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Archive with last of tag-string Idea


3V0233.08 Dancing, disappearance, and reappearance 9/12

Last night (9/12) Peggy sat in my lap as we played some records I brought back from Boston. Robby and Miriam had been cooped up inside this rainy afternoon, and when they heard some fast jigs and reels by De Danaan, went into their own version of step dancing which rapidly became a session of dancing around the house. Behind the couch, behind the chair where Peggy and I sat, around again and past the piano. Peggy turned and twisted to follow their path. Out through the short hall past the fireplace — then Peggy saw them reappear through the glass doors on the far side of the fireplace (a see-through one). Peggy was engrossed. Here were important people in her life doing unusual things, appearing and disappearing. These sequences must have been very mysterious. Especially when hidden factors and actions make prediction impossible. Sometimes the older kids would dance past the far side of the fireplace and could be seen. Other times they would crawl past the opening below the level of the high hearth and reappear in the fireplace window from the wrong side.

RELEVANCE — The first incident testifies to Peggy’s experimenting with objects and space. The second highlights again the problem of conceiving of object permanence (in terms of predictable movement) when people with self-control behave in ways difficult to predict. Is object permanence developing the perspective that some things are not willful and mobile?


3V0240.01 Substituting “bub” for /ae/ in conversations with Peggy. 9/19

/b/\b/b/\b/b/\b/ — Peggy’s conversations at table have continued much as previously described. Her primary phoneme is /ae/ in this use, which she repeats with many variations of tone, length and number of repetitions. In our conversations of this day, I tried to see if Peggy would imitate me when I introduced a different phoneme into the conversations. She did not. In response to her /ae/ variations, I said, “/b/\b/ /b/\b/ /b/\b/.” Peggy still said /ae/ variations.


3V0246.01 Rejecting food: 9/25/78

Peggy being fed. Deciding she had enough, she stuck out her tongue, full and rounded, effectively blocking off her mouth. At another feeding, she did the same, then looked at me and smiled and opened her mouth for food — (Was it a test to see if she could refuse food that way if she wished ?) A day or so later, she refused food simply by turning her head aside (away from the table).


3V0327.02 Helen Keller as archetype (12/15/78)

Helen Keller situation as extreme exemplar of every infant’s plight.


3V0398.03 First introduction to pictures of herself. (3/01/79)

Late February – Pictures and Names (a reconstruction) Carrying Peggy back from the balcony, when she pointed to some pictures and requested them, I turned Peggy to pictures of her hanging above the balcony entry. I was trying to distract her attention to pictures beyond her easy reach as mine). That is the place where pictures of Peggy are hung. “See, that’s a picture of Peggy. That’s you, Peggy.” Here, I pointed to her after — both pictures where she, in her familiar robe, is held on her mother’s lap. From being cranky and demanding, Peggy brightened immediately. My impression was that she understood that picture was of her. (It is not at all clear whether she assumes all baby pictures are pictures of her or not — but most of the baby pictures in my room are of Robby and Miriam.)

We continued out into the hallway. Stopping at the hall mirror, I said. “Peggy, see, there’s Peggy.”

Relevance: I note this incident as a possible precursor in kind (though I do not claim this is, in fact) of Peggy’s catching on in an articulated way to the representative character of pictures. (I’m not sure what I mean by this.)


3V0502.03 TIRADES; issue: forming technical terms for phenomena appearing in
observations (6/8/79)

Tirades — I am introducing this word as a technical term in the sense in
which it appears in French and Italian drama. The tirade is a long
speech or declamatory passage by a single actor directed to an
audience but not to other actors engaged in a play with him. A
conversation, in contrast, involves turn taking and more than one

Peggy has begun to speak in a specific way we will name a ‘tirade’. Let
me describe the first such that came to my attention (Gretchen has
witnessed this before. How often?) also because it is a lucid example of
specific aspects of the tirade. Peggy and I were in the bedroom. I sat
writing and she toddled past my chair, over to the sliding glass doors.
She began speaking, not with words but in ‘sentences.’ She continued
talking, without any sound patterns recognizable as signifying to me,
but with intonation patterns and caesurae characteristic of connected
discourse. She did NOT pause or interrupt her speech to give me a turn
(to be sure, I could have interrupted her). She did not, by intonation,
request my response via interrogation.

Was this babbling? No, for I take babbling to signify the repetition of
various sound[s] but with phonological repetition at the base. What
Peggy said sounded like speech in a foreign tongue (one cognate with
ours, i.e. I could not recognize any distinctive, non-English sounds in
her repertoire). Did her speech mean anything? It conveyed nothing to
me in the incident by the door. I can not say what it meant to her, if

Peggy continued from the glass door over towards the closet, on the
lower clothes rack of which are Miriam’s dresses. She began to handle
the sleeves, speaking the while, turning to me occasionally, poking
around some more to extract the sleeve of yet another dress. This
tirade went on for at least two minutes — a significant discourse.

Importance — in the tirade we see surfacing an important kind of
linguistic knowledge — that related to the prosody of connected
discourse and the roles of conversation, i.e. speech is something you
say about a topic to another person. Peggy gives evidence of a very
flexible system of speech. What is lacking is communication through
common reference, the use of words and phrases as socially shared

The recognition of the tirade as a kind of linguistic knowledge as yet
distinct from others permits us to imagine now how Peggy will learn to
speak — i.e. we can propose a first order theory of speech acquisition.
Let’s claim three different uses of language exhibit three distinct
knowledges about language. Let the tirade be one. Let the use of words
as labels for objects (e.g. foot, nose), classes of objects (intensionally
or functionally defined — fox versus trash can) and actions (e.g.
change, get down from high chair) be the second. This second use, in
extension beyond what adults recognize as words, obviously extends to
clichés by which reference is made. The third use of language I have no
name for yet, but by it I mean that knowledge that Peggy has already
elaborated upon her use of “that.” I need a good name for this.

Conceiving of Peggy’s language knowledge as in these three systems
promises some hope of being able to observe how and precisely when
her recognizable speech emerges and from what predecessors(i.e.
there may be more or they may be different from what I have
proposed here but this proposal seems simple enough to understand
and complex enough that it has a chance of reflecting what really goes

Because I deem the documenting of Peggy’s tirades important, I have
begun a series of audio tape records (on 6/9/79) wherein I will try to
capture her speech now before she assembles effective speech
performances. Her speaking is clearly well enough developed to be
interesting and she is outspoken enough that she may say valuable
things before she understands how reference, elaboration of (assembly
of) meanings and large scale discourse are integrated.


3V0513.01 Sentence completion (6/19/79)

“Peggy, do you want to get…?” This question I addressed to her while
she stood in her high chair. Peggy responded /dau/. No big surprise.
The point is raising this question to salience. What minor changes of
our speech patterns can we introduce that will permit us to better
probe Peggy’s speech and knowledge competence.


3V0516.01 Naming cars; relation of teaching and exploration (6/22/79)

Riding Back from graduation at MIT, Peggy frequently pointed at trucks
passing in the opposite direction with her squeals of delight. We
named them for [her] “truck,” “van.” We all over subsequent days
continued this on local trips where the distinction was often made
between trucks and cars (the latter seen more frequently). This
gradually became passé.

Today, Peggy sat in her car seat, nobody paying any particular
attention. As we passed any car either on the road or parked, she
would point and say /ka/, once for each vehicle.

Relevance — This incident touches upon the problem of language use by
others, learning to recognize and associate specific sounds and
objects, and then the appearance [of] those sounds as labels in speech
production. This case shows a lag of several weeks from the beginning
of the social instruction, its becoming boring to the ‘teachers.’ The
drop in interest by others perhaps inspired Peggy to extend herself
from recognizing correspondences to producing them herself. The
slight ‘vacuum’ gave her room and motive (?) to expand her
performance. If this be a typical pattern, it implies that the best
procedure for investigating Peggy’s growing knowledge and
competence — (best for bringing it out in explicit, public behavior) —
is to cut off any verbal prompting, letting the pragmatics of the
situation call forth whatever she is capable of.

Could this be the method of “natural instruction” — and an explicit
model for education. [marginal note, partly missing: …sensitive…this
sort of instruction]


3V0536.01 More words and situations: “Give this to dada” vs.
“dada have that”; language role in microworld selection: role genetically prior
to terminal specification though it recedes to discourse level feature
(CENTRAL IDEA) (7/12/79)

Miriam sat across the dining room table unable to bring me something I
wanted (a magazine, perhaps). She directed Peggy, “Give this to Dada”,
then pointing directly at me when Peggy looked at her
uncomprehendingly she repeated, “Give this to Dada.” Peggy did not
respond. I caught her eye and whispered she should say, “Daddy have
that.” Miriam said, “Dada have that” without any gesture. Peggy
brightened, circumnavigated the table, and brought me the object.

To be doubly sure of Peggy’s non-understanding, I tried repeating the
incident: “Peggy, give this to Miriam.” I expected Peggy not to do so —
after which I intended to say “Miriam have that” with her consequent
execution — but Peggy carried the object back to Miriam right away.
Importance — the most striking element in the difference of Peggy’s two
responses to the “Give this etc.” directions is her successful
interpretation of my intention in the second case. How did that

In the first case, Miriam gave Peggy an incomprehensible order which
meant that Peggy should perform a familiar action (carry and give) on
an object in her grasp. When expressed as a well know formula, Peggy
executed the action. In the second case, when a similar order (only the
indirect object changed) [was given] Peggy executed that action on that
object in response without translation into a well known formula. The
two changes were recipient AND the immediate context or situation of
the utterance.

Can we say that language’s function as evidenced here is at the level of
microworld or frame selection? Yes. It IS reasonable then to consider
this function as genetically prior to terminal specification, even if it
may gradually recede in prominence to what linguists call “discourse
level features.”


3V0568.01 A Verbal Confusion: 08/13/79;

During the videotape session P81, Robby read THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY to
Peggy. At that time, or later in the evening, Peggy pointed to a picture
of a lizard (on the page with no other animals). “Lizard,” I said. Peggy
imitated my naming by saying /***/, possibly /***/. (This heard
pronunciation should be verifiable (or not so) if the incident occurred
during P81.)

Relevance: This incident could be important in itself if my hearing and
recall are borne out. Notwithstanding that question, this incident and
Gretchen’s observation of 8/14 (On) are quite important for raising in
concrete terms a central theoretical issue: how precisely are word
knowledge and operation and thing knowledge related? More
specifically, is “lizard” originally confused with “scissors” and
differentiated from it? (Would not this be a pristine example of
“linguistic confusion” and the establishment of a “must-not-confound”

Peggy’s first production of “on” occurred with an activity she had long
been accustomed to, both in the videotape experiments and
otherwheres, i.e. sticking parts of herself into things (last night I saw
her put her entire leg inside an empty coffee jar). Can we not infer that
this word is a late association (as a label for a relation) with a well
developed body of body knowledge? The production is evidence of the
association — which might have occurred earlier when Peggy put a
thing ON and someone said “on” at the same time.

I have a sense that these incidents permit and even promise a
deepening of my microworlds’ formulation — one wherein language
serves primarily as a labeling of relations between structures of
knowledge (of parts thereof, also) — a role integral with and yet
profoundly different from that of the structures themselves — and a
role capable of increasing the complexity of interaction of a primate
mind to the complexity we homo sapiens witness.


3V0583.01 [me]: contrast with relation words.

This word is significant in contrast with the preceding relation words
because it can only mean one thing. As we five sat at table over lunch
that Peggy at one point turned her finger to her chest, pointing, and
said “me”. I don’t recall the details of context but remarked that her
use of “me” was unequivocal and standard.

One would not expect Peggy to recognize that “me” in another person’s
speech is reflexive… or maybe she would. (Try “me have that”


3V0709.02 [Mimi did it…Peggy’s] Good example; issues important; developing a vocabulary to describe observed phenomena. (1/1/80)

The situation to which the locution applies was Miriam’s making a
wrapped package, a present, and giving it to Peg. Peggy brought it to
me to show. what is significant here is the pause/connected structure
of the phrasing. There was a pause (represented by dots) between the
phrases. “did-it” I consider a single verbal element of specific meaning.
So also is “Mimi.” therefore, this phrase has a two element structure.
We need to develop and use a vocabulary to describe the phenomena
we become sensitive to. We need names for:
– the pauses between expressions in Peggy’s speech.
– the phenomenon of the deletion of that pause from speech (will others also discover, observe this ? a critical test.)
– a name for the meaning units clustered/bracketed by pauses but not identified with “words”
– the process(es) of mental reconstruction by which labels becomes nodes of a control structure elevation (here, in embryo, is my theory of language in the mind)


3V0767.01 Don’t rub your eyes”; imitation as analysis by synthesis (2/28/80)

So, Gretchen reminded me. I sat in my chair with Peggy and one of her
books on my lap. (My eyes get itchy from allergic reactions and I rub
them excessively, almost without noticing). Peggy turned, looked at me
(after I had stopped) and said “/do/ruhb/aiz/.” Why?

What is THIS imitation all about ? Is it analysis by synthesis, i.e. does it
help Peggy understand another’s meaning to try producing her own
first interpretation ?
A weaker help: does producing her own copy confirm for her ability to
make sense of what she hears ?
A NOVEL idea: could this imitation of speech be useful in elaborating
and/or exercising the new network of verbal links abuilding between
disparate frames that are object and event oriented ?
How can I answer these questions ?


3V0769.01 Miriam’s Pillow; idea: function words as pause fillers (3/1/80)

Because in the worst periods of her allergies, Miriam slept better sitting
up, we bought her a king sized pillow. It is longer than Peggy is tall and
wider. Thus Peggy finds it perfect for falling on. Miriam tried to take it
away while Peggy was falling on it, “Mimi pillow.” Peggy responded. ”
Peggy pillow,” and, after a pause, “My pillow.” This is clear evidence
for her understanding of at least the first person possessive pronoun.

When Robby tried to lay with his head on the pillow, Peggy lifted that
corner and said, “Sleep on boards.” — referring to our oak flooring.

Late in the day, she passed me at the table and said, “Get the pillow//
Down the bed.” (Where // = pause.) Here we have two separated
phrases as before we had separated words. What is the quality of “the”
in these phrases ? First, she said something that could easily be
interpreted as “the” — because it was unaccented and the vowel was at
least close to a schwa. The initial consonant ? I believe it was /th/ in
both cases. What is the function of “the” in these utterances ? I can
see it as a pause-filler of no semantic significance but permitting a
continuous flow of speech which connects related elements together as
the caesura between “pillow” and “down” separates them.
We should attend closely to such utterances.


3V0805.01 Language as formulating experience (Eavesdropping) (4/6/80)

Peggy wakes early. As I brought some morning coffee to Gretchen,
I heard Peggy talking in the crib (through the wall) “Look at the spider,

Why is this significant ? Language as formulation of experience,
expressing the flow of understanding without communicative intention;
fluency as delineating the well established paths of control. difficulty
in expression as marking the boundaries of organization.


3V1188.02 You can spell everything, not merely “French” (4/24/81)

Peggy is apparently coming to realize that all words can be spelled (not merely “French”). The cause of this conjecture I can’t document, but she sat in my lap this afternoon and asked me to spell word after word…. words with no apparent connection, ending up with her collection with objects-at-hand names, like nose (as well as earlier objects out of sight, “dog”).


3V1234.01 A New Way of Presenting Words (6/9/81)

Peggy’s biggest problem in typing words [from a list] was recognizing which word she was copying to the keyboard. I began telling her to look at the first letter of the word and to remember what it was, emphasizing it that way and by identifying it by her personal name, “That begins with the Scurry letter,” etc. One can present them differently. The words are now on five 4×6″ cards, grouped as things, people, color words, place words (plus fly) and speed words. I can, instead present them on color coded (for grouping) and on individual cards — thus Peggy could better explore for herself the meaning of the words. I will do that for this morning.


3V1234.03 Reading: one word at a time (6/9/81)

Peggy played with the computer — off and on — during most of the day. Mostly she was “on.” (She even left the supper table to play with her “world”) although she took a break now and again to have a snack or to join Robby and Miriam when they were out working on the lawn.

At the beginning of the day, she needed help finding the card word which would do what she wanted. (And at one point she typed PAINTGR #. I noted she needed a space between the words.) Several times at least she saw me pick up a deck of cards and sort through them for the card she sought.
This evening, as we adults were deciding to go to bed, Peggy mentioned wanting to make something FLY. I pointed out BIRD was on top of one pile of cards (she proceeded to type that word). FLY was (I believe but am not certain) was also readily at hand. After making BIRD FLY in two separate commands, Peggy complained that her BIRD was not going fast enough… “You want it to ZOOM like the cars and the trucks ?” I asked. She agreed and extracted the appropriate card. “How do you know that?” I asked (expecting an answer relating to the initial ‘Z’). Peggy replied, “it’s got an ‘M’, two ‘O’s, and one of these things.” Peggy, that is, discriminated one target word (her target) from a number of similar card words (there are nine others printed in red marker on white 4×6 cards), pronounced its associated value when found and justified her judgment by referring to a decomposition of the thing into known elements. What else would one ask as a demonstration that she was reading one word at a time ? That she understand it’s meaning ? She did so (it makes things go fast) because that pre-established meaning was encoded at her request and became one of the most popular verbs she applied to her objects.

Another point, somewhat earlier. Peggy said she wanted to paint a dog green. The packs of cards were jumbled and I asked, “Where are all the paint cards?” And she inquired further, “You mean the ones with the space?” That is, she now clearly discriminates that class of cards with a minimal phrase (two words) from a single word, recognizing the space character as a delimiter.

It will be interesting to see in our next experiment if I can introduce Peggy to two word sentences, such as CAR ZOOM. FISH SWIM, etc, BOAT SAIL…. Maybe this needs another world (and how about PAINT GREEN GIRL and PAINT GIRL GREEN ? (note this idea was followed up by creation of the CITY world.)





When collecting the data reported in ‘Pre-Readers’ Concept of the English Word,’ I was shown by one of the children, Tina, a 3×5 notebook her mother gave her for writing down any words she wanted to learn to read. I bought Miriam such a notebook (a green one) some weeks ago for such a purpose. She asked me how to spell ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ and proceeded to print that in her notebook (today she refused to give me that datum because she still wants to learn to spell that word). Her uses of the notebook are more various than my plan. I find: a list of models she would like to have; an upper and lower case alphabet page (the first set done by Robby as a set of patterns, the second Miriam’s copy); the address and telephone number of her friend Maria. The most frequent use of that notebook has been to make greeting cards for her friends: typically Miriam draws a picture, then prints “For ___” and “Love Miriam”. (It also has many blank pages.) Clearly, Miriam’s use of this notebook has been richer than my conception

I recently purchased another such small notebook (a blue one) for jotting down notes about what Miriam does during the day. Miriam saw that notebook and asked if she could have it for making cards. A conjunction of things occurred. Miriam wanted the notebook; the time she spends in school is one wherein I can’t observe what she is doing; an observation several years ago by Sarene Boocock at an AAAS seminar that children themselves had access to data most researchers could not get at and that one should consider enlisting them as agents of data collection. I told Miriam she could have the blue notebook if she would write in it the things she did in kindergarten. Miriam refused, saying she wanted the notebook for drawing pictures. When I said she could not have the notebook for drawing pictures, Miriam responded, “If you don’t give me the notebook, I won’t even tell you what I do.

At the current round of negotiations, Miriam agreed to use the notebook as I wanted when I agreed to buy a replacement for her green notebook after she uses up all the pages. Her intentions are suspect though because of the final inquiry she made: “If I do a rotten job can I keep the notebook and not write down what I do?

Contrast now the relative openness of the two children, Robby and Miriam. For reference, consider the protocols and 21 (on adding units of English length and on multiplication, respectively) from the series of Robby’s arithmetic development. These protocols are exemplary of a child’s uninhibited exposition of his thought processes; at 7, Robby is a ‘loud thinker’. Contrariwise, Miriam’s characteristic behavior shows her inclination to display a perfect result, a reluctance to exhibit pre-competence confusion

One may laud such a stance as reflecting essential good taste (for who wants to overwhelm the possibility of communication with the mess inside every mind). However, for an ignorant child (is anyone at six years anything else) such a performance criterion is unrealistic and counterproductive. One of my objectives is to render Miriam less sensitive to revealing her imperfect comprehensions in the expectation tha her doing so will provide guidance to those who are willing to help her learn.



A Willing Subject


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.



The Lemon Twist


I had purchased the hula hoop in the morning and was setting up the music room for our later use when one of the boys in an on-going class from CAPS (the Cambridge Alternative School Program) asked if he could use the hula hoop. After doing a hula, he let the hoop fall to the floor, slipped a foot under the hoop, and rotated it about one leg, raising the other foot so that the rotating hoop would not strike him in the ankle. I was impressed; I had never seen anyone do that with a hula hoop. But I had seen Miriam do a similar thing with one of her toys, the Lemon Twist.

The Lemon Twist has been one of Miriam’s favorite active toys for some time. Having seen it advertised on a TV commercial, she bought one with her own money. (This was the first such purchase she ever made). The toy has a hard plastic lemon at one end, connected to a small loop at the other by a piece of tubing about 18″ long. A child slips one foot through the loop, then kicks in such a way as to cause the attached lemon to swing around that leg. I remember the day last spring when Miriam bought the toy, her first trials, her showing it to older friends, her watching them, and her slowly developing skill.

This afternoon Miriam was delighted to find her new hula hoop.
It was perfect, even having the marble inside as did Jenner’s. I mentioned to her the boy from CAPS, how he made it go around on his leg. Miriam put her foot under the hoop and kicked it a few times. “Like that?” Obviously not. “I don’t know how he did it, Miriam, but he made it work just like your lemon twist.” With two or three tries, Miriam was able to make the hoop circle her leg several times at each execution



The Bicycle Analogy


During a break from Logo Session 7, Miriam discovered that the hula hoop will stay upright if rolled. For the past several days, maybe the past two weeks, Miriam has attempted to ride her bicycle without training wheels. She received one hint, one good piece of advice from Jim, our neighbor: if you try to go fast on the bike, it will stay up. Miriam has succeeded through doing that.

When I asked her now why the hula hoop stays up instead of falling over, she said, “Well, because I make it go fast.” When I asked if there were anything else she knew like that, Miriam replied, “Yeah, sure. The bike.”


Vn66.1 Pre-History 8/16/77

For some unknown reason (“I just wondered,” she says), Miriam asked
me who was the first person to sail around the world. Remembering the
Straits of Magellan and that it must have been the major obstacle to the
western passage, I speculated that Magellan must have been the man.
Gretchen, drawing on her deep fund of facts as she brought the rest of
supper to table, said decisively that Magellan himself died on the first
circumnavigation but that one of the ships originally under his command
completed the voyage.

I explained to myself and any who might be listening that this fact
was one of many of which I was ignorant, but that such information could
be found in our encyclopedias, that it had been written down. I con-
tinued that there were other great achievements, great discoveries made
before people had learned to write and make books. The example I offered
was the discovery of fire, that this was one of the greatest milestones
in human culture, but that since no one knew how to write when fire was
discovered no one knows who was the first to control fire. Miriam, I
believe, asked how fire was discovered. I admitted no one knew, then
proposed a commonplace scenario: lightning caused a forest fire; roast
flesh was found to be good enough for early men to brave the danger and
experiment with coals as fires burned out.

Miriam said she thought she knew: holding her two index fingers
perpendicularly, she explained (and demonstrated) that they rubbed two
sticks together and made a fire that way.

Only Gretchen had a sensible idea — that one of those luckless
buffoons, our not so remote ancestors, while sitting on a soft pile of straw,
chipping flint, gave himself, most accidentally, a royal hot seat and made
man king of the material world.

This casual dinner conversation exemplifies the way we adults,
because we are who we are, even with minimal didactic purpose, draw
along our children into an intellectual space foreign to their initial
concerns but accessible by a few simple steps from whatever catches
their interest.


Vn84.1 Go Cart Demon; Knock-Knock Jokes 9/5/77

The third-floor tenant in our landlord’s mansion was moving out
today. Robby and Miriam went to help. One comment of Miriam’s came
floating up from the court yard. When she chanced upon a collection
of records brought down in a wooden case, Miriam said, “Hey, Robby,
let’s ask Bill if we can have that box. If we get our wheels, it’s
just what we need for our go cart.” (Cf. Vignette 50). From this
comment, with the availability of ‘found’ material now rendering less
than fantastic for Miriam the construction of a real go cart, I see
Miriam thinking more in the style of a bricoleur than does Robby on
this project. (Recall his engineer-like inclination to draw up a materials
list for purchases to be made at the lumber yard.)

On this day, the children also encountered a book about which we
have heard since — a book of knock-knock jokes. Robby introduced this:


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Robin who?

Robbin’ you. Gimme your wallet.

Miriam recalled a second:


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Ivanitch who?

I’ve an itch I can’t scratch.

While this theme was before us, Miriam recalled a third joke:


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Irish who?

I rish I never said “Knock knock.”

The first incident contrasts Miriam’s idea of acquiring materials
for the go cart project with Robby’s. The second series of jokes —
the first 2 coming from a book I hadn’t seen and the third from a TV
commercial I did not watch indicate how rapidly Miriam’s perimeter of
experience is expanding beyond the reach of my knowledge. I believe
it is still possible to trace the sources of Miriam’s knowledge but
feel keenly how important it is that she has become accustomed to
discuss her ideas, her thought processes, and their sources.