Sunday, January 25, 2015

Nature vs Nurture: the ubiquitous assigned debate

I have a lot of children in my life.  My own children (all except 1) benefit from experience in two households.  I believe that will allow them to be more adaptive as adults because it teaches them there are many different ways to live, learn and love.  I see my brother’s children, as well, in what (I consider to be) a cluttered and unorganized home learn more quickly than my own children.  If they can learn and grow so successfully in that environment then it stands to reason that nature has something to do with learning ability.   Or perhaps my brother just spends more time teaching his son the alphabet than he does cleaning his home.   A habit I wholeheartedly support.
 My own opinion is that our children are an amalgam of their experience.    A girl born with no legs can be a gymnast as long as she doesn’t give up and has support from people around her.  A boy born of mentally handicapped parents can excel academically, if he goes to school and applies himself.  People achieve what they truly want to achieve.  If you believe yourself to be a mathematical genius, but also believe that you are cursed and cannot ever earn a living with this skill, you never will.  Where someone less skilled in mathematics may believe they can be paid for their skills will achieve that goal.  It depends on what you believe about yourself and the world around you.  Usually that is what you learn at your parents’ knee, whether they meant to teach you what they did or not.
In the debate nature vs. nurture we are handicapped because we do not have an objective way to determine intelligence in the absence of education.  The intelligence quotient (IQ) test is based on how much a person knows about the world.  That is compared with how much that person “should” know about the world according to his/her age.   It is impossible to measure a person’s potential intelligence with this test.  After a point in development we are simply testing how much they have been taught.  And we know that not everyone is taught the same things. 
            A child develops the same way no matter which socio-economic background they live in or what language they speak according to the Language Acquisition Device or LAD (Rathus, 2009, p. 174).   To me that would mean that after that phase when we start to learn language in earnest, nothing is equal.  Everything is dependent on how much we are taught.  A child who has never played with blocks because his family’s religion forbids it will score lower on certain tests than a child who has played with blocks before (Rathus, 2009, p. 181).  Does that mean that religion makes one child smarter than another? 

            However if we measure how well a person copes with the world around them as David Weschler defined it (Rathus, 2009, p. 177) then a person with an 80 IQ might be more adept than a person with a 125 because they are better manipulators, less emotional, more adaptable/flexible or just plain oblivious to the worries that hold the higher scoring person back.  Until we develop a way to objectively measure intelligence without also measuring how much a person has been taught, we will not have a definitive answer to the nature vs. nurture question.  Since we do know, statistically, that “better” environments seem to create more socially acceptable and socially successful people, perhaps it is best to err on the side of caution and provide the best environment we can to our children.  I would hope that we were doing that anyway.  
In summary I believe nature gives you tools and nurture determines what you will do with them.  In the end what you do with your tools is more important than what you were given to begin with.  Nurture is more important than nature.  

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