Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nature versus Nurture Debate

I am still working my way through Chapter 1 of Awakening Children's Minds, comparing the known (Charlotte Mason's philosophy) to the unknown (Laura Berk's ideas). They both see the influence of heredity and environment upon one another. Laura sees the two as inseparable: "The roles of heredity and environment, of the child and important people in his or her life, so closely interconnected that, according to some experts, their influence is inseparable" (page 23). While Charlotte does not state this explicitly, I can see the seeds of it in her analogies for heredity, or nature:
'Habit is TEN natures!' If I could but make others see with my eyes how much this saying should mean to the educator! How habit, in the hands of the mother, is as his wheel to the potter, his knife to the carver––the instrument by means of which she turns out the design she has already conceived in her brain. Observe, the material is there to begin with; his wheel will not enable the potter to produce a porcelain cup out of coarse clay; but the instrument is as necessary as the material or the design (page 97).
Nature then, strong as she is, is not invincible; and, at her best, Nature is not to be permitted to ride rampant. Bit and bridle, hand and voice, will get the utmost of endeavour out of her if her training be taken in hand in time; but let Nature run wild, like the forest ponies, and not spur nor whip will break her in(page 104).
Laura Berk illustrates the intertwined roles of nature and nurture with studies on temperament, which encompasses activity level, attentiveness, and regulation of emotions in a dynamic setting. Research shows that forty percent of babies enjoy new experiences, while twenty percent show fear and physiological responses to novelty. Shy babies show more interest in new toys when parents encourage them with excitement, warmth, encouragement, and guidance. When parents behave in the same way for outgoing babies, they discourage exploration of new toys. Thus, parents must base the way they nurture upon the nature of the child, which is why understanding learning styles taught me how to bring out the best on my two polar opposite kids. She concludes, "The substantial malleability of temperament in infancy and early childhood is explained, in a large measure, by the fact that many parents and other adults are sucessful in guiding children with maladaptive tendencies toward more effective functioning" (page 29).

Charlotte Mason also understood the need to tailor one's approach to the temperament of the child. She did not recommend throwing too heavy a burden on easily distracted Kitty, while Guy's father gave explosive Guy the responsibility of chasing away his anger by racing Mr. Cross-man. She recommended showing the sullen young ladies, Agnes and Dorothy, the hatefulness of her sullen moods in a direct, but gentle manner, while confronting Kitty with her faults was a heavy, weary weight. She saw how the older, more resilient forgetful Fred could face his faults head-on with some pointers from his parents, but the younger, more timid fibbing Fanny needed her parents to help her love the truth rather than see her fault.

On one thing, both Laura and Charlotte agree--parents can make a tremendous difference in guiding children. Laura concluded, "Downplaying the role of parents--suggesting that they are relatively unimportant in socialization--does both families and society a disservice" (page 30). While Charlotte disagreed with the educational philosophy of Rousseau, she credits him for awakening parents to the most important job of their life:
He was one of the few educationalists who made his appeal to the parental instincts. He did not say, 'We have no hope of the parents, let us work for the children!' Such are the faint-hearted and pessimistic things we say today. What he said was, in effect, "Fathers and mothers, this is your work, and you only can do it. It rests with you, parents of young children, to be the saviours of society unto a thousand generations. Nothing else matters. The avocations about which people weary themselves are as foolish child's play compared with this one serious business of bringing up our children in advance of ourselves (pages 2 and 3).


Unknown said...

I love the posts, I think we have to read some of CM's books and the way she taught to help our different learners. Who else but Mom is the best teacher of ALL!!!

walking said...

You can find her books online for free at Ambleside. Leslie Noelani has made modern translations for people not used to Victorian wordiness. Her translations are also at Ambleside.