Gears of My Childhood

“Thus every child might have the experience I had. But to hope for this would be to miss the essence of the story. I fell in love with the gears.”

Seymour Paper was fascinated by automobiles and gears from a very young age. Some of his earliest memories revolved around the rotation and movement of these circular objects. He found pleasure and passion in these devices.

Papert believed that working with differing devices did wonders for his future mathematical development. He saw gears as multiplication tables and was comfortable with equations. The gears became a very important part of his intellectual development in two ways. First, they served as a model for future knowledge. All young people need models for future knowledge. Second, it stimulated his love of learning.

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The following two paragraphs of Papert’s (1980) work explain how essential it is for kids to discover their “gear sets”:

A modern-day Montessori might propose, if convinced by my story, to create a gear set for children. Thus every child might have the experience I had. But to hope for this would be to miss the essence of the story. I fell in love with the gears. This is something that cannot be reduced to purely “cognitive” terms. Something very personal happened, and one cannot assume that it would be repeated for other children in exactly the same form.
My thesis could be summarized as: What the gears cannot do the computer might. The computer is the Proteus of machines. Its essence is its universality, its power to simulate. Because it can take on a thousand forms and can serve a thousand functions, it can appeal to a thousand tastes.This book is the result of my own attempts over the past decade to turn computers into instruments flexible enough so that many children can each create for themselves something like what the gears were for me. (p. 1)

What were ‘the gears’ of my childhood?

My grandmother says I used to walk around the house with my glove, ball, and hat begging people to play with me. When one grown-up turned me down, I was not discouraged. I simply moved on to the next. Eventually, I would find someone to play. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to nag big humans for long. I had a little brother just 14 months my younger. As long as I can remember, all we needed was a ball and we could come up with some athletic competition. We had quite the imagination and had a blast playing in our front yard. This was, and still is, one of my biggest passions, baseball.

Playing baseball motivated me to learn to read. I woke up early in the morning and scanned the sports section of the newspaper hoping my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, had won the previous night. I studied the statistics and quickly understood what a .300 batting average meant. Baseball was my framework for everything.

That’s me!

It also lead to my general disinterest in school. I wanted to be outside playing, and they made me sit in a seat. When important games were played during the day, I wanted to listen. I will always remember sneaking a transistor radio into 4th grade and laying on it during class so I could hear an important Giants game. The older nun didn’t have a clue.

I gobbled up every Sports Illustrated and Baseball America issue I could get my hands on until I was told I couldn’t bring it in for free reading. From then on I staged a protest. If I was unable to read what I wanted, I would not read. This was a general frame of mind for much of my schooling. If people told me what to do, I did not want to do it.

What were ‘the gears’ of your childhood? Write a response and share.

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