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Vn007.01

A Willing Subject

5/18/77

Today was the most difficult experiment of the initial series, separating the variables implicated in the flexibility of bending rods (Cf. The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence, Inhelder and Piaget). Of the many experiments through which one may distinguish concrete from formal thinking, this one shows best the distinction between conceiving of things as objects with properties which may occasionally be of interest and conceiving of objects as instantiations of intersecting ranges of properties of which some may be relevant to its use in a specific context.

How could Miriam possibly be interested in distinguishing the contribution of different properties to rigidity? How many adults could, or would care to, distinguish between the relative importance of a rod’s thickness parallel to a force and its cross-sectional shape? How to quantify, or even balance, such factors is not obvious to the untrained intuition at any age. And Miriam is 6, not 16. Need one not subject a child to exorbitant pressure to have her work at such an experiment? If any experiment in this initial series is vulnerable to such a criticism (either through its very nature or through my execution) it is this experiment.

I was hurried into the bending rods experiment by Miriam’s declaration that she would not come to Logo today unless she could do it. Despite feeling imperfectly prepared, I acquiesced in her demand since the obvious problem was that she felt ‘left out’; I had done the experiment earlier with Robby for practice. During the preliminaries wherein I hoped to establish with certainty a common terminology for the experiment (for a description of this work see Miriam at 6: Bending Rods) Miriam was rambunctious. When not interested much in my questions, Miriam began to create chaos by throwing around dice and balls, which were the experimental materials. I stopped the experiment and we had an argument of this general form:

Bob I won’t tolerate your throwing things and causing this confusion; it will ruin the experiment.
Miriam Then I won’t do it. You’re asking me dumb questions. I’ll play SHOOT instead.
Bob That’s not fair. You demanded we do this experiment today and now we have to finish it.
Miriam I never promised I would do all your experiments. I only said I might do them.
Bob That’s not true.
Miriam I wish I was a baby again so I wouldn’t have to do these experiments.
Bob But you’re six now and doing something important.

Miriam reluctantly agreed to continue; she agreed because of the pressure I put on her, because, in effect, I made her do it.

Despite this grim start to the main experiment, Miriam quickly became engaged in working with the materials and finding “which one is the champion” for bendings. She exhibited no interest at all in separating the variables; consequently, the latter part of the experiment bored her silly.

Riding home from Logo, I told Miriam I felt bad because I thought I was pushing her too hard in the experiment. She said she didn’t want to do any more like that, and I replied that we would do no more of that sort for several months. I expanded that we should think of doing other kinds of things. That this thesis project could be not just going to Logo, but going to other places too. Part could be my coming to kindergarten with her; another part could be visiting friends and family and telling them about our project; another part could be trips to places around Boston. I noted that she had been to the Harvard Peabody Museum and I never had; she could take me there. Miriam said we should do that soon.

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