My middle school students have been engaged in elective study of the Cherokee which followed a visit to a local museum. They each have clan identities and in wood shop asked if they could make wooden staffs with their totem wood and clan animals at the top. They asked if they could make the staffs from woods we gathered ourselves, so that meant a break in the planned activities for a hike in the woods for them to select materials from a pine thicket of trees gathered too closely together for any of them to reach significant size. When you follow the interests of the child, it will not lead to isolated, dull and encapsulated learning, but instead lead to what may seem much more like popcorn exploding all at once in the pan.
William James asked:
“Can we now formulate any general principle by which the later and more artificial interests connect themselves with these early ones that the child brings with him to the school?
Fortunately, we can: there is a very simple law that relates the acquired and the native interests with each other.
Any object not interesting in itself may become interesting through becoming associated with an object in which an interest already exists. The two associated objects grow, as it were, together: the interesting portion sheds its quality over the whole; and thus things not interesting in their own right borrow an interest which becomes as real and as strong as that of any natively interesting thing. The odd circumstance is that the borrowing does not impoverish the source, the objects taken together being more interesting, perhaps, than the originally interesting portion was by itself.
This is one of the most striking proofs of the range of application of the principle of association of ideas in psychology. An idea will infect another with its own emotional interest when they have become both associated together into any sort of a mental total. As there is no limit to the various associations into which an interesting idea may enter, one sees in how many ways an interest may be derived.”--William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals.
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