Exploring Life After Life

Does Ability or Effort Limit Us?

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Are we born with a certain ability that limits us? Or are we able to increase our ability through effort?

This is the controversy of nature versus nurture. The underlying philosophy of our society tends to favor ability, even if it is not consciously stated or openly acknowledged. The prevailing thought, however, is not accurate. Research provides evidence that we are not victims of our birth. 50% of our ability is determined at birth by genetic make up. What influences the other half is somewhat questionable.

The answer used to be that parents accounted for this other half. James Comer’s book, Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can’t Solve Our Problems — And We Can, shows that parents can help their kids’ intelligence by providing the right educational atmosphere. If children are exposed to the importance and value of learning early, the impact is significant. In an interview, William Raspberry, Pulitzer Prize winner and educational correspondent for The Washington Post, reinforced this idea. He suggested that learning ability isn’t a problem of race or income. Students not doing well in school often come from families where the value of education is missing.

Recent studies show that the role of parents, however, is not the sole factor after genetics. Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption: Why Kids Turn Out The Way They Do cites numerous studies that suggest a more total environment affects us.

A University of Chicago study shows that schooling can significantly affect how smart we become. The study, that involved nearly 8000 children in kindergarten and first grade nationwide, concentrated on language and spatial skills. Education impacts both. Basic ability does not limit us, but kids need the opportunity to learn.

Another study proves that IQ can be raised through education and is not an innate intelligence score unaffected by learning. This same study shows that a student’s IQ goes down during prolonged school vacations. While we might not like the idea of year-round schooling, such an approach is beneficial. Perhaps this fact might encourage students to read or study during the summer.

All of these studies strengthen the same idea. Our kids are not at the mercy of their parents or nature. Their ability can be improved through effort. Education can significantly impact the future of all children.

This material is revised from Chapter 7 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002).

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