Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thoughts on Language and Competence

Paddy says, “I want to have TEN sausages.”
Aidan says, “I beat Michigan Viejo.”

I am struck by how at this pre-academic stage, the accuracy is not the important thing for the children. I explain to Paddy that if everyone got 10 sausages, we would have to make 90 sausages for breakfast. He looks at me with wide eyes and cheerfully accepts that he will get one at a time. He made his point, which was that he knows how to talk about quantity in context.

Aidan has combined two football terms. Michigan is a college team his older brothers talk about. Mission Viejo is where his older brother Sean went to quarterback camp. Making football conversation is a sign of being grown-up and knowledgeable to him (don’t argue! : )).

Yesterday I found this article Is Football Educational? A mom reflects on her childrens’ passion, which happens to be football, and itemizes all the educational qualities in a football hobby.

I always tend to hesitate before dissecting a natural learning event into its academic constituents, but possibly the exercise has value, particularly if you are worried that the “kids aren’t learning anything” or if you want to ponder the richness of life and experiential learning.

I read The Book of Learning and Forgetting back in the spring, and one of the things that struck me was the author’s concept that much of learning is about apprenticeship. He gives the analogy of a yachting club he belonged to. Some of the members loved to yacht, some were very good at it, others just liked talking about yachting and enjoying the trappings. By being part of the club, all could get these advantages from it, but they weren’t forced to do more than they wanted to.

When you are a willing participant in a community, you are continually open to learning new things about it. You partake of the knowledge and guidance available, in different ways according to your interests and abilities.

Small children are almost always willing participants in their community — that’s their very nature. They are open to everything in their world. If the “competent ones” are talking about football, they will take pride in talking about football. Charlotte Mason quotes Robert Burns:

If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,
I rede you tent it:
A chield’s amang you takin notes,
And, faith, he’ll prent it

Language is one of the key distinctions in any community. Listen to any adult group. If you listen to a classical homeschool group, you will hear one sort of vocabulary; in an unschooling community, the language and even the syntax, as well as the content, is distinctly different (though overlapping, of course).

If you listen to the children, you can tell a lot about the clubs they want to belong to. Paddy, from his many conversations during the day, wants to belong to the math club. Aidan sees that those he most admires talk about football and politics, so when he especially wants to sound grownup, he embarks on long monologues about football and politics. By speaking the language of those they want to be like, they approach closer actually becoming what they want to be like.