There once was a little boy who was left-handed, quiet, and shy, and who liked to draw pictures. He was not ready for school as early as his classmates were, and his parents were told, “Don’t expect much from Paul. He won’t do well in school, and he certainly won’t be going to college.”
Yes, I was that little boy. Nearly 20 years later, when I started teaching school, the principal showed me a listing of the intelligence quotient scores of the students in my class and told me, “These children are below average; we don’t expect you to teach them very much. Keep them busy, make sure they behave, and you’ll have a very good year.”
As a schoolteacher, I quickly learned to pay little attention to the IQ scores of my students, and to see each child as a curious being with a diversity of intelligence that was ready to blossom, given the necessary care and nurturance.
Both “nature” (genetics) and “nurture” (learning) are involved in every child’s unfolding. However, each child is unique, with distinctive gifts and strengths. Not all children develop at the same rate and respond to stimuli in the same manner. Nature, the genetic blueprint of an individual, has often been misunderstood as a ceiling or limitation of capability placed upon the child. Nurture, the educational environment provided, along with the positive expectations of grownups who believe in children, can call forth unseen potential and help young people far exceed their statistical probabilities.
In my own case, having loving, caring parents and teachers who believed in me made the difference. I succeeded in school, and today I help teachers around the world to make a positive difference in the lives of the children they mentor.
When parents ask me to work with their children, they sometimes describe these youngsters with labels that make them sound as if there’s something seriously wrong. Yet, when I see the children, I always see uncommon potential just waiting to be drawn out. I understand why parents use such labels, yet I believe we can support young people best by seeing beyond them.
Today, at last, scientific research in the field of epigenetics validates the commonsense idea that teaching and learning do, in fact, make a critical difference. We now know that such optimal cultivation can affect and change even the DNA once believed to limit us.
© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.
To read more of Paul’s story, see Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison, © 2006.
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