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Suspending Disbelief

One of the charming characteristics that my third graders exhibit that’s different from my experience with fourth graders is their naivete and innocence. I’m not one to take advantage of this trait, but recently one little girl’s been putting me on the spot. After school the other day, in the presence of her older brother and his friend she asked me if Santa is real. “Um, uh … oh, sure.” Smooth, I thought. Crisis averted.

But the girl’s supply of whimsy and imagination wasn’t exhausted, I found out yesterday. After reading a Dominican folk tale, The Secret Footprints, to open our social studies unit on the Dominican Republic (the irony of my gringo tuchus teaching 19 mostly Dominican students about DR is a topic for another time) this little girl cornered me. The story in question told about a mythical tribe called the ciguapas who have backward feet and live in the sea. “Are the ciguapas real?” she wanted to know.

Instead of giving her an answer, I punted. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow.” Now, on the one hand, my job as an educator seems to obligate me to tell her it’s a folk tale, i.e. a work of fiction. Still, there’s something to be said for nurturing imagination in a little kid. Is there an age cut-off where kids are supposed to stop believing in Santa and ciguapas? And if so, is it my job to enforce it? If there’s a compromise between the two options, I hope to find it in time for today’s conversation.

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