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Facts vs. 'Filiations

What if museum tours aren't about learning facts?  What if it turned out they've always been about learning life?

I read about a museum in the US this week that was cutting their docent led tours for kids.  They had done a study to determine how many 'facts' communicated by docents were retained by their kid charges.  The results came back to reveal not many facts had in fact been retained.

We have wonderful museums here in San Francisco, with brilliant docents.  Watching their various docent-led programs, it's occurred to me that facts aren't the most valuable commodity they provide.  What seems far more important to me are the various affiliations the kids make by interacting with the docents.  Here are a few of them.

Learning the Love
The docents are, to a person, enthralled with the subject matter they lead the kids through.  What I see the kids learning, rather than a list of facts, is the singular fact that someone has such a love for the particular subject that they've taken part of their day to discuss it with other people.  The kids get to observe docents living in and through their passions.

Learning the Space
As the kids here have attended docent tour after docent tour, they've internalized that the museum is their space to explore.  Museums, with their typically huge, somewhat crowded spaces, and a host of new rules can be somewhat jarring on a first visit.  The docents take the edge off.  The kids get to see someone who's comfortable in their own skin, and in the new space.  As the docent leads them from exhibit to exhibit, the kids learn how to move in the space, how to live in the space.

Learning the Lingo
This one's simple.  Docents talk about the things that they love using the everyday phraseology of their particular field.  Sometimes they stop to explain a particularly new phrase, sometimes they don't.  Either way, their vocabulary eventually creeps into the kids' vocabulary.

Learning the Discourse
As the docents discuss each of the exhibits, they ask the kids questions about it .  Hands go up, and each kid gives their perspective.  The docent repeats back each one so everyone can hear.  Every kids perspective is different and interesting, and it's clear the docent values them all
In addition to learning how to have pleasant conversations with others who have different views, some of the kids are learning how to have their first conversations at all.  I've had the pleasure of watching the kids here grow up around museums and docents.  Watching the first time one of them opened up and discussed what they thought about an exhibit was particularly endearing for me because in addition to learning how to have conversations with other people, the kids were actually in the process of learning how to talk period!

So, there you have it.  I think facts are nice, and sure at some point it might help to regurgitate facts about art, scientific theories, or other things curated in the form of museum exhibits, but in the meantime, I think the lessons that can be gleaned about living life are the truly valuable, although perhaps not immediately obvious gem that docents hold.


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