Embodied education
Frank Wilson

If you divorce a child from experiences that arise out of his natural curiosity for handling things, building things, taking them apart and trying to draw plans for how something might work better, then that kid is going to lack a certain type of competence that we have taken for granted.

To answer your question why do I think it’s important; it’s because I think that we need to understand why that experiment didn’t work. It’s pretty clear that if you look at a long experience of how kids who turned out to be very productive; the high-achievers, the life-long-learners, and so forth, that a very high percentage of those kids are kids who were brought up this way, with real physical world experiences and with opportunities to challenge themselves with tasks that required that they learn how to get better at something that involved the hands. And whether “getting better at” means getting better at a puppet, getting better at juggling, getting better at some athletic endeavor, getting better at playing some musical instrument, getting better at drawing, designing cars, etc., etc., etc., there was something about this that the child really gained control of. The curriculum was not one that was entirely brought in from the outside, because the questions were questions that came out of the experience of trying to make something happen with your own ends. And, they are not questions that necessarily ever make it into a book. You know, a child sees a problem and he says, “How do I fix this?” He plays with it and he has his own particular set of questions based upon his own perception of what he doesn’t know and what he or she does know. What they have to solve, the problem that they have to solve in order to get the thing to the next level of where they are trying to take it.

So, the problem is that is sounds so simple that it is almost insulting to talk about it. I guess it’s like in the election campaign; “It’s the economy, stupid!” Well; it’s the hands, stupid! If you divorce a child from experiences that arise out of his natural curiosity for handling things, building things, taking them apart and trying to draw plans for how something might work better, then that kid is going to lack a certain type of competence that we have taken for granted. Now, I’m not going to argue that, necessarily, by starting kids on computers earlier that you’ve caused brain damage. That’s an argument and a case for somebody else to make. But I do know that they turn out differently. The kinds of skills that they have tend to be quite specific to computers, such as you know, developing viruses, developing spyware. I didn’t mean to be so black about that, but the fact is that these kids like to go into neuroscience; they like to go into computer technology of various kinds because those are the skills that they learn when they start very early. I’m not against that, but there are lots of other necessary skills, and not everybody wants to sit there and write code for the rest of their life. It doesn’t give them joy. Kids need to have an opportunity to sort of be free-range experiencers of the world and discover what gives them joy, what makes them “lose time,” what makes them get lost in some kind of mental space in which their creative juices and their imaginative sense of the world sort of comes into some kind of spontaneous, self-directed exercise.

It’s hard to teach that. The Bloom people said, unfortunately, when you look at the kids who really grew up this way, and who took over their own education, is that the school system doesn’t really offer many ways of doing that. There are lots and lots of examples of oasis of sanity, where kids do have the opportunity to do that, but it’s a little scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen. If the parents that [say] I really want my kid, who is how 8 years old to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, they are going to be a hard sell for the case that maybe what you need to do is to be very Zen about that and just walk away from it, and if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.