Knowledge, Wisdom, and Two Kinds of Plankton

This week, Charlotte spent some time with her Aunt Erica on Orcas Island, Washington.  Erica’s an amateur naturalist and volunteers to take plankton samples from a special area in Puget Sound.  She looks at the samples under a microscope and reports the kinds of plankton she sees.

Some are good plankton like Coscinodiscus…


…some are toxic like Alexandrium:


Charlotte helped Erica take the samples, studied them and looked for all kinds of plankton varieties under the microscope, then made an official report to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) for their plankton index.


The two were peas in a pod. Charlotte seemed to enjoy being a scientist.  Erica remarked on the submission form that she had help from her 7-year-old niece and the scientists (who often do not respond) emailed back, wanting to know more about her experience.  That would be cool enough, but days later something happened that was more profound.

I was driving with my wife and we were talking about my anxiety about work-related assignments.  Charlotte was in the back seat buckled in and (I presume) plugged in to her iPad.  But no, she was listening.

She spoke and said, “Daddy, I have an idea.”

“What’s that, honey?” I asked, a bit embarrassed.

“You have too much Alexandrium in your gills and not enough Coscinodiscus surrounding you.”


Even though I had no idea what that meant in the plankton world, I trusted she knew the context. Before I went online to look it up, I assumed one kind of plankton was bad and the other was good.  It was a brilliant application of her knowledge.

I was reminded that children are more sapient than we realize, and when left to their own devices, will find ways to integrate the lessons they learned, even in abstract ways. Could she have made this connection as a school student?  Sure, but I like to think that since no one was pressuring her to learn about marine biology, she was more able to seamlessly integrate it into a conversation about a completely different subject.

That’s not just “applied learning”, my friends, that’s called *wisdom*.

Thank you, Charlotte.  With that little gem, you inspired me in ways I did not expect.


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