Kathleen Berger, in her book The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence, discusses the important distinction between nature vs. nurture. She defines the dichotomy as the following: “Nature refers to the influence of the genes that people inherit. Nurture refers to environmental influences, which begin with the health and diet of the embryo’s mother and continue lifelong, including the impacts of family, school, community, and culture” (Berger, 2017, Loc.1147-1150). For Berger all of human development is inextricably bound to both nature and nurture. We are all products of that which we inherit organically and that which we learn through our environments.
There are many illnesses, both mental and physical, that pervade humanity. Berger discusses several of these illnesses that fall at the crossroads of the nature vs nurture debate. She dissects illnesses such as birth defects, violent behavior, SIDS, alcoholism, near sightedness and mental illness. One particularly interesting example that she gives is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. SIDS is related to sleep and the conditions within which sleep occurs. We all need sleep. And how we sleep begins to develop from the very moment we enter into the world. Sleep is probably one of the most taken for granted habits that we have. Have you ever thought to ask your parents how you slept at night when you were a newborn? Where did you sleep? Have you ever stopped to think about what your sleeping habits were as a young child? These factors may be affecting a sleeping ailment that you have today. They could also be affecting your health in general.
Berger outlines two opposing approaches to infant sleep habits. In the Western tradition, it is common for the baby to sleep in a separate room in a crib. Whereas, in South America and most of Asia infants sleep in the same bed as their parents. Many babies are inherently colicky. This means that they are genetically disposed to cry for long hours and not sleep for the first few months of their lives. New parents instinctively want to soothe the agonized child. They also want to be close to the child in order to relieve them more quickly. Sleeping in the same bed allows for both. Berger puts it simply: “The argument for bed-sharing is that the parents can quickly respond to a hungry or frightened baby without needing to get up to feed or comfort their infant” (Berger, 2017, Loc.5712-5713). But, bed-sharing may create environmental influences that can have a detrimental impact later on (for both the baby and the parent). Berger goes on to point out: “the argument against bed-sharing rests on a chilling statistic: Sudden infant death is twice as likely when babies sleep beside their parents” (Berger, 2017, Loc.5714-5715). Infant death in bed-sharing often occurs when an adult rolls over onto a child and crushes the child or the child falls off the bed. So, too much nurture, in this case, can lead to death. The environmental affects of bed-sharing can have an impact on parents as well. Berger states: “But remember that infants learn from experience. If babies become accustomed to bed-sharing, they will crawl into their parents’ bed long past infancy. Parents might lose sleep for years because they wanted more sleep when their babies were small” (Berger, 2017, Loc.5730-5732). This is a perfect example of the influences of nurture on human development. Babies become accustomed to sleeping with parents and can carry this custom into adolescence creating unnecessary dependencies. Bed-sharing may cause long-term sleep deprivation for the parents which could lead to health issues and possibly death.
Clearly nature and nurture are intertwined. They both shape the people that we become, our habits, our health and our personalities. As educators, it is important to recognize that children have been exposed to many different environmental influences, different genetic dispositions and different life experiences in general. We must not assume that all students have had the same upbringing. Whether the result of genetics or the result of external forces, all students will be at a distinctive level of learning unique to them. Because of this, educators should always tailor learning to each individual student through scaffolding or other similar techniques.
Berger, K.S. (2017). The developing person through childhood and adolescence, 10th ed. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, Kindle Edition.