I have a big gripe with how children are taught things. Each lesson is shoved down their throats without an effort to steer their curious minds. In an insidious manner, this creativity-inhibiting process creates a deep-rooted habit of rote-learning things without using the critical thinking intellect. The hows and whys gradually disappear from children’s conscious creating a subservient bot rather than an inquisitive person. Sometimes, forced rote-learning is fairly obvious but often it’s rather subtle. A remarkable example of this lies in sports’ idiosyncrasies and how they were explained to me.
I never watched football much but during the world cup of 2004, I managed to wake through a few matches. In one of these fixtures, I learned about the offside rule when a goal was dismissed because of it. It didn’t make much sense to me, so I asked few of my friends about it. Each explanation delved into the specifics of players’ position and how the defender couldn’t be ahead of the attackers when passing the ball. I didn’t want to appear nitwit, so I pretended to understand that but it remained impossibly hard for me to comprehend the rule with so many details.
I have a similar anecdote about the Cricket’s LBW rule which basically means that the batsman can be dismissed if the ball is going towards the wicket and the player’s leg comes in between. The rule sounded confusingly peculiar when I was told about it and raised a long series of questions in my head. Will the batsman get dismissed if the ball hits the pad straightway? How can umpire reliably know if the ball is going to hit the stumps? Thankfully I am not a loner in this regard, the rule is notoriously confusing and widely misunderstood by the general public.
Leaving aside the discernible complexity, what makes these things hard to grasp? Personally, I feel that it’s rather easy to sketch out the complicated details but harder to gradually build on things that the child already knows, or to drive her creative brain toward the answer. Explaining off-side shouldn’t involve explaining off-side rather, the exposition should be in a way that the rule sounds pretty obvious. Here’s how I would have liked it to be explained —
Imagine an attacking team’s player A lingering around the opposing team’s goal line. Even before the attacking team has crossed the half-court, the team’s attacker is in a comfortable position to pass the ball to A. Player A, then, can score an easy goal as the goalkeeper is the sole defence of the opposing team. Since the defending team can do the same, we have created an effortless game where it’s too simple to score a goal. How do we prevent that? That’s where the off-side rule comes in. Because the field is too big and legs have enough strength to pass the ball to long distances, we don’t want players just waiting for the ball to score a goal. To check that, the offside rule prevents players from passing the ball to anyone beyond the last player in defence. Owing to off-side, the teams must carefully coordinate passing, and positioning to beat the defending team.
The same goes for LBW. The rule got added when the batsmen started exploiting a clever hack of using their legs to obstruct the ball. It’s too simple to stop the ball from hitting the wicket using legs — you can just stand in front of the stumps all day wasting every ball. In test matches, the rule becomes even more crucial where you can tie a losing match if your team manages to play through all the overs. The LBW dismissal exists because if the ball going to the stumps hits the batman’s leg, it’s assumed that he used it to obstruct the ball from hitting the wickets.
I am not sure if these explanations would work as well as I might imagine but my effort is in subsiding the complexity by creating a chain of logical reasoning. The “Aha!” moment doesn’t occur when you have memorised the specifics but when you have realised why the rule exists in the first place.
This is just a small slice of the problems with established pedagogies. It’s a painful truth that the innate curiosity of the children rarely gets used to educate him; in many ways, even dissuaded in favour of the coerced rote. Just like the details of the offside rule, most teaching doesn’t carry an effort to create curiosity in the mind of the children. In my opinion, children often don’t need to be taught to be smart, they already are. What they mostly need is persuasion to be inquisitive minds.