Nothing rings more close to the truth than Monkey See, Monkey Do after having children and watching them “play” together.
In fact, Laird Hamilton also expressed his belief in this idea in an interview regarding how to pass on healthy habits to his children.
I started to believe the “truth” about this idea after having my third child and watching him delight in trying to “be” like his brother and sister. Although, like my brother observes, we (humans) are not like horses who are born and learn how to stand in a matter of seconds; there’s a process.
It made me think back to when I was a child and I remembered the arguments I used to have with my father when growing up during the times that he tried to assist me with my homework. Looking back he tells me that no matter what information he was trying to teach me I would counter his “instruction” by saying “that’s no what my teacher told me.”
This is common among 1st generation children and their parents.
I only learned later that my teachers lied. So, I wanted to make sure that my children avoided my mistakes. I began to read and stumbled upon two books by John Holt, a pioneer in educational reform. How Children Fail and How Children Learn.
It made complete sense; to me.
For years, psychologists have asked the question, “Is the human simply a very advanced mammal that operates by a stimulus response mechanism, or actually a cognitive creature that uses its brain to construct knowledge from the information received by the senses?”
A field of knowledge, whether it be math, English, history, science, music, or whatever, is a territory, and knowing it is not just a matter of knowing all the items in the territory, but of knowing how they relate to, com- pare with, and fit in with each other. Knowledge, learning, and understanding, are not linear. They are not little bits of facts lined up in rows or piled up one on top of another.
It is the difference between being able to say that a room in your house has so many tables, so many chairs, so many lamps, and being able to close your eyes and see that this chair goes here and that table there. It is the difference between knowing the names of all the streets in a city and being able to get from any place, by any desired route, to any other place.
I believe this now more strongly than ever.
I’m not sure why we talk and write about the world and our knowledge of it as if they were linear. Maybe because that is the nature of talk. Words come out in single file, one at a time; there’s no other way to talk or write. So in order to talk about it, we cut the real, undivided world into little pieces, and make these into strings of talk, like beads on a necklace.
But we must not be fooled; these strings of talk are not what the world is like. Our learning is not real, not complete, not accurate, above all not useful, unless we take these word strings and somehow convert them in our minds into a likeness of the world, a working mental model of the universe, as we know it.
Only when we have made such a model, and when there is at least a rough correspondence between that model and reality, can it be said of us that we have learned something.
I now realize now that when we keep trying to find out what our children understand we are more likely than not to destroy whatever understanding they may have. The closest we can come to finding out what children really know—and it’s not very close – is to watch what they do when they are free to do what interests them most.
Live and Learn. We all Do.
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