Welcome to the first of (hopefully) many posts on Child Development and Learning in today’s world. I’m Adam Hicks.
With the first post on this blog, I’d like to introduce you to my personal philosophy on Education, Child Development, and Learning. But before we begin, a disclaimer: I am just beginning the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at the University of Central Arkansas. My undergraduate degree is in Chemistry. I’ve never taught a class. But I’ll be teaching chemistry this fall to 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, so I would appreciate your prayers 🙂
So now that the disclaimer is done, back to my philosophy. It’s quite simple, really. I believe that we’re born, we learn, and then we die. We learn from the moment we’re born, to the moment we die, and maybe even after that (I’ll save that for another post). I believe that the human brain is the most amazing thing that has ever developed. From even before we’re born, our brains are working and taking in information, as shown by research of newborn children recognizing their mother’s voice (DeCasper & Spence, 1986). At birth, our brains are sponges for information. That being said, I believe that our genetics and the environment into which we are born determine the shape and effectiveness of that sponge. I can’t say that I favor either of the tabula rasa or innate goodness views, because of what we have learned since their inceptions, in regards to genetics and child behavior. But I can say that I believe that parts of a child’s mind and abilities are blank slates, so to speak, and that every child has parts of themselves that are innately good. A child’s genetics have yet to be proven to determine what language they will learn best, and why would that be, if not that this part of a child’s “tablet” is blank. My reasons for believing parts of children to be innately good are mainly religious, but there do exist those who believe that most children innately develop empathy and want to love and be loved, which are qualities that the majority of society considers to be “good”.
From my earlier mention of our brains and their ability to handle information, you may have guessed that this is how I view learning – as a constant process of our brains receiving, assessing, organizing, storing, using, recalling, and distributing information. And you’d be right. Robert Siegler (2006), a leading expert on children’s information processing, would support a view such as mine. But I don’t believe it’s merely the information being processed that develops us cognitively. It’s the development of that brain (that brain which I love) that gives us the abilities to learn and experience life in new and more complex ways. Piaget’s theory of the four stages of cognitive development (Piaget, 1954) support my belief that as we age, and as the various lobes and parts of our brains develop, our brains become capable of more than what they were capable of previously. A personal experience was my own (self theorized) frontal lobe development that seemingly occurred in my mid- to late-20s. Before that time, planning, list-making, and evaluating long-term consequences were not things that my brain seemed to want, much less need, to do. But at the age of 27, I found myself making lists of things I wanted to get done. I found myself planning my weekend get-togethers with friends and family. I found myself evaluating the consequences of decisions (that I won’t go into on this post) like I had never considered before. And it didn’t feel so much like a choice that I made to change my daily patterns of life. It felt like I was changing from the inside out. My thought patterns were changing the way that I lived.
But along with the abilities of our individual brains, I believe that our physical, social, and mental development are paramount in the learning process. It’s our genetic material, in combination with our environment, that shapes our physical development. And it’s that physical development that gives us the tools we need to put ourselves in the right environment for learning. Our environment, or the social setting we find ourselves in, can make or break learning. If you live in an environment where violence reigns, or where education is considered irrelevant or unnecessary, or where you are cut off from those who know more than you, or where you have no access to materials that can increase your knowledge of the world, LEARNING IS NOT HAPPENING. No matter how adept your brain, or how developed your body, if you do not have a way to be introduced to new information, you are not learning. Unless presented with an alternative, be it real or imaginary, you cannot even learn what type of situation you are experiencing. If all you know is violence, it’s not violence. It’s just what is. Lev Vygotsky’s theory that knowledge is situated and collaborative supports this view (Gauvain & Parke, 2010). A child’s home life is what it is – most of the time, as educators, we won’t have an opportunity to do much about that. But, as educators, I believe we have the honorable responsibility of offering children the opportunity and motivation to learn. We provide the sociocultural context that allows and/or empowers a child to embrace their scientific abilities, or discover their creative writing style, or even to realize their potential to change the world.
Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books.
DeCasper, A. J., & Spence, M. J. (1986). Prenatal maternal speech influences newborn’s perception of speech sounds. Infant Behavior and Development, 9, 133-150.
Siegler, R. S. (2006). Microgenetic analysis of learning. In W. Damon & R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (6th ed.). New York: Wiley.
Gauvain, M., & Parke, R. D. (2010). Socialization. In M. H. Bornstein (Eds.). Encyclopedia of infant and early childhood development. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.