If you are relatively new to this practice I call "family learning," you may find it strange that these weekly columns are often focused upon, or suggested by, seemingly unimportant events in history. Is "family learning," then, just an exercise in "home trivia" or a way to improve a family's "Jeopardy knowledge"? Not at all.
What I call "family learning" is really a lifestyle or a way of looking at the world, in which parents (and ultimately their children) begin to see learning opportunities all around them, even in little things. They start to realize that learning doesn't have to be confined to "subjects" and "classes" and "periods," but can follow one's own particular interests. Understanding one piece of knowledge can lead you to wondering about many related topics as well, and each of these "learning paths" will have many branches.For example, last week's column about Cecil Rhodes and his Rhodes scholarships was aimed at encouraging parents to replicate Rhodes's idea of scholarship in their homes by making the development of their children's character a necessary and acknowledged part of their every accomplishment. Achievements in sports or in school grades, for instance, are hollow without an accompanying development in one's character, moral values and personal virtue.
But Cecil Rhodes can lead us down many other learning paths as well, in such diverse topics as geology, geography, history and even language. Any investigation of Rhodes in an encyclopedia would reveal, for example:
- He was sent to South Africa as a young man for health reasons, and there he struck it rich in the diamond fields. He formed the De Beers Mining Co., acquired control of the Kimberley mines, and by 1891 owned 90 percent of the world's diamond production. Why are so many diamonds found in South Africa, how are they formed, and where else in the world can they be found?
- Rhodes envisioned a railway that would run "from Cape to Cairo," under British control, of course. Can you find the Cape of Good Hope and Cairo on a map? Through what present-day countries would such a railroad pass?
- The word "cape" comes from the Latin "caput," which means "head." (Other common words from this root include "capital," "captain" and "decapitate.") How is a "cape" like a "headland"? Where are some other famous capes in the world?
- Rhodes's chief political adversary was Paul Kruger, the president of the region called the Transvaal, in which lie the Rand gold fields. Did you ever wonder why the 1-oz. gold coins from South Africa are called "Krugerrands"?
- The name "Rhodes" comes from the Greek word "rhodos," meaning "rose," and is most commonly associated with one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Colossus of Rhodes. (What are the other six?) This 100-foot bronze statue, which stood at the mouth of the harbor on the island of Rhodes, was destroyed by an earthquake in 225 B.C.
- Some of the early pilgrims in the New World settled on a small island south of the Massachusetts Colony, which they named Rhode Island because they thought it was similar to the Greek island of Rhodes. They joined forces with Roger Williams's group in Providence and formed the state which is officially known today as "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations"; the longest name belongs to the smallest state.
These are just a few of the learning paths you might choose to follow, and the general purpose of "family learning" is to help you find these paths for yourself, and then encourage you to follow them wherever they lead.- Dr. William F. Russell's books for parents and children include "Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children" and "Classic Myths to Read Aloud." Send your questions and comments to him at Family Learning, 2400 E. Main Street, Suite 266, St. Charles, IL 60174-2414.