Re: Emergent Learning LO1939

Fred Reed (
Wed, 05 Jul 95 09:09:53 EST

Replying to LO1925 --

Bernard Girard wrote, in part:

*begin quote*
Doug Seeley writes about his children : "They were not taught explicitly
how to read, and how to do math, yet at some moment they spontaneously
started doing these things, much in the same manner in which (=8A) they
rapidly began speaking French once they made up their minds to do it."
(Doug is an Australian living in Geneva).

We all know that children learn how to talk a foreign langage without
explicit education (which does not mean "no education"), but I am very
surprised to hear one can learn how to read without explicit tuition.
Reading is a difficult task. It's not something you do in a community (you
have to be two to talk it helps learning a langage without lessons), but
something you do by yourself. And the motivation to read is usually low :
children don't need to read to live and enjoy themselves (whereas they
need to talk to play with friends). One of the firt tasks of a teacher is
to give children the desire to read, to show them that one can find
treasures in books=8A
*end quote*

Bernard's assertion concerning the need "to give children the desire to
read" is relevant to a number of threads going on here of late. The
*Motivation* angle and it "deconstruction", particularly by Mike McMaster,
had substantially settled the issue for me. However, as Bernard points
out, children are not exposed to substantial "environmental demands" to
learn how to read. And so, one might reasonably ask why children do learn
to read, if it is not dependent on a teacher pushing them to do so. Some
light might come from a more social view of learning. According to my
"mental model" of such things, learning is largely the habitual taking of
effective acts, and socialization is largely the adoption of the effective
habits of others (and rejection of ineffective habits). My guess is that
children (based primarily on observation of my own) "emergently" learn to
read while observing and testing out the habits of those they see around
them (parents and siblings). I don't have evidence in front of me, but I
believe it has been shown that children that grow up in households where a
lot of reading goes on (not even necessarily involving them) tend to be
better readers. While I wasn't in Doug Seeley's house, I surmise that his
children observed sufficient reading activity to provide ample reason to
believe it is an effective habit and one that should be adopted, *without*
resorting to any "explicit" instruction or "giving" of desire.

A second point to be made is with respect to the *Flow* thread. I am
familiar with a rather extreme form of progressive school here in the US
(called "democratic schools") that strongly avoid *any* attempt at
"motivating" students to learn, relying instead on intrinsic desire in the
social context of complete age mixing. That is, there are no "teachers"
as commonly defined, no courses or curricula. I think it's a wonderful
model for a Learning Org in general, but that line of discussion will have
to wait for another time. With respect to learning reading, they find
that the age in which an individual "emergently" learns to read (there is
no other way at this school) varies quite widely (many years, say from 3
to 9). The surprising result is that they have reported an essentially
zero rate of dyslexia at the school, whereas other schools often expect a
"normal" rate somewhere around 10 percent. They (and I am likely to
agree) propose that many such "disabilities" are caused by forcing
children to adhere to the same learning schedule, and thus out of the
developmental "flow" that is unique to them.

And so, I am inclined to disagree with Bernard on the necessity of
teachers. More importantly, I think it is time that we consider whether
our traditional concepts of learning and "explicit" teaching are not just
ineffective but counterproductive for human development, both children and

Fred Reed