Nature Plus Nurture
What we believe about how people become intelligent will influence the way we plan for their educational development. If we believe that individuals are born gifted, we will probably feel that we can do little to influence their development. We may believe that enrichment will be sufficient to allow people with this ability to “get by on their own.” If, however, we consider giftedness a dynamic process in which a person’s innate ability is in constant and continuous interaction with the environment, and if we believe that the strength of that interaction will determine just how much ability this person will be able to develop, then we will become highly sensitive to the level of needs he or she expresses. Our awareness will allow us to support and challenge this developing intellect. Without such efforts, intellectual abilities will be wasted, and untold potential will never be realized. A discussion of how intelligence develops is far more than an academic pursuit. For our children, it is a matter of who they are and who they may become. Children are not born gifted, but they are born with a unique and nearly unlimited potential. Clearly, there is an early and continuous need for talent development.
As early as the 1970s, Cattell spoke of the human’s “capacity to acquire new capacity” (1971, p. 8), alluding to the marvelous ability human beings have to actually change their own capacity. We can become more than we were at birth—not more in the sense of exceeding the limits of our inborn characteristics of physical structure, but most certainly more in our ability to use those characteristics and that structure. In some cases, we may modify the total to become more efficient and more powerful than these limits seemingly dictated. We have not properly appreciated the ability of our organism to expand or decrease as it interacts with the environment. As Diamond (1998) states, “The brain, with its complex architecture and limitless potential, is a highly plastic, constantly changing entity that is powerfully shaped by our experiences in childhood and throughout life. . . . Our collective actions, sensations, and memories are a powerful shaper of both function and anatomy” (pp. 2–3) [Emphasis that of the author].
Neurobiologist Teyler explained in 1977:
The fabric of the brain is set down as a result of the interaction of genetic blueprints and environmental influences. While the basic features of brain organization are present at birth (cell division is essentially complete), the brain experiences tremendous growth in neural processes, synapse formation, and myelin sheath formation, declining around puberty. These processes can be profoundly altered by the organism’s environment. Furthermore, it has been shown that brain processes present at birth will degenerate if the environmental stimulation necessary to activate them is withheld. It appears that the genetic contribution provides a framework which, if not used, will disappear, but which is capable of further development given the optimal environmental stimulation. (pp. 31–32) [Emphasis that of the author]
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