How do we learn, and are the teachers important?

A few weeks ago, one of my daughters helped me to solve a problem I had with my blog.  I wasn’t surprised, just nicely pleased.  I texted it to her and asked; ‘Is it your genes or Cornell?”.  She answered: “Both, Dad, both”.

There is ongoing discussion, what is more important in personal development: heredity or upbringing and education.  There are arguments for goth sides and both sides are very passionate.  For some people, good”breeding” is more important and they are favoring proper parents.  For the other group, a child is born as a “tabula rasa” and for them, education is crucial.

Intelligence is not a quality we are born with, rather something we work to achieve (Richard Nisbett, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).  The title of his book is “Intelligence and how to get it”.  Intelligence has genetic components, but most of it is formed by environmental factors.  Parents should interact with children, talk to them using grown up vocabulary, discuss topics and just be around.  There is this schizophrenic approach in this country to lifetime achievements.  On one hand, there is “can do” attitude and “I can achieve anything I can think of”.  Proper motivation and persistence are dominating factors.  On the other hand, there is an attitude, that “I was born that way and not much I can do”  and education is not necessary to achieve success in life.

To support the other point, multinational study (Daniel Benjamin, Cornell) tried to identify links between genetic variants and educational attainment.  “Educational gene” could not be found, but authors hope in future they will be able to predict educational achievement knowing genetic background.  They conclude, however, that it is important what you have, but also crucial what you do with what you have.  Another argument for teachers and parental influence.

So which group is right?  Genes or teachers and parental influence?  And how much of each factor?

Some people think it can be predicted.  There is a funny story of an exchange between Isidora Duncan, a famous dancer, who died after her neck was broken by a silk scarf while riding in an open car, and George Bernard Shaw, a renowned writer, who after visiting the USSR in 1931 became a fanatic supporter of communism.  She wrote, that given the principles of eugenics, they should have a child together.  “Think of it!” she enthused.  “With my body and your brain, what a wonder will it be!”  “Yes” Shaw replied.  “But what if it had my body and your brains?”  She was beautiful.  He was not.  Same thing we see with looking for a dark – hair, handsome, well-built mate on the internet.

To know which factor is more important, and to what degree, has great implications for influencing a child’s development.  If we assume genes are, teachers and environment are not that decisive.  The quality of teachers and teaching, therefore, are secondary and there is no incentive for a child (and his parents) to show personal efforts and personal responsibility.  From a teleological standpoint, we want to see the other scenario.

I read this somewhere. Every child is like a computer: has hardware and software.  Hardware comes from parents and software from the environment and education.  Both systems are critical and whereas hardware cannot be manipulated (yet?), software is very much workable.  Genetic contributes ~60%, environment ~40% to overall IQ.

I have four children.  Each of them is different.  Even each of identical twin is different,

And I like it this way.

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