We come with all the instructions and raw material for building adult bodies – for example, growing full -sized and functioning ears and lungs – and also with the capacity to develop the complete set of abilities that has helped our species survive and evolve over two billion years. We are born with predispositions for everything from our sense of vision to language and social skills. It’s all in there, waiting to unfold.
Predispositions are not the same as instincts. Instincts operate of their own volition; you don’t have to work at them – they are literally “instinctive”. Predispositions are different, they are more like a set of metaphorical Do-It-Yourself guides sitting on a bookshelf in that forty percent of the brain the child is born with. They were written, as it were, by the successful experiences of our very distant ancestors and show the techniques they used to get the right results. They are a critical part of our evolutionary “legacy”. Just how these predispositions are transmitted we don’t yet understand. Whether any of these “guides” are actually taken off that metaphorical shelf by the individual and acted upon, depends on the environment, human interaction and curiosity.
Many researchers now suspect that there are a quite a number of such latent predispositions. At a young age, a child develops a sense of place – generally babies don’t crawl over the edge of a precipice, and they don’t learn that simply through trial and error! Very early on babies learn to decode the meaning of facial expressions. They learn to speak their native language by about the age of three (and several languages if they are living in a multi-linguistic community). Scientists now know a good deal about this wondrous process for, it seems, a child born anywhere in the world will learn, apparently spontaneously, the language heard around it. In so doing, linguistic researchers believe that a baby apparently calls upon a basic mental configuration (a kind of complex software program) that was somehow devised by the experience of our ancestors as being the most effective way to structure concepts into words, and subsequently convey meaning to others.
This language predisposition appears to be time limited – for if a child does not hear language spoken, and does not talk by the age of about eight, it is highly unlikely that that child will ever speak. There are other critical periods, it is being discovered, during which particular metaphorical DIY guides can be accessed – but miss that time frame and the brain appears, quite automatically, to prune away that potential capability.
A passion for learning isn’t something you have to inspire in kids; it’s something you have to keep from extinguishing.
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