Cookie-Cutter Education: The Loss of Imagination and Creativity
With the explosion of pharmaceuticals and neuroscience, the debate between nature and nurture continues within certain circles. At the forefront are parents who accept the tremendous responsibility of child-rearing that goes way beyond providing food, shelter, and medical attention. However, rearing a child is challenging because expert opinion is often based on consensus or groupthink. There are several examples where this flawed approach has proven incorrect over time. For example,
Scientists believed that the atom was the smallest particle for years. We now know this is not true.
Several expert economists predicted unemployment would soar when American soldiers returned from World War II without massive deficit spending and price controls. Fortunately, these experts were proven wrong.
We freely used products such as mercury in dental fillings. However, we now know that mercury is responsible for heavy metal poisoning.
I believe that experts may have some answers, but the more credible experts are those who do not subscribe to any one dogma, can concede they may be wrong from time to time, and allow for other possibilities to be explored.
The creation of a child involves merging genetic material handed down from multiple generations by a male and female. The idea that we are genetically programmed to behave and act a certain way does not bode well for many who believe in free will and choice. Likewise, it is often hard not to recognize some of our own behaviors and reactions in our children. The fundamental question is whether those common behaviors and reactions are based on genetics or if they are learned traits handed down from parent to offspring. Can they not be both?
We have already seen the mainstreaming of genetic manipulation in many of our foods, and livestock has been subjected to selective breeding to “weed out” undesirable traits while enhancing the desirable ones. For example:
Corn has been altered to repel insects to increase the crop’s yield.
Canola has its fatty acid composition changed to be healthier for humans.
Coho Salmon is being researched to alter the fish’s speed of maturation.
Will this happen in humans? It already is to some degree. However, genetic manipulation in humans is called “Gene Editing” to make it sound more palatable to the general population. To learn more about genetics, I encourage you to visit this website: https://www.geneticsandsociety.org/topics/human-genetic-modification.
When compared to the top wealthiest 1% of the population, ethics and the law are arguably applied more frequently and with more significant consequences to the poor and middle class. However, I believe that because governments are driven by the agendas of corporations and the wealthy, “gene editing” will become—if it has not already—more available to the rich. Once this genie is out of the bottle, the next step might be altering a child’s height, coloring, and body type. Gene editing to enhance performance and looks will create further divisions between the have and have nots.
I’m opposed to gene manipulation because I believe the practice limits diversity and “what could have been.” For example, Mark Twain was diagnosed with Dyslexia, and Agatha Christie with Dysgraphia. Neither Twain nor Christie had their differences altered or modified through pharmaceuticals or gene editing, and both provided influential contributions that have positively enhanced society. The Centers for Disease Control (2022) identified the most diagnosed mental disorders in children aged 3-17 years, in 2016-19, as roughly:
ADHD (6.0 million)
Anxiety (5.8 million)
Behavior problems (5.5 million)
Depression (2.7 million)
The unfortunate reality is that many of these children are being “treated” so that they can conform to a singular learning style into ever-increasing classroom sizes for cost-efficiencies. If Mark Twain or Agatha Christie had been ‘treated’ for their disorder, great novels such as Huckleberry Fin and And Then There Were None might not have been written.
What makes me think my thoughts contribute anything to the debate on pharmaceutical and gene editing of children? Nothing more than I was that child diagnosed with ADHD, mild Dyslexia, and severe Asthma. Yes, I had issues! But, except for Asthma, I was not given pharmaceuticals to suppress those aspects of me deemed by others as being undesirable. In fact, teachers told my parents I would be in prison by the time I was sixteen. Luckily, my parents put me into an alternative grammar school based on active learning through doing and witnessing others and nature. Growth and development, for example, were demonstrated by watching polliwogs morph into frogs and caterpillars change into butterflies. We created plays from books to learn literature, which developed my sense of empathy. We built forts and furniture and dropped water balloons from a roof to measure the splash radius to learn physics. This foundation of learning carried me through my high school and university years.
Toward the end of my Doctorate program, I was prescribed antidepressants for anxiety which I remained taking for nearly 20 years. During these years, my creativity declined dramatically. The pharmaceuticals altered the neurochemical composition of my brain. Hence the decline of my anxiety came at the expense of my creativity and imagination. When I got COVID in Jan 2021, I used that sick time to get off the antidepressant drugs, and my creativity and imagination soared, resulting in my novel Broken Boys Beyond Friendships. I propose that if people like Mark Twain or Agatha Christie had been “treated” for their differences, as opposed to accommodation, we might not have some of the art, music, and literature we are lucky to have today.
Humans are diverse, though diversity can be messy and inefficient. Would it be more cost effective to teach 100 children in one way than to teach 100 children in 50 different ways? Working in bulk is why we see “cookie-cutter homes” built worldwide. But should we apply a “cookie cutter” model to the education of our children? If my parents had kept me in the school that promoted cookie-cutter education, I probably would have been part of the 500% increase in the prison population that has occurred over the past 40 years. Just saying…