The Point of Rockets

By

At the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, I present a new craft or art project to our eighty-two boys every month. In the past years these monthly projects have spanned the range from soapbox derby cars and tie-dying to oil painting and macramé. I love my job and I love teaching but during January one of the frustrations I deal with on a regular basis has really begun to bother me.

This month I’ve been positively giddy about building rockets but out of the eighty kids I’ve offered a rocket kit to, less than twenty have followed through and actually built one. Less than twenty. The rest just don’t get it. “What’s the point,” one boy told me and asked if he could be excused to go play Halo. There is something wrong when a teenage boy doesn’t get excited about a tube full of explosives that is made to be lit on fire and shot into the sky. It bothers me. I deal with the same issue every month and it makes me sad that the imagination and sense of wonder in some of these boys has been so crushed. If we paint, they often try to throw their work in the trash when I’m not looking because it didn’t come out as photorealistic as they imagined it. If we’re building pinewood derby cars they give up and walk away because it doesn’t look just like the one on the side of the box. Where are children learning to be so critical?

Boys don’t seem to know how to dream anymore. When I was a kid (ugh, I’m pretty sure starting a sentence like that qualifies me as old or something), we spent all our time outside: skateboarding, building ramps, exploring the woods, hunting bullfrogs with BB guns, planning tree-forts that we’d never build, and flattening pennies on railroad tracks. There was just no end of things to do, or plan, or get away with. But at work I see kids that are completely lost when they are told to turn off the TV and go play. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that they don’t know what to do. On a campus with eighty teenage boys I have never seen a game of tag. Not one. They don’t know what tag is. The only games they know are basketball and football, because they’re taught those on TV. Often when boys are asked what they want to do when they grow up, they don’t have an answer, not even a wild and crazy one like ‘be a rapper’ or ‘play in the NFL’, they just shrug.  They’ve never thought about it because they’ve been spoon fed their entertainment for the whole of their short lives and have never had to entertain themselves with their own imaginations..

If a child doesn’t learn how to imagine, how to dream, how can he ever learn how to hope? What’s going to happen twenty years down the road when life has led them to their wit’s end and they find they aren’t able to see something better down around the bend? I’m afraid our culture is in the process of stripping children of their desire to create, and imagine. When a generation without dreams inherits the earth, what possible good can be left in it?

You’d be appalled if I told you how many stories I have of parents that look at their child’s creative efforts and tell them with a frown that it’s not very good and they are wasting their time. Sometimes it’s all can do not to grab people and shake them and make them see what a precious thing they’re destroying.

One day, when I have children of my own, I can’t wait to foster their imaginations. I can’t wait to see a ferocious dragon in a smear of fingerpaint. I can’t wait to see the grandeur in their scribbles and swirls. I want to teach my children that the world is a place of endless possibility if only they can learn to see it. I want to show them that the untamed imagination of a boy can grow into the steadfast hope of a man. Until then, I’ll have to settle for the joy I take in seeing the creative spark ignited in those precious few who dare to build a rocket, set it all afire, and cheer it into the great blue yonder.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


15 Comments

  1. Loren Eaton

    I grew up on the cusp of the video game generation, the time when Nintendo was just coming into vogue. It’s fair to say it devestated my outdoor activities. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t even own a TV. People stare when I say that and ask, “Well, what do you do?” We’ve been spoon fed second-hand experiences for so long that we’ve forgotten how to do things ourselves — like go fishing or run a marathon or even build rockets.

  2. Nathan Bubna

    Yikes. Has it really gotten so bad out there? I know i’m very out of touch with the mainstream of the current school-age generation, but wow, i didn’t know it was so bad. My daughter is a few months shy of 2 and my second is on the way. I pray my kids never become so grown-up as to be uninterested in rockets. We already don’t watch TV or own video games. I more fear the computer. Seeing her daddy work at the computer all day already makes her inordinately interested in it. I suppose, though, when she gets older i may be able to explain that i sit here so long for love of my family far more than any interest in the machine. May that always be true…

  3. Andrew Castle

    This is so true. Just like you said, Pete, it’s my desire to foster a wild imagination in our son as he grows up. And at the same time, I see how easy it is for him to become mezmorized by the tiny bit of TV he does see. In many ways I want to just chuck the TV out the window. It’s far too easy for us, as adults, to be contented by the technological amusements that are so abundant. Our children just learn from what we do…so the big challenge, I think is for us to allow our imaginations to flourish to the full degree that God intends, so we can be who He wants us to be and then our children and other young ones around us can see that life brimming over in us.

  4. Jeremy Kelley

    I completely understand. My nephews would rather play Wii sports than get “hot or dirty”. I’m a little concerned by it, honestly.

    I have a daughter, and even though she’s not two yet, I have her in the garage or the backyard with me as much as possible. My goal is to instill within her the ability to create and dream without being spoonfed some flashing whiz-bang pre-packaged entertainment constantly.

    On another note – have you considered building some sailboats with your boys? http://www.pdracer.com. You can build one with about 2 sheets of plywood and some tarps for a sail. I’ve built one, and hope to take my nephews out on the water this weekend. My wife is still leary of taking the 2year old girl on it, though. 🙂

  5. Katherine

    I love the Chris Thile lyrics about this on his Deceiver album:

    I forget
    The difference between being alive
    And living through somebody else
    Who’s acting out somebody else’s life.

    I spend a lot of time watching my TV,
    I take what they give me, and I give them nothing
    But I waste a lot of time watching my TV,
    They’ve got me right where they want me, Ready for anything

    My husband was a “gamer” when I met him. I found this out on date number six or so when he pointed out a tree and said the real thing isn’t nearly as beautiful as the ones on his video games.
    But at that moment he had that epiphany that’s necessary for any screen addict: the fake stuff isn’t real. And a life spent with fake stuff will never feel like real life.
    Makes me want to watch The Matrix…

  6. Peter B

    Nathan: amen.

    Pete: I had TV and Atari, but oh man I would have gone nuts to have someone hand me a rocket to build. That was my “endless planning” item that I never followed through (since I actually did build a small tree fort in the woods out back).

    “You’d be appalled if I told you how many stories I have of parents that look at their child’s creative efforts and tell them with a frown that it’s not very good and they are wasting their time.”

    Now that I’m looking back at five years (so far) of fatherhood, I think I might actually cry if I saw a parent do that.

  7. easton crow

    Jeremy- I understand the Wii thing. It has been an ongoing discussion in our house. My wife is a pretty big gamer, and my kids ( 6, 8, & 10) really like computer games. I’m terrified ( not much of an overstatement) that the addition of a Wii into our house could be the death knell of them going outside again. I lived in the woods as much as possible when I was their age. We are in a different place, though. We live in town. I lived at the edge of a forest. There is no great somewhere for them to stimulate their imagination. It pleases me, though, when I am down about this to see the fabulous Lego worlds that draw them away from what is on TV. It was great tonight to hear my 6 year old talkling away at his Lego creation having his guy take out the trash. Then I know they are still alive to the possibilities.

  8. Kirsten

    Its strange that the imagination of children is such a vast battleground in America right now. I’m about to graduate college with a degree in elementary education and my imagination still wants to tell me I’ll save the world. Of course you can’t be all impracticality and dreams, so I’m also always looking for the resources that might help in showing kids the bigger story–the world to conquer, the best friend to adventure with, and hopefully in the midst of that the God who is the most adventuresome of anyone. In the context of the Rabbitroom I feel no shame in making a plug for one of the books I’ve run across that seems especially geared toward this end. Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote a children’s book called The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. Its the most exciting, relatable, Christ-centered children’s bible I’ve ever seen. The illustrations are superb, to boot. I’m mentioning it here because it unfolds scripture in such a way that God can be encountered by any rocket building boy (or girl) without squelching any of that (seriously, God forbid the church be another hand in the ruin of a child’s imagination). The Jesus in this book could very conceivably be out there building with you. He doesn’t, of course, only real Bible stories are used in the book, but I hope that presents the idea. Look it up on amazon.com. I really couldn’t recommend it more, even if you don’t have kids.

  9. Jeremy Kelley

    Easton – I’ll admit. I own a Wii. I bought it because I’ve been able to invite my neighbors over and have a fun, relaxed night of “bowling” or “golf” at least a dozen times. It’s been a great way to engage in fun conversation and get to know my neighbors better.

    Having said all that, there has to be limits. When my nephews lived with me, they got 1 hour of “electronics” each day. They could split that between playstation, computer, and tv anyway they saw fit, but it was a very hard limit. The great thing about this was that I remember the boys actually thinking outloud through their choices “nooo… I don’t want to watch cartoons after school because it eats into my Starcraft computer time. I’ll go outside and play right now.” We always communicated expectations to the boys and they always met them.

  10. c.Lates

    I totally know what you’re talking about. This has been a growing fear and frustration of mine for the longest time. I am a seminary student getting my MDiv. in youth ministry (that just means that I’ll know Hebrew and Greek that I’ll never get to use in a youth group), and I volunteer in the middle school youth group at a local church. My students come in and sit down waiting for the show to start on Wednesdays. They don’t want to play with our giant checkers that were bought at Cracker Barrel. They don’t care about the chaos that Jenga can create. They want the XBox 360. And when we don’t pull it out, they whine! Like it’s theirs! But I also work at an elementary school, and I see a lot of hope there for imaginations to flourish. So don’t give up. There’s still a chance for creativity and adventure to survive.

  11. Mad on a Gray Sea

    This post reminds me….
    There’s a book by Richard Louv called “Last Child in the Woods” that aims to save our children from ‘nature deficit disorder’.
    It might be interesting for those concerned.
    If you read it, or have already read it, I’d love to know what your thoughts are…and what kind of solutions or strategies the author offers.

    Personally, I can’t wait to go to the woods myself in an Emerson/Thoraeu aspect….where you can find solitude to reflect and be appreciative of God’s grace and the miracles that exist all around.

  12. Peter B

    Kirsten, the Jesus Storybook Bible is excellent; some of our best friends gave us one before they left for mission work in Ecuador. As many times as I’ve been through it, I cannot — cannot — read the crucifixion story to my daughter without tears.

    Another very good one is The Big Picture Story Bible. It has the same goal of shining the light on Christ in all of biblical history, and the illustrations are every bit as much of the story as the words on the page.

    Don’t lose that idealistic imagination! Someone has to pick us back up, and elementary teachers are a huge part of that. We absolutely love our public school because of the sweet, wonderful people there who teach and love and encourage our children.

  13. easton crow

    Jeremy- I really admire people who think ahead enough about life decisions (even the ones that seem as minor as electronics time). It leads me in to the area where God is really working on me now- self discipline. I don’t want to come to these realizations about my children when it is too late. And I don’t want to just think about doing this or that really useful thing and never actually getting around to doing it. THat seems to be what happens, though. Then I start to think, I could build really great self disciplined habits for me and my family if only I had three months of uninterrupted…Yeah. right.

  14. Paul

    Perhaps we need to make a connection here between the lack of wonder and “affluenza”: http://tinyurl.com/2a6w9n

    However, we cannot say these are inextricably linked because poor kids are just as wonder–starved as the wealthy. It all comes down to the values passed down to them.

    I’d like to tell Kirsten to not lose her idealism. My question is, how can we foster wonder in kids that are not our own? Teachers can only do so much. They need parents. God will give you the wisdom.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *