Does it matter?

Is knowledge somehow more valuable at a young age?   Is there a time frame after which learning about something is no longer allowed?    As Sandra Dodd said, does it matter if a person becomes interested in dinosaurs at the age of 6 or the age of 40?    Just because children tend to learn faster, does that mean it is automatically better?

It seems to me that a large percentage of the parents out there today would answer yes to all of those questions.   If you are to be good at anything, you must start it young – like before the age of 5.    I don’t know how many people told me that the reason Maya didn’t  want to take swimming lessons when she was 6 years old was that I hadn’t put her in Mommy and Me swimming when she was 6 months old.  I’d missed the window of opportunity, and her chances of being a good swimmer, or even someone who enjoys the water,  were gone forever.    Except…last Spring she decided she wanted to learn to swim, began lessons in April and by June people were amazed when I told them she’d only been swimming for 3 months.  She is a great swimmer.

Here’s another, even better example:  Yesterday the Science section of the NY Times ran an article about Mark Taylor, who has named two previously unknown species of dinosaur and written 13 papers about them in the last five years.   The thing is, Mark Taylor is a computer programmer – not a paleontologist.   He is 42 years old and got interested in dinosaurs about 10 years ago.  (10 years ago? What was he thinking?  Doesn’t he know that 32 is waaay past the age when you are supposed to become an expert at something?!)    It became a serious hobby and now, because of the work he has done, he’s been awarded a PhD.   But he never studied paleontology in school or at university.  He is self taught.

Wow, ok, so let me get this straight.   A guy with no degrees in Paleontology, other than his recently awarded PhD given because of all the work he’d done on his own,  is basically outshining everyone in the field?   Could it be because he loves it and is self-motivated to do it?  (I mean, I don’t know why you would become a paleontologist if you didn’t love it, but still…)

Here’s the ironic thing.  People eat that stuff up!  They LOVE hearing about the Mark Taylors of the world.  Isn’t it great?!  A computer programmer beating out the experts!   And then they will turn right around and tell you that your child will never get anywhere in life unless they go to good schools and get all the right degrees.  And they’d better start young because, well, you know…

Yeah, I know.   All that self taught stuff – that’s just for other people.   I mean, you can’t count on that, right?   Cause what if your kid never gets that interested in anything?   Or at least nothing useful?

Hmm, yes, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it?   But, define ‘useful’.   Mark Taylor is researching dinosaurs.   Noah Scalin (who I mentioned last night) made a skull a day for a year and wound up on the Martha Stewart Show and now has a book that inspires others to take on their own projects.   Which is more useful?

The better question is, does it matter?

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