Why is it that children can, as E.D. Hirsch writes, "memorize the rather complex materials of football, baseball, and basketball" without the benefit of "formal avenues" (i.e., teachers and tests)? The answer lies in the link between learning and knowing. Children will be able to retain material when they can see how the material relates to some goal they want to pursue and the material builds upon something they already understand.
Every school child has the background to learn about team sports because every school child has played games and has built generalizations which capture some of their abstract nature. They want to learn more because they understand the potential use for that knowledge in a conversation with a friend, in a trade for baseball cards, in a fantasy team. Those children who have elders or friends who are involved in sports, and want to be like those elders or friends, will strive to find situations where they can get sports experiences. In trying to become better athletes or pretend sports commentators, children will see where they fail and they will be ready to learn from the corrections and suggestions their elders and friends give them after such failures. They will automatically activate the proper schemas which tell them where new sports knowledge should go. This is how natural learning works.
Children who do not particularly care about sports, who do not play them, and who do not talk about them, will not learn the complex facts that they involve. If you believe sports should be a part of Cultural Literacy, you might believe children should be forced to sit down with a list of the rules of football and memorize them. But such a strategy would fail because it would not tap into what children already know and what they want to do. Those children would end up not knowing most of the rules and even those they could reproduce for a test, they would find themselves constantly violating in practice. Not until they were able to tie those rules into their experiences would they really come to know them.
Knowledge and the Natural Learning Process
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