|ELABORATION OF THE NEED TO CONTAIN HOMEWORK|
Children need much free time because nature has already programmed them to sally forth and learn a vast number of things that are important to know but that are not taught in school. All they need be supplied with is a rich and safe environment to sally forth into.
Jason below is an example of an age 04:11 child learning on his own. We may infer that he intends to get to, and pass on the left, the very large rock visible on the upper-right of the first photo (let us call it DESTINATION ROCK), to accomplish which he is going to have to figure out how to cross several watery gaps. He needs to keep in mind that rock surfaces below water are coated with a growth that is treacherously slippery, and the parts above water become treacherously slippery if wetted, as for example when stepped on by wet shoes. But Jason has no intention of slipping or even of getting wet, not even his shoes, not even the soles of his shoes.
Examining the first photo only might invite the expectation that he is going to fail. The largish rock that he seems intent on is too far away for comfort, and has a sharp point aiming up at him, and offers no horizontal surface to stand on (let us call it RISKY ROCK) — if he tries to jump to it, he will surely slip and fall. The pair of rocks to the left (let us call these the TWIN ROCKS) are also distant, and are small enough that they might wobble if asked to bear weight, or might even turn over. What to do?
Jason does find a method, which he employs four times, the second of which was not photographed but which can be inferred (his manner of getting from the TWIN ROCKS to RISKY ROCK), unphotographed because I was at that moment occupied in changing my own position from trailing behind on his right to trailing behind on his left.
The method that Jason employs four times is to start every crossing by planting his hands first, and if the hands prove secure, then venturing only one foot. Both hand placement and first-foot placement are tentative, and can be withdrawn if they are found to bode ill. He never leaps because he recognizes the possibility of slipping.
It is significant that Jason's journey was entirely spontaneous, and that he received not a word of encouragement or advice as he progressed, and neither did he turn around to anyone in search of either approval or advice.
The unusual curvatures in these photos result from using a fish-eye lens.
Although we are at the moment addressing the question of abolishing homework to allow time for self-initiated skill building, the larger background question of speed remains. The success of Jason's journey depends on a large number of estimations and calculations: How slippery is the surface about to be contacted? Will contact be more secure if first made by two hands or by one foot? Once contact is made, what further step, if any, will lead to the desired advancement? How much of a shove-off will be needed to propel the body's center of gravity to a position just above the planted foot or feet? Is my body big enough, and is it strong enough, to perform the contemplated movement?
That a great deal of visual and tactile and kinesthetic information needs to be processed and shrewd judgment needs to be exercised becomes evident from imagining how hard it would be to build a robot able to duplicate Jason's creek walk. Building a robot that over a flat surface can run like a man, if it cannot be done today, might be expected in the near future. Building a robot of Jason's size and with his strength and that has the processing power to duplicate his progress over the rocks might be a very long way off. Jason's activity might be considered analogous to solving math problems — a math-deck worker, as we have seen above, might be capable of from 10 to 17 solutions per minute, and each answer is preceded by substantial calculation. So too might Jason shift his position from 10 to 17 times per minute, but also preceding each such move with substantial calculation.
Although we may call the skill Jason is building "creek-walking", it may instead be considered to be the learning of everyday physics, which is important to know prior to undertaking the formal study of physics in school. For example, becoming acquainted with the trajectories of thrown objects by throwing and catching balls and stones, makes the later learning in school of the kinematic equations of the arcs that the balls or stones follow seem like a heightening of precision of what one already has an intuitive feel for. A physics student who has no acquaintance with throwing and catching must view the equations as somewhat abstract. Someone who knows the feel in his catcher's glove of a ball pitched slow or fast better understands the momentum problems he will later be introduced to. Similarly, Jason's creek-walking teaches him about friction, about achieving balance by placing his center of gravity above where his feet are planted, about the force of the shove-off push that is needed to propel his center of gravity toward a point above his feet.
Homework did not prevent Jason's father, Mikki, also exploring rock decades earlier:
Mikki's rock-face encounters were only occasional outings, summing perhaps to not more than a dozen over his entire pre-teen lifetime, alluded to here primarily to reinforce the suggestion that there are hundreds of valuable activities that conventional schools do not teach and that homework should not be permitted to crowd out.
At the same time, though, it might be noted how small an effort is required in the case of rarely-taught skills to leap into the 90th percentile in a competition against students five years older — which is an alternative expression of the TwelveByTwelve goal. It does seem likely that in any test of rock-climbing or rappelling competence, say of climbing Sugarloaf or rappelling down Nightmare Rock, Mikki would have been able to best nine out of ten students five years his senior, because he would have been able to do calmly and smoothly and rapidly what his seniors would have been able to do tremblingly and bumblingly and slowly, if they had been able to muster the courage to do it at all.
And is it not possible that four-year-old Jason would find himself in the 90th percentile among nine-year-olds in creek-walking, simply because only one nine-year-old out of ten might be able to traverse the same route without wetting his shoes? Just as we would not consider it a fair math-exam procedure to allow later test-takers to watch how earlier test-takers solve the math problems, so too we might want all test-takers to approach the creek-walking examination without seeing how anybody else completed it. I am imagining a test which neither Jason nor any other examinees had prior knowledge of the route to be traversed. Jason would not likely be flustered by anything new, as the methodology that he is used to relying on is methodology that he originates on the spur of the moment to overcome the challenge at hand.
VIDEO of rock climber Brooke Raboutou
And let us now engage in some extrapolation by imagining Jason's interest in traversing rock being encouraged and made continuously accessible. Let us imagine him averaging one hour daily sometimes clambering over, and sometimes also climbing up, rock, the climbing gradually taking precedence over clambering, and which at the average rate of 10 body repositionings per minute accumulates to 600 per day. And let us further imagine this amount of practice extrapolated both backward a couple of years and also forward seven years to the age of 11, and ask what outcome might be expected?
Well, averaging 600 body repositionings per day works out to 365*600=219,000 body repositionings per year. If that average typified the nine years from age 3 through 11, then that approaches two million body repositionings. That amount of practice and starting that young is a prescription for prodigious performance.
What would be reasonable to expect, then, is performance resembling that of eleven-year-old Brooke Raboutou in the video opposite, who did begin familiarizing herself with rock just as soon as she could walk, and who did enjoy prolonged immersion.
In short, freedom from homework is freedom to acquire skills which are not taught in school. TwelveByTwelve provides such freedom from homework, and conventional schooling does not. And we are reminded again that extensive practice of any skill from childhood brings achievement that is always remarkable, and that is sometimes prodigious.