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As a matter of fact, the nature/nurture debate has dominated the thoughts of researchers for a long time as people have been trying to find out the origin of intelligence. Bee believed that this question could possibly be among the oldest theories debated in psychology. The nurture view holds that human mind was born without any knowledge. This view is supported by empiricists, and one of the major tenants of empiricists is John Locke, a seventeenth English philosopher, who thought that “humans are born with a “tabula rasa,” or a blank slate, and that knowledge is learnt and gained through experience.
In the 19th century, Hermann von Helmhotz “believed that the raw data of sensation were perpetually subject to judgements based on experience.” (Gigerenzer, 63) His research was “that there is a simple inverse relationship between distance and retinal image size.” (Gleitman, 249). In He concluded that it is through experience which we gain the ability to understand our visual perceptions.
Empiricism was adopted by educationalists. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist examined physical knowledge in infancy using some experiments, and concluded that children under 18 months of age had no knowledge of physical laws of motion because they looked for hidden objects in places that were not possible. Further, John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, came with behaviourism to argue that a child can be made into any kind of person, regardless of their heredity.
However other researchers questioned those findings and came with a different view : Innativism. Innativists claimed that a child was born with innate abilities which are actualised in context. This view was influenced by Plato, a Greek philosopher who thought that ‘Children begin life with knowledge already present within them,; they do not learn anything new but merely recollect knowledge that has previously lain dormant’. Nativism was later adopted by Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher of the 18th centry. Kant argued that the mind is born with a number of innate catergories, mainly space, time and causality, which enable people to understand their senses. It is these catergories, nativists say, that make perception possible. (Gleitman, 173) In other words, knowledge of these concepts is innate.
Charles Darwin was also among those who offered evidence of inherited knowledge with his “universality thesis” where, after some cross-cultural studies, he observed that some facial expressions are universal to all people. Darwin finally explained that all people are born with an innate understanding of these facial expressions. (Gleitman, 477)
One of the domains in which this debate has found implications in education is language acquisition. Despite the existence of several theories of language development, this essay limits only to three of them that have a close link with the nature/nurture debate. According to behaviourist theory, language is viewed as a kind of verbal behaviour, and based on this view they argue that children learn language through imitation, reinforcement, analogy, and structured input. This is linguistic empiricism. Empiricists think that language is entirely learned. This is the “nurture” or “external” perspective. In this context, language and grammar become features of the organism’s environment. Language is a cultural artifact. This is based on beviourism as the general theory of learning described by the psychologist John B. Watson in 1923.
On the other hand, there is linguistic nativism, which holds that the basics of language and grammar are innate. This is the “nature” or “internal” perspective. In this context, language and grammar are built into every human being at birth. They are universals that all humans share, as language is in the genes. This is the theory advocated by the American linguist Noam Chomsky who argued for a universal grammar wired in every child brain. This position was also adopted by Jerry Fodor (1983) who studied the relationship between language and mind and viewed language as a modular process with implications for a theory of language acquisition, especially language acquisition as genetically predetermined.
The third interesting theory is called interactionist theory, and states that there is a both a biological and a social aspect to language development. It states that language is developed through a child’s desire to communicate his or her thoughts and feelings. The foundation of this view of language acquisition was laid by Vygotsky, a psychologist and social constructivist. Vygotsky argued that” social interaction plays an important role in the learning process and proposed the zone of proximal development (ZPD) where learners construct the new language through socially mediated interaction. Thisn theory was later adopted by Jerome Bruner  who laid the foundations of a model of language development in the context of adult-child interaction.
In education, it can be argued that both nature and nurture are responsible for how someone is today. For that reason, the position advocated by Robert Plomin would help to put both empiricism and nativism together for the good of children. Actually, the American Psychologist, Robert Plomin has demonstrated that genetic factors can mediate the link between the environment and person outcomes such as intelligence. Actually, nowadays, “it is commonly accepted that most aspects of a child’s development are a product of the interaction of both nurture and nature” (Bee, 2004)
This means that aspects such as the innate ability of the child which is the inherited aspect of his life, and the environmental factors such as “effects of family, peers, schools, neighborhoods, culture, the media, the broader society, and the physical environment.” Should be taken into account. “Nurture affects children’s development through multiple channels-physically through nutrition and activity; intellectually through informal experiences and formal instruction; socially through adult role models and peer relationships” (McDevitt and Ormrod, 2004: 7). At this point, one can share Ganly (2007) position and argue that “â€¦ it is hard to completely distinguish between the two ideas. Nature will inevitably affect the classroom performance of a student because a student inherits certain traits that pertain to education. A student inherits the ability to do well in certain subjects and poor in other subjects. A student also inherits the certain psychological traits such as shyness or self confidence.” The nature aspect is important as it helps to determine inherited possible disabilities such as reading disability, so giving making teachers proactive and intervene at earlier stages. Educators have therefore to make sure the inner nature of a child is respected, that a child feels wanted and put in a supportive environment to learn. There should be a balance between class time between acquisition activities and learning exercises.
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