Nature versus Nurture.
As parents, the debate over “nature versus nurture” has come up at various stages of our journey…more so recently as we observe our children reaching the last stages of childhood.
Our children entered this world as tiny helpless things. We presumed they were little blank slates, waiting for us to mold and shape them into responsible and just human beings. As we observed their personalities begin to form and certain attributes begin to develop, we’ve had those typical conversations that question “were they born this way or did we teach them that? I love to ponder the “nature versus nurture” question. Watching our children grow, develop, and change from toddlers to teens to young adults has been one of the most fascinating experiences as parents.
We have fun remarking “how much this one has your eyes” or “have you noticed the other hates asparagus, just like you do?“. When the kids were little tots, we pledged and committed to “nurture” them the best we knew how. Educationally speaking, we were convinced that by choosing strong math and science based curriculums, we would produce two more much needed, well paid, set-for-life secure engineers and scientists to add to this world.
What did we know about our well thought out plan? Apparently, little.
For we all know (because “Yahoo” is constantly telling us as well as our children) that the only degree worth any value in today’s world are those resulting from math and science degrees. Money thrown at anything less will result in a future of unemployment and potential social disdain in our society today.
I love meeting families with three or more children. This is where I see little clues that give insight to the “nature versus nurture” debate. I find it so intriguing to not only notice the physical characteristics but to note the differences in personalities, academic abilities, and interests of each child and compare them to those of the parents.
If we were asked the question when our kids were between 5 and 10 years old, “Do you think your kids are who they are due to the “nuture” versus “nature” question, we would have decidedly answered “nurture“.
But then as they grew older, choice and free will enter their vocabulary. When presented with an array of academic subjects from which to choose, there emerges a pattern of interest that becomes so captivating to observe. As parents, here is where our resolve to “nurture” two more potential math and science lovers began to be in question.
Fortunately, our children didn’t dramatically excel in one dominant area. Unfortunately, that made it difficult to determine in which academic direction they would choose. They are both solid students in an array of subjects from math, english, writing, to science, but there doesn’t seem to be one neat and tidy choice.
However, it was in their free time that defining interests began to emerge. One child was devouring any and all books she could get her hands on. The other was reciting to us the long list of mythological creatures, gods, geographical locations, and any and all aspects of historical observation during either ancient or medieval times. Kit after kit of science experiments were opened and we learned about chemistry, biology, and physics. We carried out the activities and labs, enjoyed them thoroughly…but when they were over, it was back to literature pursuits and history related endeavors.
Patrick and I have found that off and on, we’ve lost touch with the educational values that we originally sought to foster. We had this dream that our kids would learn at their own pace, not one dictated in 50 minute increments. We wanted their interested to run deep, not necessarily wide. In high school, however, (whether it be homeschool or brick and mortar school) it’s hard for kids not to conform to the academic testing pressures.
For a time, we got caught up in pushing our kids to operate on AP academic levels and filled their every spare moment with organized activities. You know…to build, build, build, those awesome resumés.
Living in Houston means being surrounded by many families connected to the oil and gas, medical, and space industries. We moved here mid-high school years. In addition, our kids were and are bombarded with messages on a local as well as national level that any degree involving liberal arts is a loser degree.
So by the time we hit high school, the only discussion among families seemed to be about comparing math and science scores. “Liberal Arts? Oh, how sweet. Aren’t those like hobbies?” Because we have this huge concentration of engineers, IT specialists, and doctors in this area, it seemed that every high schooler we met was also headed in that direction. “How can that be?” we wondered. “Do math and science oriented parents produce math and science oriented children?” Can we nurture our children into an area of expertise that we desire for them…or will nature eventually win out?
I love to have this discussion with others to hear their thoughts and reactions. Of course, many people have the strong belief that it is neither nature nor nurture…it is the will of a supreme power like God or Allah or Buddha. Others attribute their children’s growth and development to a combination of both nature and nurturing of the children. I have no answers…I don’t judge beliefs..I just have questions and observations.
I can certainly see how we have, in many ways, nurtured our children to have certain outlooks and behaviors. Some of these nurturings have been intentional, like manners, morals, and values. We’ve tried to keep very open minds about topics like politics and religion…but notice that all four of us lean decidedly in the same direction on both…was that nature or nurture?
I have a feeling that there is still more to be observed and realized in the next early adult stages of our kids. Many conversations with my daughter lately are starting out like this, “You know, Mom…now I know what you meant about this, that, or the other.” or “Mom, now I can see why you harped on this aspect or that one. It is making sense to me now.”
I am putting myself through a personal “nature versus nurture” experiment this year. I have managed to arrange for “non-homeschool” courses in chemistry for my kids…that is, up until this year. Riley needed his final high school chemistry course completed. I went back and forth trying to decide which online curriculum or outside school option to choose.
I have never excelled in chemistry. I deemed it an area of complete mystery to me after stumbling my way miserably through the course in high school. Seeing that both my kids are more enthusiastic about science than I was, I wanted to give the course one last try…to see if my brain would clamp shut or if I could nudge it a bit more to break down this material so that I could grasp the concepts of electron orbitals, quantum mechanics, and stoichiometry.
Well, its been an interesting first half of the year alright. I’ll keep my day job in the teaching arena because I don’t think I’ll be discovering any new elements to add to that periodic table any time soon.
The online curriculum we use is a good one and gives us many tools, labs, and structure to understand the material. As I have crawled through Chemistry for what seems to be the umpteenth time in elementary as well as middle school, I wanted this very last time to be different…better. I wanted to prove to myself that if I put my mind to something, I can achieve it.
Instead of observing the learning styles of my children lately, I find that I am understanding the learning style of myself better than ever. First, I need double the time to understand the material than my kids. I have been trained to understand material in 50 minute increments from my own school days. It wasn’t that I was incapable of understanding the material, necessarily, but my approach to the material needed to be defined for my learning style.
Second, I am a visual learner. I must draw, take notes, have flash cards, and use any visual aids that I can splay in front of me on the table. I talk out loud to better understand material instead of silently reading. My son is quite the opposite and he is amused daily by my theatrical recitations of material.
What do any of my ramblings have to do with making this roasted red snapper and cauliflower couscous dinner? None at all. I’m afraid this is typical of me. I can begin on the subject of cooking fish and end up contemplating some of life’s greatest mysteries. My thoughts swirl around dozens of topics like this one all day long. Apparently, this recipe just seems to be tagging along today as I let my mind roam around the universally asked question, “how much about each of us is due to nature or nurture?“