Friday, May 20, 2011

What Do You See?

This summer at our Parent Practicums, we're talking about improving our vision in two ways--both in terms of the big picture and in terms of the details: our ability to see. (Listen to our conversation about these topics on the CC Parent Practicum Podcast.)

We learn phonics by looking at the building blocks of words; we learn grammar by looking at the building blocks of sentences; we learn Algebra by looking at the building blocks of arithmetic.

Why, then, do we assume that we can understand and respond to complex ideas and arguments about freedom, education, and beauty without looking at the building blocks of ideas?

Let me ask you again: how's your vision?

If you look at a poem or a math problem--they're not as different as you might think--what do you notice? Do you pay attention to the details? Let's try it out.

One of the most-read poems in America is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." The funny thing is that a lot of people call it "The Road Less Traveled." Think about those two titles for a minute. They're pretty different, aren't they? That just goes to show how blurry our vision can be.

Now look at the poem. Remember, don't stop at the end of the line; read to the punctuation marks. How does that change your reading?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Ask, where are the nouns? Where are the verbs? What does a semicolon tell us as readers? How many sentences are there? Are they imperative, interrogative, or a declarative sentences? Who is speaking? To whom is he/she speaking?

These are the building blocks not only of being a good reader, but also a good thinker.

When you encounter a new idea, you should ask similar questions: what does this argument assume to be true about the world (nouns)? What would happen if we applied the logic of this argument to other situations (verbs)? How does this argument get from point A to point B (punctuation)? If we accepted this argument, what would it push us to believe or do (purpose)? Do we trust the person making this argument (speaker)?

It's amazing how many basic questions modern readers gloss over and yet still "know" a poem, memorize a math equation, or support a political position.

In order to have a grand vision, sometimes we have to visit the eye doctor first. Come join us as a bunch of smart moms and dads diagnose our vision at Parent Practicums this summer!

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