Friday, January 07, 2011

A formative learning experience

A post bubbling out from today's earlier offering.

My mother was a bookworm. She was also a single, working parent from fairly early on. The education model in which I found myself during the earlier years of my school life involved a great deal of independent, investigative learning. Since it was a logistical nightmare to get me to the library to access reference books, my mother set about creating a reference section in our home library. This involved purchasing a set of encyclopaedia (World Book of Knowledge, if I remember correctly, since anything more upmarket was out of her reach), various text books and - joy of joys to my little heart - the Time Life Nature series.

From the age of about 7 or 8, I pored over those editions. I forget which one it was that explored things like colour blindness, dwarfism/gigantism and psychology (I think it was Evolution), but that was my absolute favourite. It literally fell apart from use. And I wanted to know more. I regularly hauled it out and subjected my poor mother to my own theories about the content, as well as myriad questions.

When I started studying learning theory as an adult, I found I already knew about Pavlov and Skinner. I had read and reread about them in my precious Time Life books. When I shared this with my lecturer, I was informed, with raised eyebrows, that I must have been a most precocious child.

I don't remember that being the case at all. I just remember being fascinated.

One of the experiments that featured in the book was Harry Harlow's work with baby Rhesus monkeys. These were taken away from their mothers and placed in enclosures where they had a choice between terry cloth or wire frame 'mother'. In one group, the wire mother was fitted with a milk bottle. In the other, it was the terry mother that was thus equipped. Without fail the monkeys preferred the covered option, even when it offered them no food. I remember reading the conclusion about the preference for a tactile experience and wondering whether the monkeys perhaps preferred the covered version because it offered them a hiding place of sorts, rather than because it was more cuddly.

It's very frustrating to be 8 and have no-one to ask about such things. But I remember wanting to know. I remember that drive. That endless exploration of a series of books which constitutes a landmark in my learning experience, and experience which carries on to this day.

How thrilled I was to find several photographs of the Time Life Nature series... with Evolution in every single one!


V Yonkers said...

We had the time life series on countries of the world. Like you, I would read them over and over again. My favorite of that series was Japan (however, I have never been there).

What is nice about the internet is that my kids get fascinated by a topic and they not only have access to information about it, but they also have a learning community nearby. They share sites, talk about what each one is about, work out how to replicate what they see, and learn from each other. If they have a question like you did as a kid, they have a community they can go to and find the answer (either within or outside of the community they normally associate with).

The upsycho said...

@Virginia Oddly enough, I was also fascinated with Japan as a child. I chose it whenever we had to do a project about a country, and I always chose to be Japan when we played a game called 'I declare war' as children.

Like you, I have never been there. I think, in any case, my fascination was with ancient Japan, and I would find modern Japan less riveting.