Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"The Makers Of Men"

On Sunday, I was riding the light rail home from the airport. A father and his son, who looked to be about five, boarded the train together. The father was immediately drawn into a conversation with a fellow passenger, while the boy, as young children do, began to make a study of the world around him. He started with the other passengers, including me, staring at each of us a bit too long as he thought his thoughts about us, then moved on to the train itself and the view outside the window.

At one point, he interrupted his father excitedly, "I think the airport is close to here!"

Dad paused in his conversation a moment to gently disabuse his son of the notion, saying, "The airport is father south. Now we're near Safeco Field." He then returned to his adult conversation. I followed the boy's eyes as he looked above the exit door, his lips moving slightly.

Moments later, the boy interrupted again, "Are we at the stadium?"

His father answered distractedly, "Yes, Safeco field is the baseball stadium."

The boy was attempting to make sense of the train map posted over the door. After a few moments of silent study he asked, "Are we going to Sodo?"

"No, we're getting off in the International District."

There was another beat of silence before the boy virtually shouted, "That's the next stop!"

This got his father's full attention, "That's right! How did you know that?"

"I read it up there," the boy answered, pointing.

"When did you learn how to read?"

The boy shrugged, then said, "Did you know that someone could ride this train all the way from the airport to the University of Washington?"

Children are always studying their world, of course, and if not the external one, then the internal one of their own emotions. We are born to be scientists, explorers, discoverers, piecing together clues and cues from the world around us, connecting what we observe, hear, feel, or intuit with what we already know to create brand new knowledge, underpinned by the old, just as this child had noodled through the symbols above the door of the train to make sense of his current place in the world and the potential for going new places. It was a door he had opened for himself and it clearly excited him.

Too many of us dismiss or ignore young children's capacity for teaching themselves through their own curiosity, falsely believing that only we grown-ups can tell them where to look. How will they ever learn to read if I don't teach them? How will they ever learn to cipher if I don't drill them? How will they know what's important unless I tell them? It's the kind of hubris that leads to the drill-and-kill model of education, the one in which adults drive and cajole children through subject matter about which they may or (in most cases) may not have a curiosity. It's the kind of hubris that leads our leaders to opine that we must educate our young for those "jobs of tomorrow," those fantastical cogs in the economic wheel that may exist today, but will be on the scrap heap of history by the time  our preschoolers are looking for meaningful employment.

Indeed, adults have no idea what specific skills will be required in the future: only the children know that because, in a very real sense, it will be those young scientists, explorers, and discoverers who will create those jobs of tomorrow, not we adults who, by the time the future arrives, brought to us by our very own children, will be in our retirement homes complaining that the world has passed us by. It's the children themselves, not the adults, who know what they need to know to get from here to there. As the great Maria Montessori wrote, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men."

As we approached the International District station, the boy on the train was quietly reading off the names of each station along the line, not to show off for his father who had gone back to his conversation, but rather by way of proving it to himself, for himself, in preparation for the future he himself will create. This is his world and he is a maker of men.

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laura grace weldon said...

Beautiful example. Thank you.

Elle Cuardaigh said...

Excellent sample of self-education. I hope the little boy somehow does not lose his joy of learning once in the school system.