Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Mad Scientists' Club

Now that The Boy is in first grade, he's at the age where we have to start making choices about what to sign him up for.

We've been pretty aggressive about getting him into different sports, partly because he enjoys them, partly for fitness, and partly to compensate for the gawkiness I've thoughtfully passed along. (Apparently, not too badly. At a recent town event, it seemed like every six-year-old girl in town knew him. They yelled his name from afar in the same tone with which teenage girls used to yell "Ringo!," then got shy when they got near him. He doesn't think anything of it. Only six, and he has already surpassed his father. I'm ridiculously proud.)

But clubs and such are another matter. I've acceded to CCD, since he was baptized Catholic and usually goes to Mass with The Wife. But now we get overtures from the Cub Scouts, and 4-H, and all of those.

I did my time in Cub Scouts. I remember having the power to make it rain, simply by going camping. I remember being chronically off-balance in an organization in which your value was based largely on the power tools your Dad owned, and whether or not you were able to experiment with them. (I never did terribly well at that measure; The Boy would do even worse.) I also remembered a vaguely oppressive battery of meetings.

Then we met the local Scoutmaster, and got the new literature.

I know I shouldn't pass public judgment. But this is just not acceptable.

It isn't just the 'conquer the wilderness' thing that seems vaguely out of place in densely-packed suburbia. It's the view of boyhood that I just couldn't abide, and won't subject TB to.

Many years ago, Denis Leary did a song called "Asshole." The lyric I remember went "I like football, and porno, and books about war. I'm an asshole!" That seems to be the key demographic for the Cub Scouts. It's of a piece with fraternities and Moose lodges. There's a smug, retro, crimped, and incredibly judgmental vision of masculinity underlying all of those. (For example: for the Religion merit badge, my church doesn't count! It's actually disqualified! Can you imagine? "We're sorry, but your centuries-old tradition that includes several American Presidents just isn't up to Cub Scout standards." No, fuck you.) The Boy is far too good for that. Pinewood derbies are all well and good, but there's just too much baggage.

(From what I've seen, the Girl Scouts seem to have a different culture entirely. When The Girl hits that age, I'll take that option seriously.)

Then we discovered The Mad Scientists' Club.

The local 4-H has a "4-H prep" section for grades one through three. Unlike the Cub Scouts, they don't herd everybody into a pack (the actual term that I am not making up) and make them all do the same thing. Instead, they run concurrent (and co-ed!) groups around common interests. TB loves science, so when we saw that they had a Mad Scientists' Club, we had to try it.

Much better.

The kids were about evenly split between boys and girls. The couple who ran the initial meeting made a point of going around the room and asking each kid what interests her about science, so they can come up with projects and experiments over the course of the year that these kids would like. (One kid opened with "I like explosions!") Their own son did the first show-and-tell, proudly passing around a huge dead beetle that, as he proudly declared, "I found in our sink!" TB was entranced. They made star maps that they were able to take home.

The whole feel was different. Instead of what I think of as the boot-camp model -- you're worthless until we make you into one of us -- it's based on the idea that kids have interests, and that the job of the adults is to help the kids pursue those interests. (As the kids get older, the pursuits get more involved. They have a pretty impressive robotics club, for example.) TB had a great time and is already looking forward to going back. I even saw another parent from my church, which I'm fairly confident wouldn't happen with the Scouts.

TB doesn't know any of my reasons for signing him up for this instead of the Scouts, and I don't feel the need to tell him yet. He just likes clubs where he gets to see dead bugs and hang out with other kids, both boys and girls. And I want to let him have that.

If the values are right, he'll pick them up himself, almost by accident. I'm just trying to make him accident-prone. I always was. Mad scientists usually are, too.