Tabula rasa and nature vs nurture

Just read these very interesting posts on an interesting site:
http://www.laurelkenner.com/2009/08/socializing-kids.html
http://www.laurelkenner.com/2009/07/public-school-as-prison.html


Reminds me of a very vigorous debate and discussion my junior college class (16/17 years old) had so many years ago, regarding the very contentious issue of nature vs nurture. The issue was a particularly sensitive and personal one for my class, seeing how more than half of the 20-odd students came from the seven-year Gifted Education Programme and with a handful of Asean (+Hong Kong) scholars. Adjudicating over the weeks-long discussion (individual and group research, internal discussions, interim and final presentations, debate and rebuttals…) was our General Paper tutor (the class was sort of an English and Sociology class rolled into one), a President’s scholar and at that time, the resident recruiter/interviewer for her Oxbridge alma mater.

This was one of the more memorable discussion topics we had in that GP class; though personally, my favourite was the one on political and social philosophy and systems (I got Plato, Descartes, Hobbes and Locke) and my delving into the grittier aspects of the criminal justice system.

Not that every General Paper class in the country or even my school got to conduct their GP classes in this manner; my class was lucky to have our GP tutor, who was unorthodox to say the least. She steadfastly resisted all attempts by the Department to run the normal weekly comprehension and essay composition drills; at the end of the two years, we submitted only a handful of comprehension and essay work, spending almost all our time on research, discussions and the odd afternoon-matinee movie outings (Thelma & Louise !).

Will always remember Ms. N fondly, who was never meant to be a teacher. She was a President’s scholar with an anti-establishment streak, who was given the choice between serving her 8 years bond in the government intelligence unit or the unlikely option as a teacher.
I’m glad she chose the latter.
[Always remember her defiance and passion. She used to say:
There are only two kinds of people in the world. Queue-followers, who line up docilely in long endless waiting lines outside the Temples of Establishment. Or queue-jumpers, who are throwing molotov cocktails at the Establishment.]

Got carried away reminiscing…
Here’s the original philosophical novel on tabula rasa or blank slate, written by the Avicennist scholar, Ibn Tufail, the Hayy ibn Yaqdhan or Philosophus Autodidactus/The Self-Taught Philosopher.

4 thoughts on “Tabula rasa and nature vs nurture

  1. Don – I thought “nurture” until my first child (son) was born and knew everything he needed to know. My daughter confirmed it when I realized how different she was from my son. Nurture is also profoundly powerful and in many cases can counter-balance nature and vice versa. The debate I am afraid will go on for another few thousand years.

    But it is especially nice to have a teacher or two or three who are always remembered. My mother was one such teacher for her students. Even years later, her students would stop by to talk, to confide, ask for advice, chat and “tell her” how they had met her expectations.

  2. legacy,

    Agree. I’m partial to the idea that the debate is overworked.

    Live and let live. Whatever we are given with, and whatever the environment, use and apply them in accord to ability and situation. Then rest, be still and enjoy.

    Good to hear how your mother had influenced and am remembered. I can relate.
    My mother was an art teacher who had some students learning from her for much of their childhood and formative years. She was very close to them, sometimes too close for this jealous little boy.
    :)
    Even now, some of the mementos we keep of her have nothing to do with the family, but were presents from her students which we know she treasured.

    Don

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