Friday, February 24, 2006

Exhorting and Freedom

I was thinking more about the question of exhorting. A book I am reading, called Montessori Read and Write, makes the point that freedom of choice, where one of the choices is an unknown, is not really choice.

That makes me think of my kids. Given the choice between 1: A great, wonderful, experience that's unfamiliar to their experience and 2: a rather boring but familiar and safe experience, many of them would tend to choose #2. This is even true with unquestionably fun things like going to Disneyland or swimming in the lake, so it's even more true with things like algebra and learning to play an instrument, things that are immensely rewarding but not immediately accessible.

This is a common trait in introversion. Introversion is not shyness, though it can be associated with it. The temperament has its strengths, but just as I would want my bouncy extrovert, Raphael, to learn to use his judgment before jumping into new situations and his social skills to talk appropriately with strangers, in the same way I want my introverts to learn to have a willingness to try new things. Part of maturity is learning to modify and manage one's temperamental traits and turn them to positives.

Plus, part of education is freedom. In the initial situation, the perceived choice for my introverted children is, 1, something secure and known and satisfactory and 2, something new, possibly valuable but very likely to involve error and humiliation. Not much to choose there for someone who does not enjoy novelty for its own sake. So to make the choice more realistic for them, there MAY, I think, be a need to provide them habituation in the second alternative, so that they can REALLY choose.

Can you forestall freedom in order to facilitate freedom? Obviously we do, all the time. Families unavoidably are set up that way and so is a society. Chesterton points out that every choice unavoidably involves a limitation. If you choose the left fork of the road, you forego the possibility of taking the right (unless you backtrack, of course, which CS Lewis notes IS progress if the left fork was taking you away from your intended destination). I think most people would intend most restrictions to be for the sake of a deeper freedom.

That's a side point right now. I wanted to get back to habituation. It means that with familiarity, the stimulus stops having such a strong effect. The first time my kids encounter something new, their reaction is often aversion, especially if the new thing challenges them personally in some way. So getting them past the novelty aversion is step one.

But preparation is perhaps a better word in the context of education. The Montessori book I mentioned above traces reading and writing activity all the way back to toddler-hood. Pouring water, looking at picture books, and many other things lay the foundation for skills that will be employed in formal literacy. Knowing this, a mom can find many ways to informally, engagingly lead the child to discover and explore and thus build an excellent base for the actual formal teaching.

This seems to apply to other areas of learning, too.

I would guess that exhortation works best when it's part of the final stage of the preparation. .... when the learner is already invested in the process and has many of the tools in place, and just needs an outward reminder of his basic competence. Also, attachment to and respect for the exhorter would make a difference, too.


Amy said...

Interesting! I love reading tidbits about introversion. Explains a lot here. ;-)

I need to make better use of habituation here. My 2nd dd thrives on this. My oldest has many aversions to things (like work, lol) and I know if I could get more routine in their lives and less "jumping around" she would be more likely to habituate to the negative, but necessary, things.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for posting this...I am really fond of Montessori Read and Write. I have gotten many good ideas from it.

Leonie said...

Willa, I have one son who would always choose the familiar route - the others tend to be like me and want to go for something new and exciting and unknown!.

I find, with this son, that I need to help him prepare for something new - and I need to exhort him to try - just a bit or just one time.

The little bit of trying is sometimes enough for him to want to try agin.

Love your thought provoking posts!