Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking

By Vera John-Steiner | Go to book overview

1
The Beginnings

Art bids us [to] touch and taste and hear and see the world . . . and [it] shrinks from all that is of the brain only, from all that is not a fountain jetting from the entire hopes, memories and sensations of the body.

W. B. Yeats

Movement is a basic human experience. It heralds life inside the womb, and it becomes an expression of need and intent once the child is born. The experience of the self, and of all that immediately surrounds a youngster, is linked to children's explorations of both.

But great variations occur in the role of movements as a lasting source of knowing. All children are born into a culturally patterned environment; the shared tasks of confronting them, such as learning to talk, to walk, and to attach meanings to their experiences, are reflected in their cognitive strategies. But their strategies are also an expression of the particular features of their culture. The changing systems of children's thoughts are variously shaped by the prevalent methods of physical and economic survival, by the language and visual symbols used by their people, and most importantly, by the ways in which care and instructions are ordered by their society.

In the course of socialization, children born into tribal and some agricultural communities find themselves nurtured, as well as instructed, by touch as well as by word. Between birth and the time that these young children learn to walk, they spend many hours strapped to the backs of their mothers and other caretakers. In this position, they can observe the life of their community in a way that is not possible to children who are placed in cribs and playpens. In addition to these visual observa

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