"These kids are truly barbaric!” my mind screamed as I walked into the child-infested art room of the local middle school. Fifteen paper planes were flying, a rental clarinet was honking, and scissors-wielding 10–13-year-olds were zooming across the room, reminding me more of Brownian motion than of an academic institution. I was a first-year and eager to rocket into the upper ranks of the learned and distinguished. This was my hell.
Earlier that Friday, my floormates had asked me to join Kids Art, a volunteer organization that goes to the middle school each Friday to work on art projects with the kids. I decided to give it a try and rode over to the school in a car along with a handful of college students. As we rolled up to the entrance, yellow buses, filled to the brim with the little monsters, streamed out. We parked, went up to the school, and entered the art room.
After an hour in the room, I made a resolution to never have kids or at least to only have kids who would skip directly from 10 to 14 — what a breakthrough that would be! After an hour and a half, I questioned the ethics of giving a 12-year-old a pair of scissors or a piece of paper — think of the vital areas the little rascals could get at with a poster board! Needless to say, my first experience with Kids Art left me feeling harassed, tired, and distraught.
Three years later, I’m now the co-leader of Kids Art and regularly visit the middle school. In fact, I now feel more comfortable around the little “barbarians” than I do around most people my age. But how and why did this change occur?
One of the main reasons behind my current comfort level is the fact that I’ve finally rocketed to the upper ranks of the learned and distinguished, and I’ve discovered just as many paper–plane-flying, scissors-wielding 20-somethings. And not only that, I realized that I am actually one of the most rambunctious!
Of course, I’m not running around the College at night with a giant poster board giving paper cuts to unfortunate passersby, but as my college career progressed, I learned that it was socially acceptable to say weird things, make jokes about someone’s mother, and imitate airhorns with my voice — in fact, it’s even welcomed. But why?
For all those people who need graphs, logical propositions, and numbers to crunch, I’ll offer this explanation: if we take laughter as the shortest distance between people — and my voyages through the adult world have shown me that this distance can be quite great — then the shortest distance between any two people is between two children. Of course, one must also consider how fast laughter spreads, and I’d estimate this as inversely proportional to the difference between the ages of the two speakers. So, laughter between a 21-year-old acting like a child and an actual child is at the minimum laughter distance and spreads slower than child-to-child laughter. Therefore, two 21-year-olds will connect much easier if they step out of their adult world and into the wild world of the middle-schooler.
For people who are swayed by less numerical arguments, let me offer this explanation: in the world of careers, job-paths, majors, and expectations, the chance that any two students will be able to find common ground about some specific class, issue, or topic is slim. However, if we flip back the clock 10 or so years, we were all learning grammar, fathoming the phenomena of weighted averages, and puzzling over the best one-liner about a bodily function.
It’s this common ground, shortest laughter distance, etc. that I found in Kids Art. Each week, a handful of college students still make the journey over to the middle school, but for every paper plane flown by one of the rascals, there’s a corresponding dive-bomber launched by a college student. Where destructive behavior might ensue, an intellectual challenge arises: let’s make the plane that will fly the farthest. Let’s draw the scariest monster. Let’s make the most complicated hopscotch pattern. Let’s find out what it is to be a chair. But ultimately, we’re there to laugh and to find out a little bit more about ourselves.
Victor Colussi '09 is a Physics and Mathematics major from Madison, Indiana.