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Vn113.1 Steady State 12/8/77

A few nights ago, Miriam approached me: “Dad, why do we have to
spend 6 hours in school every day?” “Why do you ask?” I countered.
Miriam continued, “It sure is a long time.” When I first asked what
was the problem, the answer came back that the work was too hard, there
were so many math papers to do, and so forth (but note that Miriam’s
work of choice at school is doing math papers; Cf. Addenda 112 – 2, 3).
Finally Miriam said, “It’s just boring.” And then, “Do I have to go to
school?”

Two years back, I recall Robby asking if he could quit school at
the end of 3 months in the first grade. He argued that he knew how to
add and had learned how to read and that there was little more the schools
could teach him. Miriam’s position is the same. I told her she can stay
home from school any time she wants except on certain days when Gretchen
and I might both have to be out of the house — and that this would be
the case especially when the baby is due. Beyond giving that permission,
I offered a little advice of this sort. “School may be boring, but you
will have friends to play with there. It can be boring at home as well;
while I’m working I won’t be able to play with you as much as you might
like, nor will I be going over to Logo too frequently.” I offered to
take Miriam to Logo whenever I go there, either going over after school
or telling her in the morning of my plans.

Since that conversation, Miriam has several times declared she was
not going to school. She stayed in bed, and I didn’t argue or disapprove
at all. All those times she subsequently changed her mind, got dressed
in a rush, and hurried out to await the school bus.

Recently Miriam has learned two things at school she values. The
‘academic’ learning is that there are 2 sounds for the A vowel. She
knows one is long A and the other short A and that the first is
distinguished by its spelling with a terminal silent E. Her example of the
distinction was the couple HAT/HATE. She was not too interested when
I suggested we play with the voice box at the lab to make it talk with
long and short vowels. Miriam comments that she can’t remember learning
anything else besides the spelling of a few words — and one important
thing.

The student teacher of her class taught Miriam how to twirl a baton.
Baton twirling first engaged Miriam’s interest in kindergarten when her
friend Michelle brought hers to school. At Miriam’s request, I bought
her one which she has played with discontentedly since then. After her
one day’s instruction, Miriam has marched, posed, and practiced before
the glass doors of our china closet, declaring herself a “batonist” (a
word she is conscious of having made up.)

At Logo, too, Miriam’s current interests are primarily physical
skills. She plays with the computer (Wumpus, and lately some new facil-
ities I’ve shown her) but her first choices are the hula hoop or jump
rope. An incident occurring last night gives evidence of what may be
the outstanding consequence of her learning during The Intimate Study —
what I refer to is her sensitivity to instruction and advice couched in
procedure-oriented terms:

Miriam had convinced Margaret Minsky to turn a long rope for
Miriam’s jumping (the other end being tied to doorknob). Miriam tried
hard and long to jump into an already turning rope. She attended
carefully to the rope and at the right time moved toward the center —
but only a short distance in that direction. In consequence, she got
her head inside the space, but the turning rope regularly caught on her
arm. Miriam had no good answer when I asked if she could recognize the
specific problem. I asked if she could take some advice and said she
should jump onto a line between Margaret and the doorknob. Miriam could
not. I put a paper napkin on that line — but the turning rope picked
it up and away. José Valente drew a chalk line. Miriam took the chalk
and drew a box to jump into. Now she was ready.

Miriam’s first attempt failed because she jumped into her box with-
out attending to the rope. Then she regressed to watching the rope and
moving only a little. Finally, “Miriam,” I said, “you’ve got a bug in
your SETUP procedure. You’re doing only one thing at a time. You have
to do both things at once.” On her next try, Miriam jumped into the
turning rope successfully. I did not see her thereafter exhibit either
of her two earlier bugs (too little movement or not watching the rope).
This incident occupied about 3 minutes.

Relevance
Miriam finds school boring, but not depressing. Though allowed to
stay home, she goes to play with her friends. Of most immediate and
spontaneous interest to her are physical skills. She shows herself
very capable of using advice formulated in concrete terms focused on
separate procedures.

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