Wednesday, July 12, 2006

No, you may not stand on the giant's shoulders.

Goldberg, Lazer. Teaching Science to Children. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1970.

This book opens with an annecodote, in which a eight year old child, observing acoustic tiles being put up and being told what they are for, asks the author if he could build such a box, and place in it a ringing bell, would it hold the sound?

His follow up question is whether, when the box was opened, the sound would come out "saved up".

Here is the answer:

"It was a stunning question. All that sound cannot just disappear. It must register its presence somewhere. I was tempted to give an impromptu lecture on energy conversions and the conservation laws, but I resisted the temptation.
"When children practise on their instruments in the music room, can you hear them all over the school?" I asked.
"No." He shook his head.
"Why not?"
"I guess the music gets used up", he replied, raising his shoulders.
"I guess the ringing of the bell also gets used up," I said.
The boy clearly was not satisfied. I showed him a little booklet on sound. He thumbed through it and took it with him. If the puzzle he had discovered proved to be sufficiently compelling, he would find something to do about it. Perhaps he might even build the box and check the results for himself. I knew he would pursue the proble, to the extent of his interest and ability. The school would provide encouragement, time and materials.(4)

The complacency of this response--and his subsequent query, "What are the conditions of learning that will encourage children to observe the events in their common experience and to note the uncommon, puzzling qualities about them? What can adults do, or refrain fro doing, to cultivate children's devition to questions....?" (4)-- is just astonishing. Goldberg does not recognise that he lied to the child, that he prevented the child from receiving the information that might have led to other thoughts, and that crucially, he withheld "the giant's shoulders".

It matters not that the boy might not have understood the explanation. He would have left knowing what it was he needed to learn about.

I skimmed the rest of the book; has anyone discussed to what degree Rousseau influenced the constructivists? All of them seem to be operating from a concept of the "natural" child, and seem to believe in a Baconian world that can be interpreted purely through observation.


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