Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Parenting Trick

These are perilous times when the President of America is inciting a deep mistrust of media and dismissing truth and facts “ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting.” He is exploiting an existing trend in which celebrity culture, strongman ideology, social/commercial media, and anti-intellectualism conflate to create an alternative reality with alternative facts. Facts and falsehoods blur through the filter of internet echo chambers, and propaganda become as legitimate as discernible facts as long it is entertaining and popular enough.

This makes me consider in unfundamentalist parenting, our crucial task of raising our children to value truth and objective reality so that they can make responsible choices as global citizens while maintaining a strong, moral core.

I think as progressive parents we tend to value a spirit of open-mindedness, and recoil at the idea of absolute truth, particularly as it becomes divisive doctrine—stale and oppressive. We encourage our children to marinate in stories and their imagination, to dwell in places where no rules apply and possibilities are boundless. So then, how do we balance a vibrant imagination while also driving deep the important value of striving for truth, a collection of quantifiable facts that provide a common language upon which we build our society?

I like what Neil DeGrasse Tyson says on television with James Corden, when asked whether he does fantasies like the tooth fairy when parenting his child,

“we’re not going to lie to our kids, because the universe is amazing enough we don’t have to invent stuff just to keep kids entertained.”

He then goes on to tell the story of how his daughter performed experiments with her friends at school to test whether the tooth fairy was real.

I don’t want to debate whether parents should do the Tooth Fairy or Santa or other fantasy scenarios with the kids, I see valid arguments for both sides. What I want to hone in on is this idea that the universe is amazing enough to captivate our children’s imagination. And if anyone has watched Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s series on Cosmos or other quality programs on the discovery of our natural world, we know it’s true—the mesmerizing details of our world, the concrete evidence of the way nature operates is indeed delightful and treacherous and filled with intrigue.

We do our children a disservice when we tie what is magical to what is fantastical. Remember: our children’s creative capacity does not end when they begin to learn and grapple with the realities of our world. Just as we have to learn the rules of grammar before penning beautiful poetry and prose, so understanding the laws of nature, the principles that govern the universe, the time-tested methods with proven results from experiments open the gateway to our profound exploration of the vast mysteries of our strange and wonderful world.

Fiction can tell beautiful truths, and journalism can paint magnificent narratives. But at the core of quality fiction and journalistic integrity is the struggle to strive for truth: timeless, tested, unadorned, unsensational truth that fulfills our need as human beings to be integral. Truths that knit our communities together and pull us together with a moral center. Truths that honor the diversity of our human experience and yet reflects beauty that is gritty, authentic, and raw.

A child’s fantastical thinking ends after a short developmental phase. But the magic does not end when we begin the journey of coaxing our children towards discovering and rediscovering the truths and facts of our world. Indeed, it expands their capacity and our collective creative energy when we insist upon the grueling and unglamorous task of uncovering truth. It is our facts that give rise to solutions. Solutions that give hope for possibilities. Possibilities that our world can be better, kinder, more whole.

As parents, we are tasked with stewarding our children’s burgeoning imagination, and it is an incredible and incredulous task.

But facts, they matter. Don’t be afraid to lean into facts. We need to raise a new generation who reject propaganda for truth, who will hone their craft for uncovering the stories of this world that make us beautiful.


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