Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are we who we once were?

In grad school I met a scholar who told me that he could predict a person's academic and social success by their kindergarten interview. "It only takes a few minutes. We ask the five-year-old questions, evaluate their problem-solving skills and rank them. We can tell how well they'll do in life by how well they do on our test."
We were having a conversation before a class so it's not like I had a lot of time to probe, but I did manage to ask a few questions.
"So how do you know what happens to them?"
"We follow them through school. We interview them again in high school."
"Only a few kids, right? Maybe it's just the children you're interviewing?"
"It's a huge, multi-year study."
"And there are no surprises?  No one does better or worse than expected?"
He folded his arms. "Sorry. It's a pretty good indicator."
I didn't pay much attention in class that day. Instead, I spent my time trying to get my head around what this study meant.  Are we destined to be that person we were at the age of five for the rest of our lives?
That thought depresses me. I hate thinking that who we are is predetermined by some genetic roll of the dice or some early environmental factors that we have absolutely no control over. If that study is true, then it doesn't give much hope in our ability to change and shape our own lives. And what does it say about the literature we read and about the books we write?
Is that why we're drawn to stories? Because book characters make discoveries about themselves and the world around them and have the ability to grow and change while we are destined to be the person we always were? If that's the case, then it redefines the word "fiction" in a whole new way.
The reason I've been thinking about this stuff is because thanks to Facebook, I've been reconnecting with old friends. I'm happy to say they prove that study wrong. Sure, there are things about them that remind me of the teenagers (or children) they once were. And with some, I bet if we met again in person, we'd have that wonderful feeling of thinking that no time passed at all. Have you ever had met an old friend and picked up the conversation exactly where you left off all those years ago?
But I can see changes too. So forget the stupid studies. Of course, people grow and change in surprising ways.
And yet, it has me thinking. How much of that five-year-old is left inside us? And how much have we left behind?


Julia Kelly said...

Hummm? In Kindergarten, I had dsylexia- well still do- and wrote my name backwards, couldn't tie my shoes, didn't know my right from my left and was headed for special class- now am a published writer and illustrator- if my teacher could see me know!

MG Higgins said...

Fascinating. Of course *some* things change about us as we age. Skills improve, we become wiser with experience. But I do think, in many ways, I am my five-year-old self: observant, quiet, passionate, like to laugh. It's that old nature/nurture argument; I tend to believe nature has the upper hand.

nanmarino said...

Julia, wish I could tell that person doing the study about people like you. :)
MG, I agree that there are personality traits that we will carry with us. But I still think we're all capable of great change. So good to hear from you.:) It's been a while..

Christy Raedeke said...

I love this post. For the most part I agree with the study - not necessarily in terms of academic ability at age five but in personality and character. I have noticed in my own kids that they pretty much come out baked and there's not a whole lot I can do about changing the ingredients!

anna said...

These sorts of studies are so thought-provoking. I'm a bit reassured by the nonsense of the idea of a person 'turning out' one way or the other, as though life is rendered static after some mysterious finite phase of development. Even if a researcher had predicted my 20s with perfect accuracy, they'd necessarily have been quite wrong about my thirties. And I hope my forties will be different again! I loved Julia's response too :)

nanmarino said...

Christy, I agree that personality doesn't change, but what bothered me about this guy was that he used the word "success". While you might be able to tell personality in kindergarten, success is a whole different story.I love your expression about your kids coming out baked and you can't change the ingredients. :)
Anna, Yes, they are thought-provoking. You have an interesting point about continuing to grow and change once we hit our adult years. :)

Anne M Leone said...

It all depends on how you define "success". I once discussed with a fellow teacher at the middle school I worked at how I could predict which students would do well in my class within the first two weeks of school. She heartily agreed, but we both found this incredibly frightening. Perhaps it said more about us as teachers than our students?

Like Julia, I had a rough year of kindergarten! I tend to believe that when judging kids on things like completing homework, performing on standardized tests, etc, kindergarten is probably a decent predictor. But that isn't a predictor for what we'll do once we leave the controlled school environment. I think a number of adults (and kids) defy those odds.

Julia Kelly said...

I should also say that in Kindergarten I was also pretty strong willed, determined and my artistic ability was pretty evident- I am a teacher too and do agree that kids don't change that much- but just think it is the "kiss of death" for a teacher to make a determination about a kid so young- I know how it feels to be "discounted" and as a teacher I could get better results from "low ability" students because I believed they could do better- and kids can feel that- when someone has faith in them and when they dont-

nanmarino said...

Anna M. - Somehow as an adult, I got lulled into thinking that kindergarten is nothing but fun (even though I have a few kindergarten stories myself). But now that you and Julia have mentioned rough years, I'm recalling stories from many friends about how difficult it was for them. By the way, a lot of those friends are very think-out-of-the-box type of people --but perhaps that's for another blog post :)
Julia, I suspect that evaluating students to determine if they have the skills and abilities to do well in a class is part of being a teacher. But you're so right about children knowing if someone has given up on them. I think we all can tell. And it's those people who have faith in you that are the ones who keep you going.