Potions and Smoke

Game of Thrones sort of kind of spoiler alert (for a reference to dialogue only – no plot points).

A couple things happened this week in both TV and the real world that got me thinking.  First, on Game of Thrones, weird red priestess we love to hate Melisandre was talking to Mrs. Stannis Baratheon about humor, lies, and tricking people into being interested in the truth. This is a recap from memory, so forgive the obvious paraphrase:

Mrs. B.: If humor is lies, isn’t it best avoided?

Melisandre: Not always. See these potions? This one, when tossed into a flame, creates a column of smoke a mile high… Some tricks get people’s attention, so that they can see the light. You, Mrs. B, already can look into the light, and need no such tricks.

That bothers Mrs. B. a little. I mean, she’s the most devoted follower of the Red God we’ve seen – she is willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING for what she believes. And the priestess, the one she lets do pretty much what she likes in her personal and political affairs, is now telling her she intentionally tricks people to get them interested. It’s a strange moment to watch as blind faith fights with common sense. Guess which wins.

Pan over to the real world. I was looking at crazy, cool looking demos to do at the library for our Fizz Boom Read! days. One of my friends had posted a picture of his science camp pouring liquid nitrogen over a pool – a strong visual. That video is still private, so here’s something similar:

Note: DON’T JUMP IN THE WATER. People die doing that stuff. Nitrogen will displace the oxygen in the area directly over the water (the cloud) and breathing gets hard, but without the normal signs of asphyxiation. Again, cool to look at, not to swim in.

As I was looking at these demos, considering logistics of whether something like this would even be possible, something I was told came back to me. “You’re not actually teaching them science,” said a well-meaning co-worker. “You’re just wowing them with fireworks.”

It made me wonder. When I do one-off science demos as part of my storytimes or homeschool classes, and don’t dig into them, am I just showing them fireworks? And is there something wrong with “fireworks?”

It made me think about Melisandre, too. Columns of smoke to make the uninterested see something more deeply. To make it interesting when it would otherwise be obscure. To engage them where they are rather than waiting for them to get to me.

Maybe some of them only want the experiments, but there’s no harm in that. There will be a few who see it and ask questions, who will want to know more. They’ll be excited to figure out the why’s and how’s – they’ll learn to ask the right questions and make the right observations.

Maybe the kids can’t all look into the flames and see the truth, but for now, I’m ok with making a column of smoke with a little black powder.

 

Image By Ralf Johann (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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