Nurture or Nature?

We live in an Info-Centric Society… be well informed

I was talking to my wife this morning before catching my 5.20 train to head to that great city of ours! It was so civilised at that time of the morning, with the little gremlins still cosying up in bed upstairs! She was telling me about a conference she attended yesterday and how amazing some of the professors are. One thing that fascinates her is how clever these people are and how they live in a different world to everyone else – I mean to the other doctors. I found the topic of conversation quite interesting but my eye did not light up until she mentioned how much these people actually want to make a difference to people’s lives, using medicine as the tool to do that.

It reminded me of a couple of decades or so ago, when I finished at Hull University and came back to London. I was about to go back up north, to do my teacher training at Sheffield University. On my initial classroom observation week, I was equipped with all the enthusiasm in the world as I walked into that comprehensive school in London, where Sir Rhodes Boyson used to be the head. I could imagine him in his academic gown, patrolling the place, with the authority and possibly with a cane in hand – gone are those days! For me, growing up in one of the old colonies, I knew more about Magna Carta and Oliver Twist than I knew about Michael Jackson. It was a world in which waking up at 5.30 a.m. at a boarding school to go for a five-mile run before returning to sing the songs of praise was second nature; I was utterly shocked by the culture at that school. At that time, Sir Rhodes’ days were long gone.

The reality is that, when I remember my school days, it is so special to me and it will always be, until I go to my grave. I can’t quite pick out what is more special. Is it the headteacher (Oops, headmaster!), addressing the assembly and calling some boys empire wreckers? Is it the day my uncle dropped me off at the boarding school – 50 miles away from home in an African forest and I watched him drive away, turned around and most boys were much bigger than me and I had to address each boy a year or more older by putting the word senior’ before his first name? Is it my first talk in the literary and debating society when I had to argue about juvenile delinquency? Is it my time in the Scouts we went on jamborees? Is it saying grace, with my eyes closed, when occasionally bigger boys took away the meat from my rice and peas? Could it be the rituals that boys perform in a boarding school? I won’t go into that…

I am amazed by the culture and the idea that so many teachers see teaching as just a way of earning money and paying their bills; ticking the boxes and using pre-made reports on the Internet to write reports for students they teach. Of course, we all have to pay our bills but the education of young people and the experience is so real and potent to let fee-earners be the majority of educators in a in our schools school. It can even get worse; there are situations in which such people become head teachers. God help us! Please do not get me wrong, many teachers are decent human beings, who enjoy their jobs and who want to make a difference to the lives of their students and are doing their best, within the environment in which they find themselves. My problem is just that I wish we had more of those people around.

Back to my conversation with my wife; we went on to argue about how those professors have got to where they are. She knew perfectly what I was going to say, as she is much smarter than I am; she beat me to it and raised the issue of nurture’. She spoke about one of her colleagues, whose parents are shopkeepers and worked 18 hours a day in order to be able to afford to send him to a fee-paying school. Amongst these clever people, this is the exception and not the rule. The vast majority are from a well-heeled background and are well informed all the way through the process of becoming doctors and professors of medicine. A point worth bearing in mind is that a larger proportion of those people went to a comprehensive school. I mean a much larger proportion than we had about 30 years ago. I’m talking about those days when consultants and headmasters were gods and you couldn’t possibly question their judgement.

One conclusion I can draw from our chat this morning is that intelligence is very important and it does help. However, the role parents and the child’s environment play in guiding them to achieving their goals is absolutely fundamental. Not everyone has the academic ability to be a professor of medicine, but everyone has the ability to make a difference to somebody’s life. We all do this in one form or another, may be not to as many people as we would have liked. We do it knowingly and unknowingly. The questions we have to ask ourselves are:

  • Who in this world will my actions influence in shaping their future?
  • Who should my actions influence in shaping their future the most?

I think, for parents, we all know the answer.

We live in a world where there is so much information available; seeking and using information in the right way can make all the difference to our lives and to the lives of people we care about. It is never too early to start looking for information on how we can help to shape the future of our children. If you do not, other factors, people or institutions in society will have too big a role to play in the destiny of your child. Please refrain from blaming the school, or the government or your child’s peers. Let us try our best first, before contemplating failure.

Please feel free to comment about any of the issues raised in this blog in the comments box below.

Note: Please note that Excel in Key Subjects offers advice on all sort of issues relating to young people’s education, subject choice, career and support for parents in dealing with the school. There is no cost to parents for this impartial advice or guidance. Request a free consultation.

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