Have you ever wondered why desks were arranged in rows, curriculum focused on memorization, and students were expected to sit still and only speak if called upon?
Callahan’s iconic book, The Cult of Efficiency, exposes how big business dictated public education. And big businessmen, like the Henry Fords, needed mechanistic laborers, as early 20th century economics exploded thanks to the assembly line’s efficiencies. Assemblers needed to do the same actions all day every day, without questioning or thinking, just doing what they were told to do. Well, 21st century big business has replaced assemblers with robots. So what the heck should school look like nowadays?
Sure big business has power, but instead of asking what companies need, as though the end goal of education is a job (is it?), what if we flipped the system on its head? What if the end goal of education was life? Howard Thurmond once wrote, ““Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” What if we started the education question with, “What does the learner want to know; what brings her alive?” Now, I am not indicating that a 3 year old knows what she really wants. But have you ever heard a 3 year old say, “Daddy, I goed to the bathroom?” or “Mommy, I lefted my toy outside?”
While classical students are repeating endless Latin declensions, elementary Spanish students are parroting colors and numbers and “Donde está el baño?”, middle school grammar students are diagramming sentences, and High School and Higher ed language students are laboriously conjugating every tense under heaven… a 3 year old somehow magically says, “goed.” Stop for a second and get your mind around the fact that 3 year olds are still figuring out their sense of time and they have never heard the word “goed”, ever. Yet, somehow he has deciphered that he “go” to the bathroom before this present moment, and he should add a hard sound at the end of “go” (mind you he does not even grasp the letters “e and d”).
Whether your chid tells you if he likes language or not, his actions demonstrate that his brain is playing with a genius aptitude, effortlessly conjugating words (ignorant of irregulars like “went”) while 10 years later he doubtlessly will despise conjugating anything. And what is even more amazing is he can absorb language and grammar in more than one language (Schools have not championed this aptitude, because it just turns out that American culture and big business have not prioritized multilingualism… yet).
Ponder this- is it possible that preschool covers the most important schooling years of your career? Seriously, think about it. In the area of oral fluency, compare the fluency of a preschool student who has been immersed in multiple languages for 4 years to a college graduate who majored in foreign languages (while you’re at it, compare tuition costs too). Beyond language, the convictions, the personality, and the preferences of preschoolers are carved out in these early, formative years. Add to that movement and sensory integration, or music or socialization… In short, intractable learner dispositions are launched in the early years.
So to start this dialogue, what if school should start when our culture still calls it “pre” school. Yet, don’t picture 3 year olds sitting in rows, scared to talk, and bribed by grades to memorize everything under the sun. Picture 3 year olds playing. Playing their hearts out. Playing in other languages.
I am not saying multilingualism is the great end all, but I am stating that 0-7 year olds both relationally and cognitively want to learn language(s). And this gift of communication will doubtlessly make them come more alive.
To be continued…