“The most powerful symbol in the universe is the “=” sign: it’s a commerce between worlds, symbolic or real. That commerce is the heart of education— greasing the skids between one side of the equation and the other. Remember that the “-” symbol marks a mere subtraction, the one-way interaction present in much of our teaching today. The one-way sign is also emblazoned on every tombstone where the date of birth is only separated by the “dash to death” of the death date. We do not need education to be only a dash to entropy. We need to consider entropy in the evaluation of our teaching, testing, and education systems.” —Dr. Lowell Christy, Cultural Strategies Institute
This week, Lowell pointed me to some new research on the importance of conversation quality in language learning. The instructional designers who developed World Book’s Early World of Learning back in the 1990s certainly knew this—but it somehow didn’t become common knowledge for educators being advised to boost the quantity of words they exposed learners to.
From the New York Times:
“A growing body of research is challenging the notion that merely exposing poor children to more language is enough to overcome the deficits they face. The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears.
“A study presented on Thursday at a White House conference on ‘bridging the word gap’ found that among 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (‘Look, a dog!’); rituals (‘Want a bottle after your bath?’); and conversational fluency (‘Yes, that is a bus!’) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.
“‘It’s not just about shoving words in,’ said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and lead author of the study. ‘It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.'”
Language skills development and socialization through relationship are related, and the “commerce at the heart of education” requires a relationship of equality that is not part of the conventional education system.
This fall, I’ve been doing some slow writing/thinking offline on the 18th-19th C Age of Conversation. The Seventh-day Adventist community missed out on that Age because of its belief in separating from “the world” and its rules about the salons and coffeehouses that hosted the conversation culture. The church’s founders warned members away from these conversation spaces and some of its leading writers and philosophers, but because they did not introduce a comparable analog, the community missed an important “language-learning” developmental stage. My sense is that it hasn’t yet developed either a non-defensive listening culture or a healthy respect for the chaos and uncertainty that supports learning.
In the absence of these features, perhaps expectations about civility and clarity in the denominational conversation are premature, but I do hope some micro, in-relationship changes will be possible.