Finally, It is Proven, We are Shaped By Our Environments!
For years, more like decades, it has been argued that infants are not aware; that they cannot learn anything complex; that they do not communicate or have memory; even that they feel no pain. It was thought that fetuses and infants had no language until they learned to talk. For all that time, and for eons before, parents have known otherwise. However science has been determined to prove that human beings are genetically determined and have almost no ability to diverge from their genetic programming.
Recently the Human Genome Project completed and released their long awaited results. It was originally postulated that there would be well over 120,000 genes; a number high enough to allow for our almost limitless human variations. Shockingly (at least to the scientists that designed the study), the research isolated only about 25,000 genes (about the same amount as a lab rat). Leaving us with the unexpected scientific evidence that we are primarily influenced by our environment and there is minimal hard-wiring that makes us who we are.
New Research Confirms Our Cellular Learning and Responsiveness Begins Neonatal and Even Prenatal
In Dr. Bruce Lipton’s book, the Biology of Belief, he further illuminates the discovery until it ripples through our cells. It turns out that every human cell has its own ability to adapt to its environment and responds to positive and negative influences…just not with its genes. Contrary to popular belief, even cells with their nucleus removed (which means that all of its genes and DNA have been removed) continue to live, function, and adapt to external information. The cells without nucleus continue to respond and learn until they die (which means the cell retains the response for future use, commonly referred to as cellular memory). This finding solidifies the notion that human beings are adaptive and responsive to whatever stimulus is in their environment; love and nurture, as well as, neglect and abuse. In the 1981 breakthrough text by Dr. Thomas Verny, The Secret World of the Unborn Child, there was early evidence that even neonatal and prenatal human beings are learning and responsive to their environment such as their parent’s voices.
This may be news to scientist, but for mothers and fathers all over the world this news simply reinforces what we already know. Our children are responsive from before birth. How we talk to them, take care of them, refer to them, tend to them, nurture them, or not; all provides the oxygen for their development and education.
Early Learning is Happening 24/7 from Day 1
In The Schools Our Children Deserve, education activist Alfie Kohn says that the learning state of 0-5 year olds is remarkably absorbent and deeply resonant. There are four states of consciousness for human beings, Delta, Theta, Beta, and Alpha. Each state allows for a different ability to screen out input. Children under 5 years old spend almost all their time in Delta and Theta states and these states are the states of someone under deep hypnosis. (Kohn, 1999)
Thus, before five years, our children are like sponges and acquire cellular learning directly from their environment without consciously agreeing to take on those lessons. One could even go so far as to say that children absorb energy levels directly into their cells, such as unexpressed resentment, condescending comments, domination and force; as well as, love, understanding, compassion, and wonder. In a Delta or Theta state, baby human cells absorb the energy around them without discernment, good or bad. According to Dr. Lipton, this cellular learning becomes the basis for our unconscious mind, which, some believe, is permanently stuck with these lessons.
Science has made a huge leap forward, all but concluding that our environment is the fundamental influence on our development. How our parents raised us actually made a difference.
The Learning Environment of American Schools
A recent essay out of Amsterdam suggested that what was once an American right to an education has become a confinement punishable by fines and jail time (in extreme cases) for lack of compliance. For example, if my child does not want to go to school for a couple of days, I have to get a doctors note before the school will allow him back in class. The kids have to have written permission on their person to walk down a hall. There is no conversation in any class about what the kids want to learn, or what they are up to in their own lives that might make the lessons relevant. And this is at a really good elementary school in a really nice neighborhood. In high school it is far worse. It is no wonder kids resist this authoritarian approach and associate learning with being controlled, not trusted, disrespected, and ignored.
But what about alternative schools? Absolutely, there are break-away schools with refreshing approaches and encouraging results. For instance, there is a small school in Sudbury, MA where the kids get to choose what they do each day. They are allowed to wonder the grounds, work at their own pace, request instruction when they want it, even sleep on the couch all day, if they choose. With 100+ students that might seem unruly and unreliable. Yet, 78% of these kids are going on to college, which is way more than our public school college bound. However, these schools are not the norm, nor are they broadly accepted.
For the record, most teachers in our public schools are kind, well intended, and they work hard. It is not necessarily the teachers, but the system. We cling to a teaching system that is familiar, albeit stifling. It is not news that our schools are not preparing children for the future, but the system is stable. And stability is comforting. After all, we turned out alright and most of us went to public school. But this need for the familiar is the flat line on our educational advancement.
Our Children Are Way Smarter Than We Are, and Meant to Be
In my work I have come to the conclusion that all children are genius, and I mean all children. They are way smarter than we are and they are meant to be. Each generation carries with it everything we know and the ability to develop beyond that. All children, from all cultures and income brackets have the ability to innovate and create. All children rich or poor have remarkable ingenuity. However, our current schooling system is designed for compliance, not deviation. It is an environment that is meant for fitting in, not standing out. Standardized testing demands right answers not creative solutions. And being talkative, needing to run around, and having more energy than you know what to do with is considered anti-social and completely unacceptable. All of which flattens out the sparkling, probing, messy genius of most children by the time they are 12.
The Right Environment Can Feed Their Hunger to Learn
So, the right school is important, but not necessarily because it teaches three year olds to read. The right school would be full of love and encouragement. It would have a great learning environment, with lots of areas of activity, not rows of chairs all facing forward. It would have lots of children’s art displayed, not commercially printed posters. It would have good quality materials for children to help themselves and quiet areas for rest and reflection. The right school would center on and respond to children’s desire to learn. And how we would know we were in the “right school” is the children would be delighted to be there.
Ultimately, the right school nurtures and supports brilliant beings to explore, expand, and discover their special contribution to the world. A contribution that we hunger and long for. A contribution that was born to be expressed.