Friday, July 27, 2012

Guest post by Albert Einstein: What are you doing to the children?


The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
Albert Einstein

Ah, a treat today! While London security focused on the Olympics, I snuck into the British Museum and grabbed a slice or two of Albert Einstein's brain tissues--while I couldn't get the whole thing, even half a brain rivals what a whole committee collaborating together produced for New Jersey's science standards..

Alas, Dr. Einstein's eyeballs remain locked up in a bank in NYC (you can't make this stuff up)--any typos and misquotations that follow are on me.

And my justification? Einstein once said a person “experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness." Well, I figured he'd not object to my li'l brain in a vat experiment if I raised him up for something he cared about dearly--teaching science.

Earlier experiment with a more intact brain

I asked Dr. Einstein to peruse Jersey's standards for the preschool crowd, children no more than a few dozen moons removed from the womb, practically pollywogs--if you look closely, some still have tails.

Excuse my imperfect use of language--your host may have been a physician, but his grasp of brain anatomy needs some work. It's as though he just shuffled my brain slices together like a deck of cards. [EDITOR'S NOTE: confession--I barely passed neurology. I'm colorblind, and all the brain tissue looked the same....]

I have been asked to examine the New Jersey Core Curriculum Science Content Standards, and am amazed a child manages to get to Kindergarten without hating science. The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives--and you've managed to create little adult clones

Use basic science terms and topic-related science vocabulary. 

Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift! The terms, science terms if you will, can come later, much later. All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree, yet you do not require a child to know a hog from a horse bristle paintbrush before she splashes exuberant colors on a canvas. If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.

Represent observations and work through drawing, recording data, and “writing.”     

Goodness, why not just let a child scribble thoughts in a notebook? What is this "recording data"?  Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone.

When you get down to it, the whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking. We're talking about toddlers, no?
When I was a little boy, maybe 4, I was amazed, amazed, by a compass--there had to be something behind things, something deeply hidden. I developed a lifelong passion looking at the world. Let's see how your education experts cultivate this love of the world.

 Display curiosity about science objects, materials, activities, and longer-term investigations in progress.

Enough, enough! "Display curiosity" is sufficient, and it is innate. A child, or anyone else who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.  What has happened to the concept of kindergarten, literally the "garden of children"? Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.

 He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. Look at the madness of your standards.  It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

Disconnect me, Doyle! You asked me to read the standards, and now I don't know, I don't care, and it doesn't make any difference what I think, so long as you pay more mind to data than to wisdom. If you want my opinion, go peek at Arthur Sasse's photo of me. Let me go back to my quantum sleep.
Arthur Sasse/AFP-Getty Images via Neatorama

Anybody want a slice or two of the old man's brain? Is anyone listening anymore?

Bold, italicized lines are Einstein's words, obviously lifted out of context, most from here.
Red, bold left-sided quotes taken directly from the NJCCCS here.
The "brain" photo is everywhere, from the movie The Brain That Wouldn't Die.


John T. Spencer said...

I agree with drawing and observing and natural curiosity. Beyond that, it's no longer art, science, literature or any high-minded phrases adults want to throw around.

My pre-school son loves to observe bugs and draw them later. He asks questions and then watches them again. That's about as scientific as it gets.

Malcolm said...

my foster son (5.5yrs) keeps asking about bones...he knows that the 2 in our forearm are the radius and ulna are and that the humerus is not funny...he knows that mosquitoes want our blood to live and that they leave a poison in our skin....which makes us itch...that IS science...i think...

doyle said...

Dear John,

Beyond that, it's no longer art, science, literature or any high-minded phrases adults want to throw around.

You hit it on the head--we need to encourage the natural curiosity without trying to jam it into categories. I fear that the little ones will be tasked with learning "science" vocabulary before they've gotten a good hold of any language at all.

Dear Malcolm,

"Knows" is a funny word--children find tremendous power in vocabulary, and I do not mean to discourage those kids that latch onto "science" words like bees to honey.

Your son has developed some interesting ideas, and maybe you can work through them with him.

How do we know how many bones we have in an arm? Could his be different?

Do mosquitoes want our blood "to live"? Only the females consume blood, and then only during a specific time.

It's true mosquitoes make some of us itch. What can you say about mosquitoes and skeeter bumps. (At his level, just figuring out they leave anything behind at all is a nice leap--but you might want to ask him what might be the point of a skeeter leaving something behind that makes us angry at its fellow skeeters.)

Keep encouraging the questions, but keep him on his toes with questions about his hypotheses.

Maria Jamella said...

When a student is curious, that's the perfect time that a teacher can introduce it will definitely be absorbed the the curious mind.