Nature vs. Nurture

By: Meghan Waybrant

As I went through school, being the eldest, I set the “Waybrant” standards for the teacher’s in my high school. I was a good student, never spoke out of turn, finished my homework and assignments on time, and put effort into my school work. Now, as my two younger brothers go through high and having most of the same teachers as I did, the teachers are expecting the same devoted student I was. But as they get to know my brothers and see that we are not exactly the same. I remember, my one brother had the same grade nine math teachers as I did and the first thing that teacher asked was “Are you just like Meghan, a hardworking student?” My brother just looked at him and said “Hmmm....No.”



Here is a cartoon where the “girl” swan is saying the other:
“Well you walk like a duck, you quack like a duck....May I ask who brought you up?”

From the website

This brings up the age old question “Nature versus Nurture.” Are we born with our personalities, quirks, and mind-sets, or are we a blank slate and who we become is determined by the environment we live in. This debate has fantasized people for many years, and it has gone from one side of the spectrum to the other 
(Greenspan & Salmon, 1995). The Nature side of the debate is that a child is born with all the innate behaviours and traits and you cannot change you they are (The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, 2009), while the nurture side says that as a baby we are empty, our minds are blank, we are like a piece of clay ready to be moulded into anything and everything (The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, 2009).

At one point, it was thought to be all nurture 
(Greenspan & Salmon, 1995). It was all up to the teacher to nurture the students to learn and become well educated. Because not every student learns the same way, we know that there are multiple intelligences, and as teachers we need to use different teaching strategies. From this, we can conclude that it cannot be all nurture.
The debate switched from all learning to all nature based. The idea was that we are genetically born the way we are and there is no way of changing who we are 
(The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, 2009). Thinking about all our students in this is very limiting. If we think as teachers that the child is just that way and there is nothing we can do to change them, then what is the point in trying to educate them. We are supposed to inspire our students to do better and become better people. If we believe in only the nature side of the argument and think everyone’s traits are predetermined then our students will not change (Dr. Pinker, 2002).

As a teacher we have to be open to both sides of the debate. We have to see students as blank slates that will absorb anything that you teach, but also have the genes in them to want to learn everything that you are teaching. We have to think that these two ideas do not oppose each other but work together in our students. This is called the “Nature via Nurture.”

For example, a student in the beginning might not be good at solving math problems, but there is something innate that wants them to be good at solving the problems. The student is drawn towards these problems and practices them until they improve.

As a teacher we have to think that every student has that innate ability to want to learn and wants to get good at everything that they are learning about (Hannink, 2007). This is actually called “Nature via Nurture,” where “nurture depends on genes and genes need nurture” (Ridley, 2003). Knowing this as a teacher, our students need the genes to succeed, but we need to nurture those genes so the student can succeed (Ridley, 2003).

We also know that females are more influenced by environmental factors (Greenspan & Salmon, 1995). When we are teaching female students, we know that if females have good experiences with math, science, English, etc. then they will be more drawn towards those subjects. However if they had a bad experience with a particular subject such as algebra, then the female students will be affected and probably not like algebra. While males are more affected by genetic factors (Greenspan & Salmon, 1995), so if a male student has a gene where they want to learn about a particular subject such as the geography of Canada they will be more drawn to that subject.

When we are teaching students, we should use the idea of “Nature via Nurture.” The idea where we believe that each student can be nurture, taught, everything they need to know in life, but as well, have the genes to want to learn, and want to be nurtured. Also, not just believe in one side of this debate, looked to both sides.


Please refer to these videos for more information on Nature vs. Nurture:


Bryner, J. (2006, July 19). Live Science. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from Nature vs. Nurture: Myteries of Individuality Unraveled:

Dr. Pinker, S. (2002, November 9). The Blank Slate -Nature vs. Nurture. (B. McDonald, Interviewer)

Greenspan, S. I., & Salmon, J. (1995). Challenging Child: How to Understand, Raise, and Enjoy Your "Difficult Child". Perseus Books Group, Inc.

Hannink, N. (2007, October 4). The Science of Everything COSMOS. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from On nature vs nurture:

Ridley, M. (2003, May 10). Nautre Via Nurture. (B. McDonald, Interviewer)

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. (2009). Chile Care Aware. Retrieved March 14, 2009, from New Research on Brain Development is Imporant for Parents: