Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Be Good Company

You learn from the company you keep.
- Frank Smith, American philosopher and educator

What does one teach a child?
She obviously needs certain basic human skills. She must get along with people (including herself, of course) of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and beliefs (E.Q.). She must internalize the intricacies and nuances of reciprocal communication (speaking, writing). She should be able to google stuff and understand game instructions or soup recipes (reading, tech stuff). A little grocery store math would be good too (arithmetic). She must develop an intuitive balance between healthy food and treats so she feels strong, and must find a way to move that gives her joy (health) and learn what to do with her free time (music, art, business).
But how is this teaching best done? Some say that there is no such thing as teaching, that really there is only learning. When a child opens his attention to you it has little to do with what you are trying to teach, but a lot to do with his emotional state and connection to you. This view is best explained by Frank Smith in The Book of Learning and Forgetting, in which he differentiates "The Classic View "of learning from coercive teaching. Historically the learned have always known the following three truths:

  1. We learn from those around us with whom we identify.

  2. Learning is growth.

  3. We learn continuously and with out noticeable effort

So, how do we teach our children the basics? We connect emotionally with them and somehow get them to identify with us and want to be like us and listen to what we have to say (teach). The educator and philosopher, John Holt (1980) said:

I think children need much more than they have of opportunities to come into contact with adults who are seriously doing their adult thing, not just hanging around entertaining or instructing or being nice to children.

Children need real mentors. Real mentors worthy of emulation. One teaches a child with one's life.

Sure, a child may learn how to decode words (read?) and put down words on paper in the most beautiful handwriting (write?) and calculate the square root of 100 in 2 seconds flat (math?). It is possible to coerce a child to "overlearn" almost any skill, but at a price any thinking person would not be willing to pay; a diminishment of that child's humanity.


  1. "Children need real mentors."

    Right on. But so do mentors. Did you know that there are psychologists who only see other psychologists? How peculiar? :P

    Good company can start with a smile. They are contagious, like yawning, which is also peculiar.

  2. Right you are. Every person needs another to serve as inspiration, to be her muse and/or guide.
    I'm very interested in the topic of mentors/mentorships. I will write more about it in the future.