Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt
cherdt

A Short Lesson: Maybe England, or Russia, or China

While my father was packing up sleeping bags after a weekend of camping with his grandkids (my niece and nephew), my nephew Lennox found a quarter.

Lennox is six years old, and he is very fond of money. Perhaps not in the conventional way that adults are fond of money, but he appreciates the shininess and weight of the metal, the ridged edges of the dimes and quarters, the images stamped onto the faces, and the names and numeric values assigned to denominations. To him, "money" means, specifically, coinage. Paper money has a different name: "dollars." At the moment, like many children, he prefers the former to the latter.

He picked up the quarter, he looked at it for a minute, and he frowned.

"Grandpa, I found a money. But I think it is from another country."
"What country do you think it is from?"
"Maybe England. Or Russia," he said. "Or China."
"I'm not so sure. Can you think of a different country that is close to where we are now?"
"Canada? And there is a deer on it. I bet there are a lot of deer in Canada!"

My father loved telling this story. He marveled that a 6-year-old could rattle off 3 foreign countries, and that he could conjecture about deer populations in Canada.

It's not really a story about Lennox, though: it's a story about my father. Most people, when faced with a child presenting such a quarter, would say, "It's from Canada." I probably would have answered "It's Canadian" without thinking twice. It's practically instinct--if you know the answer to a question someone is asking, offer it. That's being helpful. But answering "It's from Canada" would not have provoked any additional dialogue or prompted any other thoughts.

Instead, he asked a question. Not just any question, though: he didn't ask "What country is it from?" That's a demanding question with only one right answer. Faced with such a question, Lennox may very well have bit his lower lip or answered, "I don't know." Instead, he asked, "What country do you think it is from?" That's a friendly question that allows for conjectures and theories. There's no wrong answer to what do you think?, only the caveat that it may not agree with the answer to what do you think? after more information has been processed.

My father asked just one more question, with a bit of a nudge in the right direction. He could have instead asked, "How do you think the quarter got here?" But the nudge was fair. A child who has little concept of how money circulates may not know that foreign coins are much more likely to be found where border crossings are frequent, and Lennox could very well have puzzled over that for a long while. With that one additional question, Lennox solved the mystery for himself. He explored the knowledge he already had, he applied logic to arrive at an answer both correct and his own, and he saw, however briefly, the power of inquiry.

Sometimes the questions you ask are more important than the answers you give. My father's instinct is to ask very good questions. How do you think we can cultivate this in ourselves?
Tags: canada, coins, education, family, learning, teaching
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