Copy to Learn

If you haven’t been keeping track of my other blog you may not know that in addition to be a student and a teacher I’m also a father (and the Fatherhood blogger here at at present). Being a father (or a mother) opens your eyes to the very beginning stages of learning in a human being’s life. Our son is amazing. He’s constantly learning and progressing at a break neck pace that I can’t quite comprehend. If all of us kept learning at the pace of young children for our entire lives humanity would have cured every disease and be colonizing other galaxies by now (probably even earlier). Learning doesn’t seem to happen by accident though. There seems to be a very specific process.

As a theatre student I often read Aristotle’s Poetics. While I’m not quite up to date with contemporary scientific ideas about learning I can say that Aristotle seems to illustrate what I see every day in our son. Aristotle talks about a human trait of mimicry. This is like copying. Monkey see, monkey do. How does our son know that the tea cup hot? Well, I told him. But that alone wouldn’t do it. Since I drink tea every day this routine repeated itself. In an effort to teach him the word and concept of “hot” I would touch my tea cup, pull my hand away, and say “hot.” This has started a trend in our house. Our son wants to touch my tea cup each morning, recoil his hand, and say “hot.”

I’ve written before about the shaky ground of plagiarism and the large gray area inherent in the concept. Part of the reason for the large gray area is the growing body of work (Aristotle included but also modern writers and thinkers) that indicates copying as something human beings constantly do. From creative work like art, music, and fashion to mathematical concepts, architectural advancements, and the massive growth of the internet. What might you do if you weren’t afraid to copy? There is a battle going on in many areas (internet, music, government, education, etc.) over whether people have the right to copy. The lines are often very gray indeed. At the moment the “anti-copyists” seem to be winning some of the time by convincing ordinary people that because of the legal complexities (read: large gray areas) it is better not to copy at all. Aristotle might have thought differently. As a parent, I think differently. Perhaps we should turn the question around: What haven’t you done because you were afraid to copy? Answering that question might reveal the greatest losses of all.