This tweet went viral a few weeks ago:
If children started school at six months old and their teachers gave them walking lessons, within a single generation people would come to believe that humans couldn't learn to walk without going to school.
— Geoff Graham (@geoffreydgraham) February 12, 2018
When I saw it I thought “how clever,” but then I realized it was not quite right. The reason is although humans are instinctively programmed to walk and speak, no such programming exists for writing and reading, which is what schools teach. This is because writing and reading, in terms of evolution, are very recent developments and involve different regions of the brain than talking and walking. Speech and walking are acquired though repetition and mimicking, but learning to read, write, and do math requires deliberate practice and instruction, such as decoding abstract symbols into speech-equivalents (which is called phonemic awareness). Such skills cannot be acquired osmotically through the ambient environment. This is how it’s not at all that uncommon for someone to be fluent and competent at speech but be barely able to read or write. This does not mean that going to school is necessary to learn how to read and write, but the acquisition of such skills is not natural in the same way talking and walking are. It’s a nice narrative that by immersing one’s child in a stimulating environment that he or she can acquire the same skills as going to school, but it does not work that way.