Before we speak in words, do we think in words? Do we know what words are? What are babies responsible for doing? All of these questions are truly unknowable, except for the last one. This final question is a matter of opinion, of your philosophy on raising children.
Are babies responsible for doing anything? I believe they are, but it is not anything that they do consciously.
What you learn and experience as an infant affects all that you perceive in the world. Increasingly, research discovers that babies are much more intelligent than we ever perceived them to be. Almost five years ago, it was revealed that babies can recognize words out of context at as early as 9 months (Reviewed by Dr. Robert Jasmer, UCSF). At as young as 12 months, a year old, babies can start recognizing the association between words and objects and between requests and actions. The interesting thing is that babies do this of their own accord. Nobody is training them; nobody is forcing them; they are just learning. Interestingly enough, learning by observation is what babies are responsible for.
(NOTE: There is no scientific evidence from what I am about to say. Some may say that it weakens my argument, but I disagree. People have thought about this for ages, and theories abound, but this is my philosophy on the duty of small children, and it is what I believe should be encouraged by parents. I doubt that many people would oppose what I am saying.)
When the first child with a larger brain than its parents’ began to walk upright, what was going in its head? Small children are inquiring (this is evidenced in everyday life) and are always seeking greater understanding. Why this? What is that? What happens if I touch this, or taste that? Babies may not understand the words, but the curious nature is there.
Babies are the most innocent thinkers, and also the most limitless in their curiosity. When you don’t understand anything, you question everything. What does a baby, fresh from opening its eyes for the first time, understand about electricity, and how it powers a television? What does a baby, upon first seeing a giraffe, understand about the predator-prey relationship that has caused a giraffe to grow such a large neck? The answer is nothing. They can’t understand, because they have not been learned it yet.
Every child, upon first encountering a new object or phenomenon, observes and rationalizes. As our knowledge increases through observation, our rationalizations grow more accurate and we learn. When a baby observes a computer in a room, and then is driven to day-care, there is no connection between the power that is coursing through the power lines seen from the car and that which powers the computer. When a child learns that there is electricity in the cords above the road, and that computers are powered by electricity, a connection is made, the unknowns in the universe are reduced, and rationalizations to understand the world are made. The duty of babies is to observe and rationalize and learn. Are early ideas incorrect? Almost exclusively, yes. This does not matter, though; we are learning how to learn, and are learning how to observe the greater world. Every experience allows us to grow and mature and better rationalize the world we have observed.
Babies are philosophers. They are absolutely credulous, and unbound by general constraints of what we usually consider to be reality. In a baby’s world, anything is possible, and everything is probable, if it can be observed. One could easily draw the conclusion that little people were running around in the box that we call a “television” if one only observed a single show. What would happen if another show came on? One could also draw the conclusion that all “water” is clear and colourless and tasteless if one only observed water from the tap, the bathtub spigot, and the hand-washing sink. With its deep blue/green deep and frothy white surface that tastes salty, what would the sea be observed as?
Parents have the responsibility to encourage a living environment that permits free learning (within reasonable limits of course). It is by experience that we learn to not touch a hot stove or that slamming a finger in a door will hurt. It is by experience that we learn that cake is good, but the candle is hot. It is by experience that we learn. Let the kid learn for himself or herself.
Babies are responsible for observing. By observing, rationalization naturally follows. By rationalizing, babies learn about the world, and how it works. The first years are where we learn how to learn, and that is the responsibility of babies.
EDIT1, Nov 19, 2009. 8AM: Today is the 20th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. One of the basic tenets (Article 12) of this statement is an ackowledgment that, "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child." Every child has the ability. Let us allow them to learn.