A healthy human brain begins its life from a starting point on an individual human being’s genetic map and is influenced by the unique, multi-layered environment into which it is born. It is programmed to learn; to soak up the world around it; to make sense of it all; and, to find its own place and personality. As it drives the physical growth of the body, it is reaching further out into the world, giving it access to more sensory treasures. It is a relentless effort to learn about the world and gain influence over it.
The human brain learns through a remarkable process of gathering information from an environment that includes the body in which it resides; the support it receives from the people who provide care and nourishment; and from the infinite but unique physical universe around it.
No two brains are the same and each is born at a unique juncture of the dimensions of space, time, and energy. How it functions, physiologically is a process of collecting data from the stimuli in the universe, through all its sensory apparatus, and forming connections and pathways along its neural network. While science has learned much about how a brain forms those connections and pathways along its neural network, there is much more to learn. The brain remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.
The world’s scientists seem to agree about how we describe this process, based upon their collective observations, and have identified key developmental milestones that are common to every brain, whatever the time frame in which the milestones are reached—a lesson the drafters of academic standards would do well to learn. We must remember, however, that the observations of these scientists only describe the brain’s function, they do not define it. The brain, we might, say is its own architect. The brain functions at its own pace and rhythm within a world of incessant change.
Educators who assume responsibility for teaching the child in whom the brain resides must remind themselves they have no control over what the brain may have experienced before we became involved. We must begin our work at the unique point where we find it on its developmental path. It is not ours to command.
Whatever he or she has endured, the brain’s motivation to learn is intrinsic. If environmental factors impede the brain’s growth and development, at any point along the way, there is a price to be paid but the brain is, also, a remarkably resilient entity that can learn almost anything. We have seen how people, even at an advanced age, can recover from debilitating strokes and some injuries. The brain is, at once, fragile and virile. It helps if we remember the brain does not unlearn things rather it keeps making new connections, gradually building on and/or replacing what was known before. Thus it is never too late to start anew.
The more stress and trauma a young brain may have endured, however, the more it needs our patient time, love, attention, and protection. Any challenges the child presents to his or her teachers reflect life experiences over which that child has had no control. Our purpose is to neither label nor pass judgment; neither should we keep score or assign grades. Our mission is to help the brain move down its development path and help the child become the best version of him or herself. Even after periods of deprivation the brain is ready to learn, again. As it learns, the pace of learning accelerates.
We must never give up on a child’s potential to learn, to catch up when they are behind, or to create something of value to the world; with a little help from us.