Today was Career Day at the seven-year-old’s school and I got the call. Since the missus is just a boring ol’ teacher, Captain Cartography had to go in and speak to three second-grade classes (for a half-hour each) about the joys of making maps for a living. Since it was also Dr. Seuss Day I had to read a book to each class as well.
On top of all that, it was also “Wear Your Slippers to School Day.” In an effort to give the field of Cartography some credibility, I passed on the wearing of slippers. Plus I don’t actually own slippers, and I have no idea what the Department of Homeland Security’s policy on a grown man walking into an elementary school wearing his wife’s fuzzy slippers is, but I’m sure the penalties are severe.
As I saw it, my half-hour would consist of four parts: Storytime, Opening Joke, Show and Tell, and Parting Gifts.
Storytime: I asked my son’s teacher to pick out a book, and she wisely chose Mapping Penny’s World, which dealt with the components of a map and showed that even a dog could help make maps (no, really, it did). While that didn’t exactly boost my ego, it did give me some points to work into the Show and Tell part of my presentation.
Opening Joke: Here’s what I said:
How many of you have ever made a map? (About two-thirds raise their hands). Well then, you’re a cartographer. You can’t be President of the United States because you’re not 35 yet. You can’t be a doctor without going to school and getting a license. But, even at age seven, you can call yourself a cartographer just by making a map. Now, if you want to make money while being a cartographer (chuckle, chuckle), then you have to go to college and get a degree.
Granted, not the funniest thing in the world, but how hard could it be to get second graders to laugh? I’m surprised they didn’t all start crying, because I’m pretty sure this is what everybody (including the teachers) heard:
You’ll never grow up to be President of the United States.
You’ll never grow up to be a doctor.
You might as well get used to the idea of sitting at a computer digitizing lines over aerial photos all day for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Oh, and cartography doesn’t pay crap.
Undeterred, I went on to use the same failed opening for the other two classes. And that was the part of the presentation I had scripted. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to just wing the rest of it.
Show and Tell: After the opening bombed I handed out little aerial maps of the area around the school to each of the kids. If you want to make sure you never have a group of kids’ attention, give them something to play with right away. After one of the teachers advised me against handing these out, I assured her that it was important to my presentation (you know, the one I was ad-libbing) that the kids follow along with their little maps.
I then held up a Rand-McNally road atlas and asked who had seen one of these before. They all smiled and shook their heads yes. Then, while they were still smiling, I said something like, “yeah, well I ain’t that kind of cartographer! Bwahhhh ha ha ha!” I then spent ten minutes trying to explain Regional Planning to a bunch of kids who absolutely could not care less. I then hung up a map titled – no lie – Elderly Population and Access to Rail Transportation in the Delaware Valley. It was then that I thought I saw one kid try to put himself out of his misery by fashioning a noose out of a chain of paper clips.
I went on to hang up a Land Use map that, while still boring, was pretty colorful. Then, as an exciting kicker, I hung up a paper aerial photo of Philadelphia International Airport and asked the kids to guess what it was. Nobody got it right, but two Department of Homeland Security guys did come in and quickly rip it down anyway (thank God I decided against the fuzzy slippers). Even after I told the kids what it was, no reaction. Airports just aren’t sexy from above.
Luckily, one of the few plans I did make was bringing in a laptop and projector. So I did a little more of the planning spiel with some transportation layers overtop digital aerial photos before finally giving up and letting the kids yell out who’s house they wanted to see from above. They dug that.
Parting Gifts: Let me just say this, when I was seven I would have killed for a little flashlight. I would have at least looked grateful while receiving a little flashlight. What is wrong with kids today that they can’t even get excited about getting a little flashlight for free?
Here’s all you need to know about what my audience thought of my talk: the two other parents doing presentations (in other classrooms) were an insurance salesman (who's also a good friend of mine) and a Disney Store manager. I knew I couldn’t match the Disney lady, so I asked the last class, “Was I more interesting than the insurance salesman?” and they just stared at me while my goofy grin dissipated.
Moral of the Story: Only ask seven-year-olds questions you really want the answer to.