I have a friend who lives in the Midwest and serves as a court-appointed advocate for kids. One of his “wards,” an eight-year old, recently regaled him with a detailed and enthusiastic description of a meth lab. This kid described the cooker, the cooks, the chemicals, the masks, the precautions, the security, the works.
“Bosco,” (we will call him, not his real name) knows all this stuff not because he has ever watched Breaking Bad. No, he knows this because his parents cook meth. Or at least, they did until they were arrested, and Bosco ended up a ward of the state.
My friend and I were wondering what cultural creatives could do to help Bosco. (There are simpler, more direct ways, to be sure. The question here was what could we do in particular as cultural creatives.) Most of us live in a cosmopolitan world, soaked in intellectual and cultural capital. As the beneficiaries of a middle class existence and university educations, we know a lot about lots of things: design, economics, politics, current affairs, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, fly fishing, Route 66, Russian novels. And if we run across something we don’t know, we know someone who does know. A quick email and we are in the know.
Bosco doesn’t know much of this at all. His world is small and, outside of his meth expertise, his knowledge of the world is limited. If he is struck by a question for which he has no answer, chances are he’s on his own. Most of the adults in Bosco’s world live a world that is small, ill informed, and starved for stimulation. They think cooking meth is worth the risk.
The question is this: how to pour intellectual and narrative stimulation into Bosco’s world. PBS does a great job helping Bosco with his letters and his numbers. Where could he go to expand the horizons of his world? (Assuming this does not pour into his world while he is learning his numbers and letters from PBS.)
The trick here is to construct an intellectual, imaginative world for Bosco that makes cooking meth look like a dubious choice. Naturally enrichment will have other benefits. It will increase the wisdom with which he makes all of his life choices. It will increase the likelihood that he will finish high school and college.
But that’s our minimum. What knowledge of the world, what intellectual and imaginative resources, could we give Bosco that would make cooking meth go from the biggest thing he knows to one of the smallest, and evidently, one of the most dubious things he knows?
I am thinking of making this a Minerva competition. And that really is the first question. Is this a good question? Could a cultural creative answer it in a useful way. It may not be. Some of my Minerva questions turn out to be more arresting than others. Your comments, please.