Pre-historic Optimism in the Age of Corona

Posted by Mr. Andrew A. Valdez, Apr 29, 2020

I often ask my students what they want to be when they grow up. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I loved dinosaurs and spent hours in my school’s elementary library reading up on every dinosaur book and watching every documentary I could get my hands on. When Scholastic book fairs came around, I was just charming enough to convince my school librarian to let me read all the new dinosaur books before they were shipped off to the next school. At this next school, hopefully, there was another kid who was just charming enough to also read about how the Blue Whale is bigger than any other dinosaur, at 108 feet.

Had I been a child during this pandemic, my ideal scenario would be curled up in my school library with the internet and a treasure trove of dinosaur books at my disposal. However, that’s not feasible for most of my students. In fact, roughly two-thirds of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District students don’t have access to a computer or similar device at home. One third of our families do not have access to reliable high-speed internet.

But what is waiting for them—once the district hands out hotspots and computers—is something I wish I had access to at their age. They will have access to each other, a support network of friends and teachers who are eagerly awaiting them. In particular, one teacher who is so excited for the moment they reconnect because he has collected a handful of dinosaur facts he can’t wait to share with them.

In anticipation of that moment, I’ve decided to share some of those dinosaur facts with you. I hope they bring you some charm during this difficult time.

Fact Number One: The chicken is the closest known modern relative to the T. Rex.

My grandmother had a small chicken coop when I was child. It’s funny to think that such a small and feeble creature like the chicken is a descendent of the mighty T-Rex. But so are all of us: small, feeble creatures and direct descendants of our ancestors … our ancestors who went through so much adversity so that you can be here now. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree—or as my grandmother would put it, the egg doesn’t fall far from the coop. There’s a mighty T-Rex inside of us all who was built to overcome adversity.

Courtesy of one of Mr. Valdez’s 4th gradersFact Number Two: Some dinosaurs had such large stomachs that their body produced certain bacteria that would help them break down all the grassy things they ate. This bacteria caused them to fart CONSTANTLY!

Isn’t that hilarious? Can you imagine being in the presence of a long necked dinosaur like the Brachiosaurus that stretches eighty-five feet—or about twelve times as tall as Andre the Giant, but smells a hundred times worse than he did after going round for round with Hulk Hogan.

I wonder how often the Brachiosaurus must have laughed at itself, or if it kept a record of how many times it farted in a day. What an amazing gift nature gave our friend: the ability to produce laughter from within itself. May we strive to be like our friend the Brachiosaurus and create our own reasons for laughter. I’ve farted about three times today.

Fact Number Three: There is no such thing as a Brontosaurus; its misidentification was a result of two paleontologists competing to discover dinosaurs.

It has been my observation that lots of markets right now are rushing to move their work to online platforms. There is a rush to beat out other marketers and come up with the best digitized solution to education, entertainment, sustainability, and productivity. I think what’s most important during this time is for us to slow down and pace ourselves with these brand new discoveries. There’s a world in mourning right now. The last thing the world needs is for us to misidentify its mourning as an opportunity to be capitalized on.

Fact Number Four: Mary Anning, who pioneered work in Jurassic marine life, was overshadowed and her work was stolen by the men working in her field.

I am continually inspired by the women in my life. My mother is currently working from home and fighting for the rights of immigrant farm workers to receive adequate compensation for their work and protective rights during COVID-19. My other mother has come out of retirement to become a full time elementary school and college level educator to her grandchildren. My sisters are galvanizing online education for their school districts and the youth they serve. May we continue to look towards our women leaders for guidance during this time. (Shout out to Dr. Amy Acton!)

Fact Number Five: The Repenomamus, a small badger-sized mammal, left fossils that had the remains of baby dinosaurs in their stomachs. Which doesn’t seem remarkable at first until you remember that in order to eat a baby dinosaur, you need to fight off the mama.

We’re up against a mama dinosaur right now. This pandemic has taken its toll on our nation. We’ve lost a lot of friends and I’m afraid we’re only going to lose more. Students: when we come back to class, some of our friends won’t be there anymore. That feeling of loss is going to be hard for us to overcome. The world right now is scary to think about, but it’s okay to be afraid sometimes. There are hordes of baby dinosaurs, or little joys, waiting for us on the other side of this. We just have to wait it out and find our moment to strike. You are a remarkable creation and there is a world of joy inside of you. I see it every day when we are in class.

I never did become a paleontologist. When I was seven, I dreamt of excavating dinosaur bones in a desert and unearthing the next mighty cousin of the T-Rex. But I think I became something even better. I became an arts educator, armed with just enough charm to excavate and unearth the attention of a room full of students long enough to convince them that their heart is bigger than any blue whale’s, even at a social distance of six feet.