How a Mind's Profile Comes to Be
What shapes your child's profile? Can you influence the process? These are thorny questions, ones we shall confront throughout this book. No doubt multiple forces interact to determine a child's strengths and shortcomings. And parents are in a pretty good position to influence most -- but not all -- of these forces.
For better or for worse, mothers and fathers don't get to select or reject the traits a child inherits. Sandy is just as absentminded and disorganized as her mom, who says, "How in the world am I supposed toI help my daughter get her act together when I'm even more discombobulated than she is?" Many strengths and weaknesses appear to be inherited -- either completely or in part. In the best of all possible worlds sharing aspects of your child's profile can make you a more sympathetic parent. You know what he's going through. In my experience, often when a child has a particular kind of learning weakness, much the same pattern will be plainly evident in one or both parents or else in a sibling. When parents observe us testing a child, it is very common to hear from a father or mother: "I had trouble with the same things he did!"
Joey, an absolutely delightful patient, came to me recently for a follow-up visit. This country boy with his close crew cut and his reversed baseball cap permanently bonded to his skull actually lives on a farm close to my own. Despite being only ten, Joey always talks like a venerable elder statesman. During a recent visit to my office, when I inquired about how things were going in school, Joey replied, "Not so good, Doc." When I asked what he meant by that, he responded, "It's my handwriting, just my handwriting, same ole thing. My teacher, Mrs. Bailey, she says she can't read nothin' I write." I asked, "Well, Joey, what are you doing about it?" The boy reported in a slow, almost fatherly voice, "Well, Doc, I did what I needed to do. I had a long, long talk with her. I told her, Mrs. Bailey, you know my granddaddy wrote like that, and my daddy writes just like that, and I been writin' like that since I been six years old. Mrs. Bailey, in my family, that's as good as it gits." Joey was pleading for the weighty influence of genetic factors. With all due respect to Joey, genes are powerful but they don't prevent us from working on our weak spots, especially if we decide they're worth working on.
Family Life and Stress Level
Billy's family has been so overwhelmed with financial, marital, and other domestic problems that his mother has not been able to help him with schoolwork. She complains, "I have all I can do to get by, to earn some money, to keep our place looking decent, to feed the kids the right food, and to make sure the dogs get some exercise." She herself had a hard time in school and never got through ninth grade. Billy has no interest in school and derives little if any positive feeling from learning. Clearly when families feel as if they are buried beneath the stresses and strains of daily existence, it may be hard to foster a stimulating intellectual life through shared experiences and high-level discussions at the dinner table regarding current events. Cassandra's is a very different story. Cassie (to her friends) has a mother who is a dermatologist and a father who's a trial judge. At home there are frequent discussions about the world of ideas. Both parents love to read. They value their intellectual life and share it abundantly with their only daughter. They have infected their daughter with intellectual curiosity. Cassie excels academically and has an unquenchable thirst for new knowledge. Contrast her with Billy. Socioeconomic realities exert powerful influences on a child's development. Poverty has its risks, as does being over privileged and overindulged. The neighborhood, the community, and local resources of many different kinds impinge upon a mind's evolving strengths and deficits.
Copyright © 2002 by Mel Levine
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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