Food For Thought

Your Child Is Equal, But Not The Same

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
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.

What’s Your View?

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 all.

Teacher Honor Roll

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 Stevens
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.



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