by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
John E. Bonfadini
Philosophically and theologically, the idea that all
men are created equal is certainly true. But we know that everyone is not
created the same. In many cases, accepting individual differences is
difficult. Society has standards for acceptable intellect, appearance,
state of health, personality, and other human measures. When an individual
is different than the perceived standard, there is often pressure to
change the person. The question is to what degree should humans be
involved in correcting perceived individual differences?
Changes to some individual differences are very
common. Most of us have had our teeth changed from their original state.
Wearing eyeglasses to correct sight problems is certainly acceptable. Many
people have surgical procedures to correct cosmetic defects. In some cases
the cosmetic surgery is done totally for aesthetic purposes. Every day the
medical community exchanges human organs, fluids, and tissues. The horizon
holds promise for a significant number of medical advances that could
change many human factors. I’m certainly hoping for science to obtain
the ability to correct and cure children with cystic fibrosis so that my
granddaughter can have a long, productive life. We are at the threshold of
developing the ability to clone human life and entering a stage of public
debate to determine acceptable standards for this technology.
You may be wondering, what is the point of this? This
month I received a letter from a reader asking me to what degree I thought
parents should help their children with homework, since all home
environments are different. He also questioned the ethics of grading of
homework because of differences in children’s ability to receive help.
I’ve already written a column on homework (November 1998), but I began
thinking about the degree of assistance we should provide a child to meet
higher educational goals. To what extent should helping a child include
changing natural intellectual development?
Besides physiological factors, natural intellectual
ability, individual effort, and family environment are the main factors
contributing to a child’s school performance. As educators we are
constantly working with children to maximize their efforts to learn.
Changing the child’s family environment may be a difficult task, but I
believe that changing the natural intellectual ability of a child through
science may be just around the corner. Scientific and medical advances may
give all children similar brainpower. I assume this would be viewed as a
blessing to the field of education?Teachers
would no longer need to worry about the child’s ability and only concern
themselves with motivating the child to use their God-given or
“man-made” talents. Teachers would concentrate on grading motivation.
I guess, with the development of more drugs, we could also change
motivational behavior, leaving evaluating the family environment as the
key element contributing to a child’s school success. That would be a
real challenge for the educational system. Counselors would no longer work
with the child, because their time would now be devoted to mom and dad.
Maybe it would just be easier to find drugs or herbs designed to improve
the family environments.
Obviously, there are
at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to
provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send
e-mail to: [email protected], or send written
responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.
Opportunities to change the individual child will be
endless. Many of us are now questioning overuse of the drug Ritalin in
today’s society. Just think of future questions and challenges brought
on by advances in medical science and technology. The parent who thought
that homework evaluation created an inequity was just seeing the tip of
the iceberg. In the future, individual differences may be compounded if
access to these miracle services, drugs and equipment are tied to a family
financial position. What would you do if a safe drug or medical procedure
were available that guaranteed to significantly improve your child’s SAT
score by a minimum of 300 points? Would you say, “Get out the
checkbook?” Many people have said to me, “John, you’re a unique
individual.” That statement and I may become relics of the past. I’m
always asking myself the question, if God gave man the ability to develop
these technologies, wouldn’t he also want man to use them? The future
holds many challenges, and it’s time to think beyond simple testing
schemes and who helps with the homework if we are to improve society for
In our January issue we asked our readers to
nominate their best teachers for our teacher honor roll, and the
mail came pouring in! We will publish a few each month until we
have acknowledged all of our fine educators.
Nominator: Mary Lynne Leffel
Teacher’s Name: Garland
School System: Botetourt County
Subject Taught: French and English
Mr. Stevens expected the best from his students. He
was knowledgeable, caring, and creative. His students wanted to succeed;
otherwise, he would have been disappointed.
Nominator: Sandi Worthen
Teacher’s Name: Nathaniel Turner
School System: Prince William County
Primary Subject: 5th Grade
Mr. Turner was a true educator. He inspired me to
excellence. He shared a love of knowledge and the desire to learn.