A group of fifth-graders sits in the hallway, making a poster about the human nervous system. I stop to admire their work:
“Wow, that’s a really vivid brain you have there.” It is, in fact, neatly colored with the brightest neon pink.
“Thanks,” grins one of the girls.
“We forgot the cerebellum, though,” says another.
“Yikes! That creates a problem for your diagram-person, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, with his balance and movement and stuff.”
One of the boys turns away from his work drawing . . . something. “Do you know who Albert Einstein is?”
Struggling to keep my face composed, I reply, “Yes, he’s my favorite scientist.”
“I was thinking how we only use about ten percent of our brains and as smart as Albert Einstein was, just imagine what he would have done if he could’ve used the other ninety percent.”
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” I muse. “For all of us. If we could use our whole brains, we might be something like superheroes.”
The kids nod sagely.
“So, here’s my favorite Einstein quote,” I tell the kids, who pause in their illustrating. Expectation is clearly written on each face. They truly want to know what this brilliant man had to say. “When a parent asked Einstein how to raise a child to be a great scientist, Einstein replied: If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
As their brains process this thought, the young faces look ethereal. Unblinking, gazing somewhere beyond the immediate surroundings, bathed in a light from an unseen source.
Especially the boy who mentioned Einstein.
“Whoaaaaa,” he finally says.
“Think on that a while. Later you can tell me what you believe it means.” With that, I leave the children to their work.
As I walk down the hallway, my own brain is ajumble: Cerebellum. Balance. Einstein. Intelligence. Fairy tales . . . fiction. A conversation with an esteemed colleague at a recent meeting returns to mind.
I am glad to see greater focus on nonfiction writing, she’d said. After all, these children won’t be writing fiction in college.
It took my breath away.
Perhaps none of the kids we teach will grow up to get MFAs in creative writing— in other words, possibly earning a degree in composing fiction.
But some might. And are there really no more creative writing electives in college these days?
I understand the rationale behind the words, that in college students will primarily be writing research papers and essays. It’s important to put the foundation in place now, at the elementary level, for their future success.
But are all students going to college? Aren’t the standards college and career ready? In a day and age when innovation and creativity in the workplace are highly valued, think about the impact of understanding plot, subplots, character motivation, personality traits, overcoming obstacles to reach goals, ingenuity—all of which can be developed by reading fiction, surely, but writing fiction takes complex problem-solving and creativity to incomparable heights. So many seemingly random pieces must connect pretty perfectly to make a finished, meaningful, compelling whole—much like the beautiful leaf-and-gumball mandala I discovered on a pathway while walking through Central Park.
And what about sheer enjoyment? And poetry, and songs, and plays?
Or being LIFE ready?
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we all wrote them. Make-believe stories, making mandalas with words. Maybe we’d tap into some of that unused part of our brains.
Because, heaven knows, we need balance to move forward effectively.
Take the pencil, find the neon pink.
If the cerebellum is missing, draw it in.