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What kind of impact can the Nature vs. Nurture debate have on public policy development?

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The debate between nature and nurture can have a huge impact on policy development in a variety of areas.  In particular, it can affect policy development in the areas of education and law enforcement or crime prevention.

Our educational policies today are based largely on the idea that nurture is much more important than nature when it comes to intelligence and academic achievement.  Because we believe this, we push for things like early childhood education for everyone.  We try in many places to provide all-day kindergarten.  We argue about whether to provide vouchers or to create charter schools or whether to simply put more money into reducing class sizes.  All of these policy proposals are based on the idea that children’s nurture is what makes them achieve and that we, therefore, have to nurture them as well as we can.  Imagine, then, how much our policy would change if we took a different view of the nature v. nurture debate.  If we decided that children were born with a certain level of ability and that they would not be improved much with more education, we would not try to develop any of the policies that we currently do.

Our crime prevention policies are less clearly based on one side or the other of this debate.  On the one hand, we do try to provide “nurture” programs for young people.  We try to encourage them to participate in DARE programs so they will not use drugs.  We try to provide them with after school activities so that they will not have spare time on their hands that can be put to bad uses.  On the other hand, we seem to assume that nurture does not matter when it comes to our adult prisons.  We do not seem to believe in the idea of rehabilitating prisoners.  This implies that we believe that they are simply inclined to be criminal by nature and that there is no point in trying to give them a better environment that will allow them to change their ways.  Again, any change in either direction in our understanding of the nature v. nurture debate could well lead to a change in policy.

Thus, our understanding of this debate, and the positions that we take on it, have a tremendous impact on the policies that we develop in a variety of areas such as education and crime prevention.

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