of much interest to the senator, for the simple reason of being much too young to vote. But the photo-op was irresistible, the chance to tout his tender paternal care for our future with his own cameras rolling, carving in stone the image for all posterity to see. Having arranged to have both the first word and the last, he began his opening address as prelude to the back-and-forth in which he would demolish his poor opponent, leaving me a quivering mass of stuttering and embarrassment. But things didn’t go quite as either of us had planned. As soon as he uttered the words “there’s been no warming for eighteen years” (one of his opening salvos), a plainly audible comment — not a shout, not a passionate protest, just a plainly audible comment — emerged from those babes in swaddling clothes that are the students of Jefferson Middle School. The senator would probably have preferred simply to ignore the three words “That’s not true.” But they rose so clearly above the din of attentive silence in the auditorium that he couldn’t find it within himself to let them pass.

“It is true,” quoth the senator. “The satellite data prove it, they’re the best data we’ve got.” But before uttering his next word, another voice arose from the listeners, again as clear as a bell and with the authority that can only come from innocence. “The guy who publishes them says the surface data are better.”

The senator’s lips moved to respond, but not fast enough to overcome yet another voice from yet another youth, saying simply “And there’s a lot of other evidence too. A lot.”

The senator moved quickly this time, not hesitating to say “You mean like the ice in Antarctica, that’s growing?” The retorts came with the quickness that I could only muster when I was their age, “Only the sea ice, the ice sheet is melting,” followed hard upon by “So is the ice sheet in Greenland,” and a torrent of voices proclaiming “So is the Arctic sea ice,” “The glaciers are melting,” “The oceans are getting hotter,” “Heat waves are more common and more extreme,” “Plants are blooming earlier in the year,” “The sea is rising,” “The jet stream has changed,” “There’s more drought and more flood,” moved about the room like a mash-up of gifted students competing to be best in class, with land mines going off in chain reaction.

When he finally found himself able to get a word in, the senator spoke quickly in order to avoid the now-anticipated interruption. “Don’t let yourselves get fooled by a pseudo-scientific theory designed by big government politicians to get massive government control — we don’t know that it’s because of us, or because of carbon dioxide, we can’t even be sure that the carbon dioxide is because of us.”

The response was another gift from the Gods, a gift more beatiful than diamonds, more lustrous than gold, more precious than the one ring. For the first time, the mass of students uttered together, joing in a chorus rather than separate and distinct statements. In unison, they laughed.

An aide to the senator scurried to his side, whispering in his ear with a look of frightened urgency, matched only by the senator’s face, which resembled that of a student called upon to give a book report when he hasn’t read the book. The aide leaned over to the microphone and stated that an emergency required the senator’s immediate departure. He left quickly as the camera operators promptly packed up their equipment, amid the din of a crowd which was now talking with a much more intelligent listener — themselves.

Despite the glee with which I noted his departure, I lamented that the permanent record would not show it. The cameras were from the senator’s office, about as likely to make public what had transpired as politicians are likely to become paragons of honesty. But looking around the room I saw another gift from the Gods. Suddenly, the hands of most of those present were busy attracting the attention of the eyes of most of those present, as they waved their phones in front of each other. The kind of phone which sometimes befuddles aged codgers like me, because it takes pictures. Moving pictures, even.

It all faded as the cacophony of their iPhones turned into the cacophony of my alarm. I awoke finding myself alarmed … but also in a rather good mood.

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12 responses to “Fragile Young Minds

  1. Liked that. Had a similar style to CS Lewis’ The Great Divide. That dream would have left me in a rather good mood too.

    Re: borrowing the earth from our children. Borrowing implies you will return it. It seems we are intent on keeping it all for ourselves. But perhaps the children may yet take it back for themselves and return it in better condition to their children.

  2. Wouldn’t it be great if that dream turned into reality? Right about now would be good.

  3. David B. Benson

    If only …

  4. Sorry to be a Debby Downer, but I think your dream missed the educational ideals of the Texas School Board and likely new member Mary Lou Bruner.

  5. Kids, about your future?
    [Burp!] It was delicious.

  6. Indeed an emergency situation which will be remembered!

  7. My son’s 8th grade math class is just starting a project on climate change data. I forwarded your timely and relevant Loaded Dice article to their (wonderful) teacher.

    If you would like to help further convert your dream to reality, kindly contact me!

  8. What can I say … yes I’m a child of the 60s (and 50s dammit!)

    – as Simon and Garfunkel would say … (and the ‘war’ with deniers like Cruz/Trump is arguably more important)

    Last night I had the strangest dream
    I ever dreamed before
    I dreamed the world had all agreed
    To put an end to war
    I dreamed I saw a mighty room
    The room was filled with men
    And the paper they were signing said
    They’d never fight again

    And when the papers all were signed
    And a million copies made
    They all joined hands end bowed their heeds
    And grateful prayers were prayed
    And the people in the streets below
    Were dancing round and round
    And guns and swords and uniforms
    Were scattered on the ground

    Last night I had the strangest dream
    I ever dreamed before
    I dreamed the world had all agreed
    To put an end to war