The summer before last, I was working at a very large and somewhat understaffed recreational program that took place in a school in Northern Virginia. As is frequently the case with such groups, most of the kids were pretty nice, and a few were really exceptional, and a few were troublesome. One of the troublesome children, let's call him C, could be particularly difficult - it wasn't that he was a bad kid or anything, he was just never enthused about anything, and he could really drain energy out of those around him.
One of the few things that summer that really captivated all the children - boys and girls, the shy ones and the outgoing ones, everyone really - was Michael Jackson. He had just died, and he was all over the news, and all of the children in that program seemed to want nothing more than to do obsessively learn the entire Thriller dance routine.
Except, of course, for C.
As I wasn't one of the counselors who had a background in dance (of whom there were three), I spent most of the Michael Jackson dance-practice-times sitting with the children who were feeling unwell or helping set up for the rest of the day's activities. C became a frequent, if reluctant, companion in this - he didn't want to dance, but I could occasionally get him to muster up some enthusiasm for helping me put up flyers.
One day there wasn't much to do and none of the other kids were feeling unwell. I asked him if he was sure he didn't want to be a scary zombie and dance along. He confirmed in no uncertain terms that he did not (and did an admirable, though at the time unamusing, impression of my way of placing emphasis upon the word sure). He sat, looking glum, and I tried to think of something to say.
After a few moments he asked me what I was looking at. I had been absentmindedly looking at a globe, but rather than admit that I had just been thinking I told him that I was trying to figure out which way the sun was.
Please pardon the pun, but C brightened up.
"What do you mean? It's up there, duh."
"No," I replied, "I mean if this globe were the real Earth."
"You can't do that."
"Yes I can."
And, after a few minutes, he had exhausted my knowledge of the movements of the planets. He was really, really interested in why the seasons changed. The difference in him was (if you'll pardon another pun) like night and day.
I wish I could say that he became an active and engaged youth full of scientific curiosity, but honestly I have no idea. In any case, I learned something: I had assumed that I got him - that he was ruled entirely by apathy. And I had been proven wrong. Somewhere in there, he had had a kernel of scientific curiosity, just waiting for someone to let him ask the questions.