Rob's Blog Archive

March 25, 2012

I Love Dragons










I teach Taekwon-Do at the Seeley Lake Elementary School. Taekwon-Do is a Korean martial art with roots in both Karate from Okinawa and Tae Kyon from Korea itself.  And like all Asian martial arts, it incorporates philosophy.  Along with all the physical lessons, I try and finish every class with a discussion of the philosophy of Taekwon-Do.

Unfortunately, one weakness I have as an instructor is I have a slight tendency to pontificate.  Usually, I catch myself when my audience has moved from normal sleep to REM sleep and their bodies start flailing a bit with their dreams, about an hour, but I’ve sometimes been so caught up with my own discourse that I haven’t even noticed this. 

Yesterday’s class included a fifteen year old, a ten year old, and a six year old.  That range by itself did make covering the philosophy more challenging, but not impossible. 

I decided to review the meaning of one of the tenets of Taekwon-Do, integrity.  I planned to ask each of the students what it meant.  With the different ages, I expected different levels of sophistication, but that was okay.  At the outset, I wanted to make sure the six year old understood that integrity and honesty were essentially the same.  So I asked the ten year old if there was a single word that meant almost the same thing as integrity.  He blanked, but the fifteen year old came to my rescue---he raised his hand and when I called on him, quietly said honesty.  I was happy. 

I should have stopped there but, true to form, I didn’t.  Earlier in the class, the ten year old had asked me if there was a spot in the body which, if somebody pushed on it, would cause a person to stop breathing while pressure was applied, but the breathing would start again once the pressure stopped.  I said no, that if this were the case, it would make us and our bodies far more vulnerable than we are.  We’d have cases of people accidentally depressing that spot and dying.  I ended up with saying, well I’m not positive, but it makes no sense. 

With my lesson on integrity started, I decided to use this discussion as a further illustration---that I gave an opinion and a lot of good reasons for that opinion, but left open the possibility that it could be wrong.  Why?  Because proving the non-existence of something was fundamentally problematic and good scientific integrity required that I acknowledged this. 

I realized what I had said and then surveyed my audience.  Okay, the six year old was gone, and that was probably a good thing.  The ten year old and fifteen year old were still there.  The older boy probably got it, but I was in deep do do with the ten year old. 

I floundered in the mess.  Badly.  And as everybody  watched and listened to me blabber, the ten year old piped in, “Dragons.”  Oddly, even when floundering and verging on a bout of self-flagellation, I actually listen to others.  Dragons!  I blinked, breathed, thought, and realized I was saved. 

“Yes, Tim, that’s it. Dragons.  We’re pretty sure there are no dragons, but we can’t really prove it.  All we have is that nobody has ever seen a dragon.”

“But how about Komodo Dragons?”

“Those are lizards and you know it!  You could think crocodiles were dragons too, but they’re not, they’re crocodiles.” 

We talked a little about science and scientific integrity and Tim went on to recite most of the scientific method.  He didn’t get all the words right but did seem to get the concepts, particularly that it was based on experiment.  I continued to breathe easier.  Scientific integrity is a little afield from general integrity, but not much.  And with a kid who understood the scientific method and would suggest dragons to me, I didn’t actually jump off the bridge.  And I decided I loved dragons.

Just about that time, the six year old came too.  I asked him for another word for integrity, simply hoping for him to parrot the word honesty.  He said, “Truth.”  I’m sure I broke into a big grin.  “Yes, Noah, truth is a good word for integrity.”  And with that, I decided to end class rather than pursue the philosophy lesson any further.

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