So in spite of how ridiculous Kramer appeared when he famously beat out the karate competition consisting of a bunch of 7-year olds (Seinfeld allusion – you had to be there …), I’ve joined my daughter Megan (11) and son Andrew (8) in taking Tae Kwon Do lessons in a local church basement – under the tutelage of Steve Murphy – who’s, without question, the real deal.
Megan and Andrew started before I did – so this puts them at “yellow belt” and myself at “beginner” (no belt in sight as far as I can tell!). The kids have been doing it for a few years and have all kinds of advanced forms down. I’m lucky if my front kick makes it 4 inches off the ground (and I’m lucky if it’s done with the correct foot on any given occasion …).
But I joined for several reasons – partly to develop my physical and inner self – and, largely, to simply be with my kids as we all advance on this great journey together.
Steve, a seasoned blackbelt built like a Probowl MVP, runs the show – and he does it about as well as it can be done – with intense warmups (including upwards of 80 pushups and 30 nasty crunches) followed by practicing basic movements, forms, and then relatively advanced activities – activities that happen to underscore my ignorance strongly. But that’s OK – I don’t mind being in the dark a bit every now and then – it’s humbling in a good way. And it’s sometimes nice to not be the one who’s supposed to know the answer!
Steve naturally follows the “mixed-age learning” method that has typfied Tae Kwon Do for centuries. Peter Gray (1988), a renowned evolutionist at Boston College, has demonstrated that this approach is simply natural given our evolutionary heritage. In all pre-westernized cultures that have been studied, learning and play (which are often indistinguishable) occur in mixed-age settings – with individuals from various ages helping teach individuals from various other ages.
Compare that with our typical kind of education today in westernized societies – in which a student is surrounded, all day and every day, by individuals of his or her same age. For years.
Education doesn’t happen that way in the Amazon jungles – and it nearly certainly didn’t happen that way on the Savanna in Africa during the 99% of time that our species evolved from the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.
It is natural for us to learn in mixed-age settings – and there are clear benefits to this style. The younger ones can learn from those only slightly ahead, feeling a higher self of efficacy when trying to master tasks. The folks in the middle have a choice of mentoring younger individuals, clearly developing a sense of mastery while honing skills – or taking on challenging tasks by working with relatively seasoned individuals in the group.
Gray (1988) has found that this kind of “natural” educational system actually has many extraordinary intellectual and social advantages – and it’s nice to see that such systems are not dead in these United States. Care for an awesome full mind/body education that takes place in a safe, supportive mixed-age and mixed-skill context? Let me know and I’ll tell you how to get to the church basement!
Gray, P. (2008). The Value of Age-Mixed Play. Education Week, 27, 26-32.