Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Code Of Traffic Lights

There are few children in the world today who don't know the code of traffic lights. Generally speaking, by the time they can speak they've figured it out: green, red, yellow. It's not a "natural" thing in the sense that one doesn't find traffic lights in the forest or under the sea, but virtually every child learns it because among the many things we are designed to do is de-code attempts at human communication and this, at bottom, is communication.

They figure out what it "means" in the same way they figure out what a smile means or a laugh or a furrowed brow. And this doesn't disappear as they get older, which is why, when left to learn according to their own lights, at their own pace, most of them will learn to read and write whether we "teach" them or not. As long as they live here in this world, among the rest of us humans, this world that is rich in language, with meaning, with communication, they will, when the time is right, apply themselves to the very natural, very human project of deciphering those printed words and then, when the time is right, attempt to in turn use them to communicate with others.

We sometimes discuss traffic lights at our urban school where understanding how they work is a matter of survival. It comes up spontaneously, say, when we're discussing an upcoming field trip that will involve walking together, crossing streets, and holding hands. I don't need to tell them anything: they've watched, they've listened, they've absorbed the code and know it like they know their own names.

"Red means stop!"

"Green means go!"

They are sure of what they know because they have lived it, but there is always one part of this communication about which we disagree. Most of them tell us that the yellow light means "be careful" or "slow down," but there are always a few who have more carefully observed. They will insist, "No, yellow means go faster!" because that is what they've seen in their own lives, learning, always learning, as passengers in cars driven by adults who have taught them that yellow means punch it!

So while they are always learning, we can't forget that as important adults in a child's life, we are also always teaching. They don't necessarily learn through our words or even our intentions, but they always do from our actions, be they about the codes of communication, social skills, or the rules of the road. And they have never failed, as James Baldwin famously pointed out, to imitate us.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: