|Children, Adolescents, Family|
A biological view regards mental states and behavior as products of brain function. Parents and teachers intend to constructively alter the brain function of children in a lasting fashion. While reward and punishment training and information are the pedagogical inputs to the student's brain, food, beverages and air may be regarded as the main input of chemical information into the student's body-brain system. If the food supply is biologically inappropriate or a child is hypersensitive and reacts inappropriately to food, dysfunction and disease are the result. The increased presence of non-nutrient molecules in the blood stream in the form of additives, contaminants, toxins, and intoxicants makes brain dysfunction more likely and more difficult to interpret. While children are growing and learning, their brains undergo profound internal modification.
A genius is built into every human brain. We are all benefactors of a long lineage of survivors on the journey of life, planet earth. The abilities built into us are wonders. Vision, hearing, skilled movements, social interactions are innate wonders. The more you consider and study these innate abilities, the more wonderful they become. The genius modules are gifts and require no effort and no formal education to use. The catch is that to become a happy, useful modern human, you have to learn the rights things and make a sustained effort to do well. Some of the systems in our brain that steer the genius modules towards human desires and goals are newer, more variable, less reliable and prone to error. These newer systems require declarative and procedural learning and are dependent on memory.
The distinction between constant features of the human mind and variable features is useful. Constant features are manifestations of innate brain structure and function. Variable features manifest the range of tendencies and abilities within a human group, the variations introduced by physical environments and the variations introduced by learning. Speech, for example, is a constant feature of the human mind; a variable feature of speech is the language(s) learned. A range of linguistic competence is determined by aptitude, early learning and the physical environment. Schools have emphasized learning reading and writing, but no school is capable of designing and installing language processors in the brain. Schools add content to and exercise the already-existing language processors. Children learn spoken language naturally and spontaneously but, left on their own, most will not read and write.
The modification of brain structure and function is "learning". Learning involves all experience and not just time spent in school. In fact, the learning achieved in school classrooms is relatively unimportant. Learning is dependent on the availability of the innate programs that organizes and supports the acquisition of skills and knowledge. The general rules of learning to use innate mind programs to achieve the best outcomes are: Everyone has to practice using his or her innate abilities to become good at anything. If you want to become a good killer, buy a gun and practice killing – an electronic simulator will do. If you want to win the Nobel Peace Prize, practice communication skills, appeasement, reasonable negotiation and learn to be compassionate.
The Right Education
My first image of a school is a public institution funded by taxation that attempts to serve the needs of all students. A school is a gateway to knowledge, learned skills and credentials that determine employability and social status. Schools produce both beneficial and harmful effects. For some students, school is a painful, humiliating and sometimes disabling detour from real life involvements. Schools can be virtual realities that, in the worst case, distort a student’s understanding of how life is to be lived in the real world. The speeches at a college graduation ceremony I attended referred to the real world “out there” as distinct and different from the students’ world at the college. The students were described as heading out in the challenging and somewhat threatening “real world.” High technology employers routinely complain that university graduates are unrealistic and unprepared to assume responsibilities in the real world. Better education would remove the barriers that separate an educational virtual reality from the real world.
Learning and Innate ProgramsLearning is dependent on the availability of innate programs that organize and support the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Intelligence can be equated with the ability to learn. The ability to learn can be equated to the construction of the brain and to the ongoing chemistry of life. I instructed my young patients with above average IQs who were not learning well that they were somewhat like a shiny new car with a turbo-charged engine, but someone put the wrong gas in their tank and now we are disappointed with their performance. You could get a badly constructed car and be disappointed or you could be dealing with the wrong gas -- in technical terms, the food supply and environment that determines how well the child's brain is going to work.
You could argue that half the biological determinants are genes and the other half are in the food and the environment. You can also argue that if the biological determinants are wrong, the best parents, best schools and most supportive community will fail to produce sane, happy, productive adults. The problem may be concealed in the environment as an agent X, a chemical hidden in air pollution, or a protein in milk or bread that interferes with brain function. Or, the problem might be more obvious, such as young children wired on colas or older children drunk on beer and stoned on marijuana. When you take a child suffering from bad chemistry to the psychiatrist and he prescribes antidepressants, Ritalin or amphetamines, you do not get a healthy sane child, you get a worse mix of bad chemicals.
Humans evolved in the context of small human groups who hunted and gathered food. Individuals interacted with body language, emotions, and simple speech. Learning consisted of copying behaviors and skills and hearing stories that would be memorized and repeated generation after generation. Humans live increasingly complex lives and modern urbanites require a surprising range mental abilities even to live a rather simple life with little or no academic accomplishment.
Both IQ and educational measures cut a narrow path through the greater range of human experience. Nevertheless, IQ measures are abundant and, as measurements of mental abilities in populations, IQ testing reveals the heritability of IQ, the range and distribution of the mental abilities that IQ tests measure. Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be practiced anew and stored as modifications of each person's neocortex.
Persona Digital Books