I set my third, fourth and fifth graders to the task of searching out the shortest day of the year. I also asked them to try and find out why it was the shortest. I was happily surprised by the way they took to this chore, especially since the Kindergarten, first, and second graders were allowed to make holiday pictures, most of which included the same four pieces of clip art. Still, those upper graders persisted, and they came up with a great abundance of information. One of the most interesting things about this process was how many of them found themselves linked to a web site describing the end of the world.
"Mister Caven? Is the world really going to end on Friday?"
There I was, unwittingly placing these kids squarely in the path of questioning the apocalypse. For most of the kids, I gave them the same vague assurance that I give them about everything: "Of course not. That's just a bunch of people using the Internet to scare people." For those who persisted in their queries, I turned the question back on them: "What do you think?"
And suddenly I was back in familiar territory. Over the past decade and a half I have had countless kids, including my own son, ask after the existence of Mr. S. Claus. I have neither confirmed nor denied knowledge of the big guy in the red suit. I have always asked the kids to look inside for the answer. Now, on the cusp of the end of days, I'm asking kids to do the same. Do you have enough faith and trust to step off into the next day? Can you allow the page to turn without tangible truth? Like so much of what you discover on Al Gore's Internet, can you believe it without seeing it?
The shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere this year will be December 21. The Winter Solstice, as it is called on our end of the world, arrives at 11:12 Universal Time on that day. Winter begins, and the world, though tipped on its axis twenty-three and a half degrees, keeps turning.