Have you ever read children’s books to a toddler? If so, you will realize that a large share of these books address a particular topic that is essential (apparently) to the proper socialization and education of toddler’s everywhere. The books explain that, “The horse says, ‘Neigh.’ The dog says, ‘Woof!’” These educational drills allow you to ask small children, “What does the kitty-cat say?” and receive an essentially reliable, uniform response. In fact, this response is so conditioned that a shy child who will not tell you his or her own name in the church playroom will probably tell you what a cow says.
Sometimes I wonder why all the babies of America have been set this curriculum. It is not as if the “standard animal sounds” even align with reality. Different languages spell and pronounce these sounds in different ways. Even older American books often spell the dog’s sound as, “Woah, woah,” or, “Bow, wow.” Thus, our focus on contemporary, Western, American versions of such sounds is clearly subjective and perhaps imperialistic. Worse, the knowledge has no obvious practical application, and it is taught through rote memorization instead of experiential learning and skill-building.
I think that there are three reasons why we provide our children with these little drills. One, the kiddos like it. Something within the soul of my eleven-month-old responds with joy to “The cow says ‘Moo’” (although he pronounces it as ‘Ooo’). It provokes a feeling of wonder. His desire to experiment with sounds and vocalizations, his laughter at anything that looks or sounds funny, and his eagerness to imitate all make the exercise a delight to him. Two, the activity has benefits beyond its direct content. That is, the “irrelevant” sounds help children to practice their vocal cords in ways that will equip them to tackle other, more mature words later. Three, deep down in our modern minds, we really do value common culture. We really do appreciate being able to laugh about the sound of a horse with children from any household and any part of town. The animal sounds bind us together and give us a sense of shared identity.
Surely all of this is analogous to a classical education. Classical education also aims to provide delightful material the speaks to the soul of a child even if he is not yet ready to explain or analyze it. It chooses curriculum that is sometimes removed from utilitarian practicality, yet prepares students for other learning. It binds a culture together.
Yes, I have a new definition (one of many) for Classical education: board books for all ages.
Speaking of which, this book looks pretty cool.
Linking-up to Trivium Tuesdays.