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genes or minds

Genetic or Learned–Process or Progress?


Heritability as a means to predict learning outcomes? This review of  what schools can be expected to achieve in light of scientific evidence on cognitive ability – by Leon Feinstein lays it out clearly how dicey deciding on a genetic basis can be.

Reading of all this complexity, for some reason, reminded me of the multitude of lists I find all over the Internet that pound on the rules kids should be taught at home. I used to wonder if all this repetition indicated a popular belief – that many children aren’t taught the basics prior to attending school.


From Impulse to Competence


By the time they start school, kids have heard many rules. They’ve started to acquire personal awareness and decision-making skills – but they aren’t finished, yet! They still look around to find examples to follow, or who to ask. And the opportunity to learn how to think things through for themselves, even if they notice it would be a good idea, might not happen as often as taken for granted.


The reasoning behind the rules isn’t much talked about. Kids are simply expected to obey, backed up by correction. Any explaining is usually confined to consequences. And when they get to school – a completely different place than familiar, comfortable, home or day care – the number of rules to remember keeps increasing.


How often is any child thinking, I wouldn’t be allowed to do that at home, I probably shouldn’t be doing it in class? Again, they’re more likely to follow the lead of other children, than remember rules. And even more likely to follow, as work-loads and distraction levels increase.


An Ounce of Prevention


It’s easy to tell a child what to do, such as, Stop wiping your nose on your sleeve if you don’t mind saying it over and over. It takes a little longer to add, If you don’t have a Kleenex, there’s a box on the corner shelf. Please take one if you need it. A short discussion about the health benefits of using Kleenex and how important it is to have some handy takes even longer. But isn’t the second approach more likely to result in remembering to carry and use a tissue?


How many similar teaching opportunities are there in a day? No matter where a child is learning, making the most of explaining reasoning behind our everyday rules adds to the thinking-things-through skills for all.


A lot of energy goes into jawing about what kids should know but don’t, followed by finding something or someone to blame. What about putting the effort into considering how to increase awareness all along the way? Is there something the matter with with sharing rational information with children? Understanding takes longer in the short term, but by reducing repetition and errors, speeds things up over all.


And if there’s anything to epigenetic theory, attending to what fosters understanding, rather than just rule-acquisition could turn out to be worth more cure than previously supposed.

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