Op-Ed: Smartie-pants – There’s a reason kids know much more stuff than we did

Op-Ed: Smartie-pants – There's a reason kids know much more stuff than we did
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels
A laptop near a notebook and globe.

If you want my opinion (you’re going to get it anyway) if you want my opinion, children today are just too full of themselves. Altogether too smart.

My grandsons for instance. When I was their age, at least 125 years ago by their reckoning, I don’t think I knew anything about anything. And if you wanted to know stuff, you had to read a book which wasn’t especially high on my list of priorities as a burgeoning teenager. Consequently, if a busybody adult asked you, for instance, “What’s the capital of Canada?” you gave them a blank stare and went back to picking at the scabs on your knees or punching your brother and whining about being bored.

Not so today. Given their access to the internet, television and even books they are neither interested nor impressed by any clever gobbets of acquired knowledge I might throw their way.

I enjoy pontificating and if you can’t pontificate to your own grandchildren, who can you pontificate to? I think I’ve earned the right to impress them with my very cleverness since my actual children, their parents, stopped paying me any attention in a previous century.

But how do you impress an eight-year-old who debunks the Star War movies because “Einstein postulates (alright, “postulates is fictive but the rest is gospel) that you can’t travel faster than the speed of light. E equals mc squared.”. Yeah, right. So Einstein knew more than Steven Spielberg? I don’t think so! Einstein may have been good at sums but he knew diddly squat about getting about the Galactic Empire.

I’ve tried the obtuse and utterly incomprehensible to elicit at least a jot of admiration (“Gosh! Don’t grandpas know a lot of interesting things”) but that was a dead end. For some reason or another, we’d recently been considering how best to cook beetroot and I threw in (by way of a jolly interesting if not entirely true fact) that my mum regularly cooked and served mangel-wurzel, a close relative of the beet .

My other almost-but-not-quite-teenaged grandson ruined my impressive fantasy by pointing out that mangel-wurzels were only ever used as cattle fodder and that it was therefore unlikely that his great grandmother served it to her children even if we had been raggedy-arsed paupers living six to a bed in a one-roomed hovel (which we weren’t, by the way). And that was that… I went into a sulk and didn’t think to ask how the hell he knew what a mangel-wurzel was in the first place!

When I was 12 years old, well over half a century ago and counting, my own chief interests, as I recall, were jam sandwiches and Louise Norbury, the local GP’s daughter. Beyond that, I suspect that I was pretty much an empty vessel. My grandsons, (and their peers too, presumably because it doesn’t do to brag) are intellectual sponges with almost instantaneous access to an inconceivable amount of information. Once upon-a-not-so-distant time if you didn’t know something it mostly stayed unknown unless you were a swot, and nobody wanted to be a swot – except swots. Cogito, ergo sum? Nope, you didn’t even know what you didn’t know…

But if you DID need to know what the currency of Mauritania* was, say, you had to wait for the library to open, get on a bus, go into town and spend at least an hour in the reference section, all of it wasted time that could have been better spent looking for something to eat. And even then there’s no guarantee the library would have the relevant information because its collection of encyclopedias was 20 years old and Mauritania hadn’t been invented when they were published.

I was reading something the other day (round of applause) written by a fella who was bylined as a “Political Philosopher”. I don’t know if that’s his day job or whether it’s something he does in his spare time but it occurred to me that anyone with those credentials is less likely to brook any argument from his grandchildren.

Neither would Elon Musk. Brainy or what! Cars that drive themselves and only occasionally collide with other cars, rockets that go up AND down and now a  pig with a silicone chip in its head. Now that’s a young man my mum would have quite rightly labelled “a clever clogs “.

But it’s the chip in the head that most speaks to me. A smart pig is all very well but you don’t want it clever enough to put up an argument against becoming a pork chop, while a smart grandad would never lose a debate with his grandchildren. Great chunks of interesting information instantly fired straight into the cerebral cortex, ready to dazzle even the smartest smartie pants. I want one…

*The currency of Mauritania, by the way, is the ouguiya which is equal to five khoums. It isn’t much use for paying the electricity bill but it’s a game-changer in Scrabble.

This column was previously published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood.

Paul McElroy retired to Salt Spring Island nine years ago at the end of a 40-year career in journalism in the UK, Australia and in Canada. He now writes a regular column for the Gulf Islands Driftwood.

Paul McElroyPaul McElroy

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