I just can't get away from the nature/nurture issue. I feel like I have a handle on it while teaching my intro to child and adolescent development course, but then I read Thomas Brown's recent book on ADHD, and the threads start to unravel. How much of certain kids' quirkiness is due to genetic abnormalities or irreparable environmental damage, and how much is due to things that we can control, like our approaches to parenting? our pedagogy? our schools?
I've been immersed in research on gifted kids and ADHD lately. I am the founder of a charter school dedicated to gifted education, one of my doc students is doing an amazing case study of twice exceptional gifted kids, another doc student is examining issues related to delay of gratification impairment, and my son has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. My head starts to spin when I try to sort out what part of his issues are due to neurological impairments and what part is due to parenting decisions, such as my giving in to him when he begs to stay on the computer for 15 more minutes, or pedagogical decisions, such as making him do 15 pages of missed workbook pages in a week.
I want to have an answer. Saying this, I remember my mentor, Pat Ashton's, wise advice to avoid seeking "premature closure" on the questions that haunt me. Still, I have undergraduates to teach, two sons to raise. How much of how our kids and students turn out is up to us? I prefer to err on the side of responsibility (no matter what Judith Harris says) and say that it's mostly up to us. I preach at my students the need to take very seriously Erik Erikson's claim that the fourth crisis of childhood--that of industry versus inferiority--is one that occurs in schools and educational settings. It's the crisis of development over which teachers have so much influence. Hence, the outcry in the LA Times recently over the data showing kids of certain teachers actually were worse off at the end of the year than when they started. It should be a moral imperative of teaching, no less sacred than the Hippocratic oath for physicians, that first, teachers should do no harm. And sadly, doing nothing or not taking risks, the acceptance of apathy or blaming kids' problems on their parents or neighborhoods, is just scapegoating. No matter how screwed up the environment kids are reared in, teachers can make a difference. More importantly, they ought to make a difference. Given their crucial role in children's development, I cannot believe how much we undervalue, underpay, and disrespect teaching and the teaching profession.
Well, I'm on a roll, which is a good place to stop for now. I guess my leanings towards nurture are obvious now; hence, my absolute love of Vygotsky, who, in his very short life, got more things right about human nature than most psychologists or philosophers. Well, maybe except for William James :-)