Walk around Yale these days and you’re likely to find signs for the “Success by Six” campaign. I’ve spotted them throughout the campus, hawking an admirable program urging adults to pay attention to children during the formative early years of their life. A noble goal, one permitting some richly deserved reflection on the disappointments of adulthood.
Among the myriad pleasures of being a grown-up, certain bitter pills do exist. Sure, it’s terrific to smoke, vote, drink and drive — though hopefully not in that order — but some features of maturity are, being fair, downright disappointing.
Consider dinosaurs. If your childhood mirrored mine in even the broadest sense, you were inundated from an early age with these colossal brutes. Stories of their massive frames and carnivorous antics buoyed your early imagination. You studied them in grade school, drew pictures of them, saw them constantly on television, in books, advertisements. Dinosaurs were a pillar of childhood, as pervasive as traffic. And where are they now?
Speaking only for myself, I always assumed a certain portability of knowledge when it came to classroom subjects. Consciously or not, the notion did exist that I was attending school to learn things relevant to my future life. This belief is, I think, fairly common, and a child could rightly express dismay if, for instance, he struggled through years of decimal arithmetic only to discover that adults favored working their sums in binary.
This was exactly the smart of injustice I felt — dampened only slightly by years of collegiate education — when dinosaurs came up in recent conversation. With a rush of memory, all manner of facts came tumbling back — the Diplodocus, I said, had a second brain in its tail! The Stegosaurus used its formidable spines for heat exchange as well as defense! At once, I remembered an avalanche of dinosaur books, videos, fourth-grade discussions, and I distinctly recalled engaging, with an optimism so naive in hindsight, in rote memorization of the names, classes and characteristics of these beasts. Surely, this would stand me in good stead later on?
Hardly. A significant feature of early childhood, dinosaurs are notably absent from our daily lives today. We’ve moved on, enamored now with autos, clothing and elections. And while these are undoubtedly relevant — elections in particular must be monitored with extreme caution, as November 2000 amply demonstrated — I object to the sidelining of our antique, leathery friends. Would it really be so hard to bring dinosaurs back into the mix? Why not open some dino-themed gas stations? Play a round of Dinosaur Monopoly? Or perhaps we should institute some creative branding, mirroring that which once flooded us on morning television. I might not drive a Ford Iguanodon, but I certainly wouldn’t fault the fellow who did. In keeping with the priorities we internalized as kids, The New York Times should devote at least one full section to meandering discussion of dinosaur anecdotes, heavily laden with “artist’s conceptions” and epic illustrations of nature’s justice cruelly meted out in the primitive food chain. Why not quarry the vast Latin tableau of dinosaur names for our children themselves? A quick glance at the Social Security Administration’s online list of the top thousand baby names should quell any uncertainty you may harbor regarding the suitability of “Allosaur” as a kid’s handle; with 270 girls named “Lexus” last year alone — and “Armani” cruelly applied to 265 unwitting boys — the market is clearly ripe for new monikers.
Dinosaurs aren’t the only omnipresent feature of childhood gone mysteriously AWOL, though they are perhaps one of the more universal. Other time-bombs of juvenile disappointment abound: Consider the sad day when a child realizes that ghosts are of virtually no interest to your average grown-up, or indeed, that the concept of a “grown-up” doesn’t even exist past puberty. And let’s not even get into the fact that many of the dinosaurs we adored as children turn out never to have existed — a rude revelation on par with my stunning discovery that, following the Apollo missions, man never returned to the moon. “You mean we just left that moon rover up there?” No Flintstones vitamins were eaten on that day, so deep was my disenchantment with mankind.
We’re setting our kids up for some nasty falls, pumping them full of spurious material and skewed priorities in preparation for some wholly imagined future they’ll never inherit. Let’s face the facts: Adults never really liked dinosaurs — they feigned interest to make us like them. Dinosaurs, like ghosts, lunar missions and unsolved mysteries, offer incalculable benefits to the hurried adult, permitting children to immerse themselves in richly entertaining material with no bearing on the real world. Children rely on adults for guidance, and we submerge them in trivialities. This cries out for reform — but far from striking dinosaurs from the juvenile curriculum, let’s attack the injustice from the other end, and bring those monsters back into play. Architects of “Success by Six,” heed this clarion call: We owe it to tomorrow’s 6-year-olds to forge a world they’ll be glad to live in. And just so we’re clear, this means more ghosts, more dinosaurs and fresh kudos to SpaceShipOne.
Michael Seringhaus is a fourth-year graduate student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.