“The sky is blue.” We’ve been giving our kids fake news since kindergarten, and why that’s a growing problem

“You’re sophomores now,” I told my new batch of high school students last week, “which means you’re realizing that there’s more going on than you used to think. For example, you’ve been lied to since kindergarten. Answer me this: what color is the sky?”

I’ve written about this debate in my first books, and carry the thread throughout the series, but I had never before asked it of my students. I watched to see what they did with this simple yet odd question. I was not disappointed.

A few shouted, “It’s blue!” because on the second day of school you’re still trying to impress the teacher.

A few squinted, dubious as to what the right answer was, seeing as how I’d spent the last five minutes explaining how we’d be learning to analyze and see “the bottom part of the iceberg.”

(I drew terrible pictures of icebergs on my board. The students asked, “Is that a potato floating in the ocean?” Yeah—see the “whole potato,” my friends.)

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(Imagine if icebergs were potatoes. “Titanic” would have been a very different movie.)

But in each class, a couple students glanced out the window before answering, “White and pale blue.” (It was a humid, muggy day because Maine has been thinking it’s Maryland all summer.)

I replied nothing for a few seconds, watching them process, think, and squirm in worry that I was just standing there, smiling slyly, until I finally I said, “That’s exactly what I was hoping you’d say!”

“What?” they exclaimed. “That it’s blue? Or white? Or . . .” And then more started looking out the window, as if I’d seen something they hadn’t noticed and maybe they should notice it, too.

I could barely contain my excitement—they were re-examining what they assumed was true. I love these moments when their neurons start firing!

Some kids had initially sniggered at those glancing out the window, likely thinking, So dumb—have to look out the window when everyone knows the sky is blue.

Some others had that twinkle in their eye that they were going to show me up by not giving me the standard, “Blue!” answer, which I pounced upon happily.

“So is the sky actually blue?” I pressed.

They glanced at their peers, now unsure.

“It’s only looks blue,” one 15-year-old remembered, albeit backwards, “because it’s reflecting the blue of the ocean.”

“Except,” I said, “I grew up in the deserts in the west, and the sky was very blue there.”

Rapid eye-blinking is a sign that new neurons are being created in students’ minds. That’s a fact I just made up, like the sky is blue.

Eventually I explained how the blue is merely an optical illusion and asked them what other colors the sky can be.

When they realized it can be every color, especially at night (black) and during sunsets (even green and purple) they looked simultaneously intrigued and disturbed by this “new old news”.

And when I told them the sky is different colors on other planets (and that the sun isn’t actually yellow but white, if they could steal a glance at it without hurting their eyes), a few students’ eyes bugged out (a sure sign that neurons are firing—it’s a scientific fact I also just made up).

mars skyMars, 1997, with no blue sky in sight.

Blue sky is fake news. Oh, we didn’t mean to set out feeding our kids lies when they’re little–we’re just trying to simplify their complex world, cover the essentials, and worry about the deeper details later. That’s not a problem.

Except if we neglect to later dig deeper, think harder; then we become lazy thinkers. We don’t want to analyze, to see if everything we’ve assumed is actually true, because it’s not fun or entertaining. (Ask high schoolers what makes a “good class” and they’ll answer with, “It’s fun,” “We don’t have to work hard,” “We play games and watch movies,” or “We can get away with anything.”)

We want entertainment, not enlightenment. 

That’s going to be a problem in the future, as it’s becoming a problem right now. It seems most adults won’t analyze the news, its sources, or its veracity. They’ll take whatever matches their present assumptions, rant on social media for a minute, feel they’ve done something good, then see what’s new on Netflix.

In the meantime, nothing improves, no one notices, and the sky continues to darken without anyone glancing at it to say, “I don’t think that’s a good sign . . .”

color of the sky

Rector Yung studied him. “Dormin, what color is the sky?”

“Blue,” he answered automatically. He didn’t even glance out the window at the blazing orange that leaked into the room, tingeing everything around them in a carroty hue. “Everyone knows that.”

~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World

 

Book 5 teaser–Refuse to see the shining light

High Polish Tatra mountains

They will also refuse to acknowledge the darkness, even as they crash around blindly. 

The ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah wrote:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

I can’t bear to list all the ways the world is spinning in the dark right now (Obama’s recent declaration that all restrooms and locker rooms–even and especially in public schools–be “gender neutral” has me too nauseated to write about it).

However, even though our governments and our so-called leaders may be waaaay off the mark on many issues, we as individuals don’t need to follow. We each have our ability to think, to ponder, to declare that we will continue to see the light, that we will recognize the darkness, and that we will not–no matter how many times everyone tells us otherwise–we will NOT see that the sky is merely blue.

Take a good, hard look at it. Today, the tiny section I see out my window is blue, but when I get up and view the entire sky, in the distance there are huge clouds, billowing and approaching.

See the entire sky, and the entire world, for what it really is. Identify the light. Recognize the darkness, and don’t let anyone with power, or money, or charisma convince you that you see otherwise.

Three years ago I wrote about the strange habit we have of thinking that “the sky is blue.”

It isn’t.

My first book, The Forest at the Edge of the World makes the argument that while everyone thinks the sky is blue, that’s only an illusion. It’s actually black. (So quit telling your kids it’s blue.)

We have to be brave enough to take a good, hard look at the world, and to make a judgment about what we see. Oh, how we’re so afraid to do that! We’re so afraid of offending the world that cares nothing for us. In the meantime, we offend our Heavenly Father, who truly loves us.

We need to not be afraid to declare, “No, this is wrong. I will not agree, I will not give in, and I will not refuse to see the light.”

I won’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions for going against the world. You will be knocked down, likely not by some high government official, but probably by your social media “friends.” I’ve taken to hiding in my closet on a regular basis when I, once again, write up something that, as the comments and railings pour in, I regret . . . but only for a moment. Every time I think, “Oh, why did I put that out there? Look at the conflict it’s generating! I hate that!”

I hate fighting. I hate arguing. I hate thinking that people don’t like me. (I’m such a 7th grader sometimes.)

But I hate more seeing the good in the world being labeled as evil, the bitter replacing the sweet, the darkness trying to smother the light.

Here’s the great thing about our world right now: all of us can find a forum where we can stand up and declare where the light really is, and what the dark’s trying to do. Most of us won’t shine too brightly. I know I’ve personally got the illuminating power of a penlight on aging batteries, but that’s ok. I borrow strength from the many brave bloggers and writers and religious leaders of many faiths who boldly shine their brighter lights on the darkness.

And here’s the awesome thing: light, shining together, gets brighter together.

And here’s the even more awesome thing: it takes only one light to dispel absolute darkness.

“Just tell them that underneath it all, despite what they may see, the sky really is blue and they can count upon that fact.”

There’s no creature quite so arrogant and simultaneously so insecure as an 11-year-old. I learned this many years ago when I was asked to drive a group of 11-year-olds for a church group because I owned a station wagon. (Yes, I owned a station wagon at age 25, and was proud of it! I also owned one at 16, but that’s another post.)

So, with a carload of boys I didn’t know, I set off to deliver the group. Soon one very loud, very authoritative kid with unruly hair and far too many freckles announced, “Hey—here’s a riddle. What color is the sky?”

001Obedient, and bored, the other boys looked outside—

“HA!” shouted Hairy Freckles, “Got ya! Everyone knows the sky is blue! Suckers . . .” He added that last part with the same disdain I’d heard from his 14-year-old brother, who likely pulled the same trick on Hairy Freckles.

The other boys embarrassedly looked down at their hands. But I glared in the rearview mirror.

029“That’s not true,” I said plainly. “That bit—right there? That’s white.”

Hairy Freckles scowled and looked out the window, which he hadn’t done since he’d entered the car. “That’s a cloud!”

“And it’s not blue,” I nodded.

A couple of the boys, previously shamed, now hesitantly smiled.

006“That doesn’t count!” Hairy Freckles declared and gave me a look that said, If you were my mother, I’d have you put into a home.

“And that, right there,” I pointed out the window, ignoring him, “that gray bit with some red? Also not blue.”

“That’s a plane!”

“And it’s in the sky, part of it, and it’s not blue,” I said.

005Now all of the boys were smirking at their friend. Nothing’s worse than being put into your place by a know-it-all 25-year-old college student. Who’s female.

“Now, when the sun sets, ooh—definitely not blue,” I continued.

019 (3)“And what about night?!” another boy finally felt brave enough to contribute. “There’s definitely no blue then!”

The rest of the boys howled as if that was the funniest joke in the world, while Hairy Freckles glared at me through the rearview mirror.

“And then there’s that big bright ball of white,” I went on.

002“That’s the sun!” Hairy Freckles pointed out. “And it’s yellow!”

“No, it’s not,” I said easily. “It’s white. They just make you use yellow crayons in school to color it because your paper is already white.”

None of the boys knew what to do with that, even though they peered at it to make sure, then blinked away the fact that they just scorched their retinas.

“Hey, I just got Donkey Kong—” and just like that, the conversation turned. Because hey, these were 11-year-olds.

I’ve always been obsessed with clouds and sunsets, and since then I’ve taken dozens of pictures as evidence that they sky is NOT only blue. Yet I never cease to be amazed at the amount of children’s books, TV shows, movies, and even textbooks that simplify the complexity of the sky to declare, “The sky is blue . . .” when anyone  can tell that it’s much, much more.

011 (2)We do this with so many things, just like the middle school textbook my oldest daughter had in science one year that said, “Ocean water is made up of two things—salt, and water.”

“Rubbish!” my 13-year-old had declared, and asked to be homeschooled.

And I wonder, why? Why do we oversimplify the world, even to the point of telling lies about it—if you want to get that direct—to our children and ourselves? Why do we ignore the multiple colors and shapes in the sky and insist that it’s one color, especially when that color is actually just an optical illusion, produced by the sun’s light rays bouncing back blue?

More importantly, what do we miss when we assume we already know the nature of something, and don’t even look out the window to see if our assumptions are correct?

I suspect we miss the true nature of the entire world.

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