Friday, September 26, 2008

A natural hierarchy?

I used to think hierarchies were all manmade phenomena - with the emphasis on the man - that they were artificial devices built for the express convenience of those at the top of the pile, as a way of keeping the lower orders in line. But it can no longer escape my notice that something strange is happening around here that might be proving me wrong.

It seems that my younger son will take direction from his older brother, but not from me. This is fine by me: I don't like giving direction anyway. But if he wants to know how to do something, or what's happening next, or where to work next, he doesn't talk to me about it, he goes to his brother. Tom will then answer the query if possible, in consultation with Al. Only if they're both stuck for an answer will they involve me in the discussion.

I can discuss concepts and ideas (mainly about our off-grid plan, but on other things too) with the younger children, but they don't really engage with the conversation as much as does their older brother. You might put that down (as I did) to their younger age, but then I noticed that they will each engage with the next sibling up in discussions about ideas and concepts.

And when it comes to getting anything done, each one responds to directions from the next sibling up (in the form of: "It's time to do this - come on!") more than from me. It's like a cascade effect. I'm learning that I have to pass the word down the chain if I want to achieve maximum effect with minimum effort.

A system was once used in schools with huge (more than 100 : 1) class sizes, which sought to capitalise on this seemingly natural hierarchical function. The adult teacher would teach the lesson to a few of the brightest children, who would then each take a group of other children and pass it on. This was common practice in schools in the 1800s, but even in the 1990s, in the village school my older children attended as youngsters, cleverer and/or older children were often asked to help others with their learning on an informal basis.

If teaching is necessary to consolidate our learning, this system makes good sense. Anyway, it's just what my children do so for them, it must be right.

When it comes to motivating each other to do things, a word from the next sibling up definitely seems to be the required element and, I'm learning, I bypass that natural order at my peril. I can ask and ask to the person directly for a thing to be done, but unless I'm asking the oldest child, the chances are it won't happen. He will then ask his brother, who tells his sister, and the message passes down and is appropriately enforced with great effect.

So much for my hippy dippy ideas about freedom and individual expression! This new realisation kind of blows all of that out of the water. But, ever a child of the 60s, I will go with the flow and change my behaviour accordingly instead of continuing to try swimming upstream.


Blogger Grit said...

i observe the same ... tiger has refused me as teacher of reading. she will only take instruction from shark, older by two minutes!

11:28 am, September 26, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Grit - woah - 2 minutes?? LOL, yep, it looks like we're onto something then.. ;-)

11:56 am, September 26, 2008  
Blogger Allie said...

Hmmm... I was youngest of four and would, as you say, often take instruction from my brother (next one up). But, I was one of those people who was "easy to teach". I was happy to be taught by anyone who could be helpful. My sister, on the other hand, could hardly stand to be taught by anyone, as I recall! Interesting idea, though.

5:46 pm, September 26, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, I wasn't taught much by my older sister. But I think that I'd have been willing to learn from her, if she'd have been in a position to teach. It was just that our lives and the family dynamic wasn't set up that way - we didn't spend anything like enough time together. Everything was geared towards splitting us up to do separate things.

7:52 pm, September 26, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

montessori schools are built around this principle, it's why we have multi age classrooms.

Have you changed your commenting policy or is it just so long since I've commented that I've forgotten?

8:27 pm, September 26, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Ah that makes sense - yes I vaguely remember reading, a long time ago, something about Montessori in that context.

This whole thing - and Montessori, come to think of it - still worries me a bit though, because it seems to be condoning the idea that it's ok to try to influence a child's learning. Which steps over a sort of line for the purist in me, which has learned that trying to influence it invariably backfires.

Maybe that learning was faulty. Hmm. I dunno though. It was based on fairly sound, repeated experience.

And yes, I seem to think I did open the comments settings a bit. A change in that direction, do you mean? Or the opposite one? LOL, I can't remember.

9:31 pm, September 26, 2008  

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