The nature/nurture debate wages constantly. Are we who we were born to be, or are we shaped by our environment to be who we are?
To my untrained mind (I have no qualifications in psychology) it appears that who we become results from a mixture of each in combination with a dose of self-determination. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the nature from the nurture. Are we that way because of genetics or because of the family environment in which we grew up?
It is true that no two individuals, even siblings, experience identical environments. Even in the closest of families the differences can be as pronounced as the similarities; in interests, capabilities, personalities and attitudes as well as physical characteristics. Both similarities and differences can be used to argue equally well for nature or nurture.
A paper published by NATSEM (National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling) in 2013 described a close link between education standards, employment and poverty, leading to social exclusion and disadvantage in Australia. It explained that lower education levels resulted in higher levels of unemployment, and therefore poverty, and that children living in poverty were at risk of not completing high school and of having poor nutrition. And so the cycle would continue.
That is not to say that children living in poverty are doomed to continue doing so throughout their lives (we all know successful people who through their self-determination have pulled themselves up and out of the situation) but it may be much more difficult for them to achieve the levels of success that seem to come so easily to others in kinder circumstances.
According to the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Queensland “Research shows that when schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.” Commencing this year, the “Parental Engagement in Schools” project aims to discover what type of involvement best supports student learning and outcomes. Encouraging parents to be involved is another issue.
While my general observations as a teacher, and those of many colleagues, support the notion of a connection between economic status and educational advantage, a paper recently released by the University of Bristol states that “Poorer parents are just as involved in their children’s activities as better-off parents”, and that “The findings support the view that associations made between low levels of education, poverty and poor parenting are ideologically driven rather than based on empirical evidence.”
Perhaps over-generalisations in this area are just as problematic as those that expect all family members to be alike. I think that, regardless of background, it is important for teachers to support all students to make positive choices for their future. This can be done through demonstration and modelling rather than criticism and blame.
I also recommend a certain set of strategies that all parents, regardless of their economic status, can employ to give their children a great start is life, including:
- Love them
- Talk with them
- Read to them
- Encourage their questions and curiosity
- Help them seek answers and solve problems
- Encourage their independence
- Foster confidence, a willingness to have a go and to try multiple times and ways
- Be accepting of differences and don’t prejudge their future based on the experiences and futures of others.
The old saying goes that “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”. Although I have read suggestions that we may be genetically close/distantly related to those we choose as friends, I can’t testify to the authenticity of the “science” that makes those claims. However, I think many families have at least one member they would probably prefer to disclaim relationship with! Not my family of course!
Which brings me to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. She wrote about an Aunt Bronco Billy and challenged other writers to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a nutty aunt.
I hope I’m not that “nutty aunt” that everyone in the family shies away from, but I am aware of some who are. (Again, not in my family!)
Here is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.
“Don’t ‘Aw Mum’ me. She’s your dad’s only sister . . .”
“But Mum …” I could already smell her stale cigarette breath and feel the stickiness of her too-red lipstick that wouldn’t rub off.
“It won’t hurt you. She’s not staying long.”
“Why can’t Jason?”
“Because Jason’s going to work,” she said.
“Yeah, Squirt,” grinned Jason, throwing his backpack over his shoulder.
“Smoochie Coochie,” he mocked, squeezing my cheeks into a pucker while making loud lip-smacking sounds. His laughter followed him down the street.
Suddenly she was there with her sharp green pistachio grin.
I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.