Saturday, August 2, 2014

Children Are Learning Machines

"Children's minds that are swayed by negative emotion constantly are disruptive, short-tempered and very reactive. Their minds become an enemy versus ally." - Maureen Healy

I lived in Albuquerque for four years and found that many of the people there were raised speaking two languages. They learned them before five, which reminded of a woman I met years ago who told me if you learn a language before five, you can get the accent correctly. After five, she said, you never can.

If children can learn two, or even three, languages before five, what else can they learn? They're sponges.

It's even worse when they get to public schools. My God! I could do math intuitively - the answers just occurred to me. Not anymore.

Schools exist to try to "educate" people in the service of society. But the structure of schools is completely wrong - sit in ranks and rows, sit/march/sit. it sounds like it's trying to put kids to sleep, to turn them into zombies. No wonder the drop out rate is so high.

I have come to the conclusion the public schools cannot be reformed. The whole thing needs to be rebooted. I'd pull my kids out of public schools. But then, that's what many parents today are doing.

Below is what a poster wrote at Jerry Pournelle's site, Chaos Manor.

"It reminded me of an experience that I had back in the mid-70’s, when I was working for NSWC, Dahlgren, VA, and had occasion to do a job in Istanbul.

"The other tech I was traveling with and I checked in to our hotel, then went to the Consulate, where we met our point of contact, and asked him about decent restaurants in the area. He told us about one in easy walking distance from our hotel, so that is where we went. We arrived about 5:30, not realizing that in Turkey restaurants are just getting going good around 9:00.

"The place was deserted, except for us, and we were greeted by a nice English lady who gave us a menu and went back to the kitchen. A little later, a small girl, about 5 or 6, showed up, identified herself as ‘Ann’, and struck up a conversation with me and my companion. We told her our names. She disappeared into the kitchen, came back with a pencil and paper, and informed us that she would make us a book. The English lady came back and took our order. Ann worked on our books during the process of ordering and cooking, maintaining a conversation all the while.

"My book was entitled ‘Bob’s Book’. With capitals and apostrophe. And no input from me, except for providing my name, verbally. It contained several pictures (mountains, trees, etc.), all labeled with properly spelled names. She made a similar book for my fellow tech, appropriately entitled ‘Dave’s Book’, again proper spelling, with no prompting from us, and a few labeled pictures. I put mine in my wallet and thanked Ann.

"When our food was ready, Ann (5-6 years old) went to the kitchen, wheeled it out on a serving cart, and proceeded to serve us, including serving the veggies with the big fork/big spoon thing that I have never learned to do, and went back to the kitchen.

"We were suitably impressed.

"The next night after work, we decided that the food was great and we loved Ann, so we went back to the same restaurant. This time, we were served by the English lady, start to finish, with no sign of Ann.

"Finally, when we were ready to pay up and leave, we asked about Ann. The English lady, Ann’s mother, told us that Ann wasn’t able to come to the restaurant that evening, as she was home babysitting her little brother.

"Turns out that Ann’s mother was English, her father was Iranian, and they owned and were running a very nice restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey. Ann routinely spoke English, Farsi, and Turkish, as required by the customer. While waiting tables, making and annotating ‘books’ for random customers, and babysitting as required. I don’t KNOW that she wrote in Turkish and Farsi, but I have no reason to believe that she didn’t.

"I carried ‘Bob’s Book’ in my wallet for many years, before I somehow lost it, and showed it to a good number of people while telling them the story.

"I don’t use this tale to demonstrate that Ann was a super genius (she just seemed to be a sweet little girl), but rather to demonstrate YOUR point, that you have made many times, that small children are ‘learning machines’ and are capable of what appears to be astounding feats of learning, by OUR ‘educational standards’, if simply given the chance and encouraged. Which our education system is seemingly designed to prevent at all costs."


JKB said...

A few years ago, I found this book at the Internet Archive.

How to Study and Teaching How to Study (1909) by F. M. McMurry, Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

The book was well cited by education reformers till about 1920. The book is a treatise on the inherent ability of children to learn with ideas about how to help them discipline their learning to handle the the more academic types.

It also, has one of my favorite quotes that explains a lot.

"In spite of the fact that schools exist for the sake of education, there is many a school whose pupils show a peculiar "school helplessness"; that is, they are capable of less initiative in connection with their school tasks than they commonly exhibit in the accomplishment of other tasks."

This is an often recurring discovery. The earliest I've seen the fact that a kid after 3 years of school is less able to think "creatively" is in a book published in 1886.

Ecgbert said...

I thought the cutoff for naturally learning a language and accent perfectly was puberty. Why Henry Kissinger has a German accent but his younger brother doesn't.

Unknown said...

All I know is that this woman, who spoke several languages and taught them, told me that if you learned a language past five you'd never get the accent perfectly.