What do you Know?

Me: "Amazing Spider-Man number 6?"

One of my Running Buddies: "First appearance of The Lizard. Stan Lee, author, drawn by Steve Ditko, 1963. Record sale price, about $70,000 in near mint condition."

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Me: "1955 World Series?"

Another of my Running Buddies: "First win by Brooklyn Dodgers. Seven games. Dodgers lost the first two to the Yankees. Roy Campanela was the NL MVP that year, 32 home runs, 107 RBIs."

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One highly focused pre-med student: "What is this organic chemistry lab worth?"

Her highly focused study partner: "There are five lab assignments totaling 30 percent of the final grade. Twenty percent of 30% is six percent, so this lab is worth six percent of the grade."

The highly focused pre-med: "How can you know that?"

Her study partner: "How can you not know that?"

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Einstein is credited with saying, "“Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything he learned in school." Einstein gave credit to the original, which suggested that the vestiges of "culture" rather than the remnants of education remain. I would argue that you, gentle reader, have indeed forgotten pretty much every curricular topic, but that your attitude toward your education does endure. Indeed, your feelings about your ability to learn takes precedence over any specific information. The following simple quiz may make the point:

  1. How does a bill become a law? (Civics.)
  2. What is the difference between meiosis and mytosis? (Biology.)
  3. What is the quadratic formula and how is it used? (Algebra.)
  4. What is the difference between a gerund and a participle? (English.)
  5. When was the War of 1812? (History.)
  6. Who's on first? (Abbot and Costello.)
  7. Who put the bop in the bop-she-bop? (Music. Or possibly some other subject.)

I certainly don't know any of these answers. Although, if you do determine who put the "ram" in the "ram-a-lam-a ding dong," I admit to being eager to shake his hand. I feel fairly strongly that meiosis is not a gerund. But high school was, mercifully, some time ago. Nobody knows the only two doubly landlocked countries.* Information, even knowledge, isn't the critical piece. Everybody remembers whether or not she enjoyed school. Did you cheat? Were you humiliated? Were you inattentive? Were your teachers inspiring? Did you leave school at the earliest opportunity? Was your curriculum meaningful? Did you learn only as a means to an end? Do you love learning to this day?

Parents are the first, most important, and best teachers. What we communicate to our children about what they learn and how they learn is high on the list of our most sacred duties. Keeping our kids fed, clothed, and healthy may be our first priority. Helping our kids love learning is a close second. If you don't remember much of all that stuff you memorized, would you agree that your kids won't either? The ultimate goal of parenting is to have kids who are passionate about learning. And kids learn because they want to do better, however "better" is defined. Kids who learn for a prize lose interest. Alfie Kohn wrote a convincing book on why intrinsic motivation is what's for lunch. Kids who are forced to learn--the capitals of the 50 states, for example--are unlikely to be ardent.

So the question becomes how to allow our kids to be concerned, insightful, lifetime learners. Some gentle guidance:

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  1. Ages and stages. She won't walk down the aisle in diapers. He is unlikely not to be able to read when he's older. Wait til they're ready. Try not to push. Speed kills.
  2. Model. Not Ashley Graham and Chris Hemsworth. You. If you want your kids to love reading, pick up a book yourself.
  3. There are many paths to Rome. Some kids learn decimal equivalents from sitting in a chair in a classroom doing worksheets. Some kids learn decimal equivalents from figuring out the batting average of a favorite player who had one hit in four at bats. Some kids learn decimal equivalents from building a rocking chair with their grandmother, (3/8" = .375".) Who are you to judge? You don't even remember how to use the quadratic formula.

"Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo. So little time, so much to know" remarked Jeremy Hillary Boob, the much maligned "Yellow Submarine" character. A valid insight from an animal of indeterminate species. What should your kids know? Everything. Absolutely everything they can wrap their heads around. How should they learn? Any and every way they can.

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Can you think of a more appropriate holiday present than the gift of "learn what you want, how you want, when you want?" Followed by the equally inspiring, "Sounds good. Let's learn that together; does now work for you?" Because Spider-Man, Roy Campanella, Lou Abbot, and Albert Einstein are all ready for you--willing and eager to be discovered by every youngster with a loving parent and a library card.

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* Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan. Now you can win money in bars. If only the Internet hadn't been invented.

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