Sunday, July 17, 2011


After Iris first arrived in the US, we spent many hours practicing American pronunciation. Our method involved Iris reading to me, and me interrupting to correct her each time she mispronounced a word. It worked so well that Iris insisted I interrupt her anytime she mispronounced or misused a word in conversation, even at parties where we didn't know the people to whom she was speaking. Although the practice resulted in me drawing the evil-eye from many an emancipated party-goer, one could not argue its effectiveness. And so we continue...

Iris reads aloud from Faith's post, Delicious Morsel or Building Block? She says, "dis" and I say, "this." Something strikes one of us as interesting. We stop and consider it, what it means, what it inspires, insights, answers, and so on.

There are times when the key to finding an answer is simply articulating the question. When Faith (in regard to her kids) asks, "So what do I want them to learn quickly?", I blurt out, "The things for which they'll be most thankful later."

It's not something I've thought about before. Yet I know it absolutely once Iris reads the question:
The most important things to teach our children are the things for which they'll be most thankful when they're adults.

Simple, right?

Of course the next question is, "How do you know what that is?"

You don't! All you can do is guess. Still, it's probably easier to guess what they'll most be thankful for as adults than what's generically the best thing to teach them.

How do you go about guessing? Hmmm... You could just ask them, but I doubt they know yet. I know there are educational philosophies that propose child-directed curricula and I believe they have a place within context. However, children simply lack the experience and breadth of knowledge to know what they'll consider most important when they become adults. For the most part, adults lack them too. As the parent, it comes to you.

Approach I
The trick is to blend your understanding of what you're glad you learned and what you wish you'd learned with an understanding of your kids' interests and skills. So it's inventory time. Put pen to paper and draw five columns.
  1. Glad I Learned
  2. Wish I'd Learned
  3. Strongest Interests
  4. Strongest Skills
  5. Greatest Weaknesses
I believe that all five are necessary to balance the weight of your own experience, successes and failures with that of your child's interests, strengths and weaknesses. It's easy to project onto your child. It's also easy to undervalue your own experience and bias.

Once you have your five lists, it's time to do a little gap analysis. What are the educational gaps between where you are and where you would be? What are they for your child? How are you going to close them? Note that recognizing weaknesses is just as important as recognizing strengths (and vice versa).

Approach II
As I read what I just wrote, I'm thinking, "Wrong! Most of us don't know what we want because we limit ourselves to what we know!"

You don't know you love sushi because you've never eaten good sushi. You don't know you love playing piano because you believe you can't or because you were tormented by bad teachers. You don't know that transcribing the music you hear and doing math in your head are fundamentally the same process because you've never even thought to make the connection. Or as Faith pointed out, you don't know that arithmetic relationships are beautiful: For the first time in my life, I became aware of number patterns and so much of the beauty in arithmetic that I had never seen before.

So, what do you do? There's got to be an approach that doesn't require you to know exactly what will be important to your child as an adult. And the answer is: rudiments.



It's Rudimentary, My Dear
The evasive connections that bind disparate disciplines are not theoretical or complex, their rudimentary. Music and math are not tied together theoretically or in some super-sophisticated, esoteric manner, they're tied elementally. The beauty in numbers does not lie in complex mathematical formulae, but in the basics of arithmetic. The beauty in language lies in phonemes, pitch and rhythm.
If you know the rudiments of any discipline,
you can derive the rest.
If you don't, the rest is a waste of time.
If a child understands phonetics, she can read anything. If not, she must memorize each word she learns. If he learns to visualize the relationships among numbers, he can understand any math concept. If not, he'll learn how to use formulae without ever comprehending them. If she learns to visualize rhythms before playing them and numbers before calculating them, she'll see an unmistakable connection between math and music. Once she sees this, each time she plays music, she'll better understand math. Each time she works a math problem, she'll become a better musician.

Equipped with the basics, a child has a foundation on which she can build any career. Without them, the educational process resembles home construction using implements for poker and bridge.

OK, so my answer to: How do you know the things for your children will be most grateful when they're adults? is Rudiments. If you teach your child the elemental building blocks of many disciplines in a way where she truly knows them (sees them, hears them, feels them), she'll be able to do anything she wants.

Of course, accomplishing the above may require a bit of time in adult-re-education.

Happy Sunday,

PS Speaking of rudiments: If a Dutch woman learns to play basic drum beats with a click-track (a metronome), she can become a rock-solid performer in just four weeks. Without the click-track, she could play for years and never have solid rhythm.

1 comment:

  1. Very grounding, thank you. We are doing some rudiments right now.


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