Monday, March 12, 2007

Hitler and Time Machines vs. Mice and Cheese

The other day we went skiing and, in the car on the way back, after six and a half hours of green and blue runs, the guy was in a mood to talk. It's remarkable how moving his body seems to help with talking. My wife also points out that cars are a great place for conversation, as the passenger and the driver sit side-by-side with no eye contact, which takes the stress off.

The subject of the day was time machines, as it has been for about a week. I don't know why time travel popped into his consciousness, but it has been great, because the whole issue of the past and history has been been very murky for the guy up to now, but with the idea of being able to visit, everything is starting to make sense to him. On this day my guy wanted to go back to 1937, to see his grandfather being born. I suggested that 1937 would be a scary year to visit Europe, and this lead to going through the entire history of WWII. He "got" the everything with all the questions and outrage you would expect of anyone hearing the story for the first time.

I was really impressed because an hour of abstract discussion of history is not usually the sort of thing to hold his attention. So I decided to press my luck and make the conversation even more abstract. I told him, "I want you to consider a question that has no right answer. There are two ways to answer it, but people have been debating it for years, so no reply is completely right or wrong, it's just interesting to discuss." He was up for it, so I asked him "If you could use your time machine to go back to the 1930s and you found Hitler in a restaurant, would you kill him?"

The guy didn't even miss a beat. He said, "No. Killing is not a good idea." And then, before I had chance to complement him on his principled response, he went on to say, "But you could talk to him. You could tell him that all the people would died from the bombs, and make him not do it." I was amazed. I said there was no right answer, but he had come up with one. And then he added, "But he might not listen to you, because he was too busy taking over the world. So you should use the time machine to go to when he was a kid. Because kids are nice and if you tell him when he was a kid, he might listen to you. You could tell him, 'Listen, there are lots of other jobs out there besides taking over the world.'"

The conversation went on from there to the problems of getting recognition for changing history (no one in the present would know of the problem that had been adverted) and whether it was worth trying to change people's ways when so many do not listen (the guy thought it was).

You might, by this point, be wondering why this tale of a father's ordinary pride in son grappling and with and successfully navigating abstract questions is worthy of a blog post. To put this in context, a few days earlier the school SLP had announced that they guy was incapable of grasping the concept of "why." She had presented him with a picture of a mouse and some cheese, and a second picture of a fat mouse and no cheese. Apparently he had been unable to explain what had happened. She had interpreted this as meaning that cause and effect was beyond him. And the thing is, maybe it was in that context. Or maybe he just didn't care enough about mice and cheese to give any thought to the question. I don't know. All I know is that the guy who can devise improved, ethical methods for changing history is seen by his SLP as incapable of the most rudimentary abstract thought, and will continue to be treated as such in school.

-- As an addendum, at dinner tonight our guy complained about the SLP who had raised his ire by taking him out of class where they were correcting their spelling (apparently a fun activity) and made him do boring testing. When we asked whether he had told her the testing was boring he said, "No, I just stand still and try to pretend she doesn't exist." That could explain some of the results that she's getting.

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