Friday, January 21, 2005

Flashes from the Past: Another Real Childhood Biography

Who was this? As a boy, he was described as small, unkempt, and unattractive. He often went with his hair uncombed, and he was described as "uncommonly shy of grownups." He easily fell into tantrums and was thought to be unimaginative. As a teen he was a prominent member of the "Anti-Neighbors Society" which played practical jokes on unsuspecting victims like rigging buckets of water, exploding stinkbombs, and the like. He was also noted to become engrossed in books, scolding his sister with comments like: "You have no idea how interesting it is. I am learning the propagation of all sorts of waves!"

Can you guess? This was Enrico Fermi, the first person to split the atom, and the Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1938. Despite his unpromising early life, he married, had a son and daughter, became a professor at the University of Chicago, and enjoyed mountaineering and winter sports.

Real childhood biographies are much more interesting than the watered-down versions in kids' books. We would all do well to remember that the real course of peoples' lives can be highly unpredictable. As parents or teachers, there may be many times when we need to remember to appeal to the "angels of a child's better virtues" than look too closely at the rough spots.

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