Le Anh Sharpe
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Tabula rasa: the mind before it is developed and changed by experience. Philosopher John Locke believed that at birth and in infancy the mind is completely passive, a clean slate, tabula rasa, on which the experiences of the individual write their own impressions. (Wiener, 2134) (Any influences from drugs, alcohol, by a mother in pregnancy, etc… excluded.) It is a given that an infant’s mind is not yet fully developed early in its life. Especially at this early stage and even far on into a child’s life he is dependent on someone – whether it be his mother, father, sister, brother, or other “adult” figure, who takes care of him; ensuring his survival. True to Locke’s theory, a child’s mind has yet to be influenced by anything, hence tabula rasa. And it is also true, the experiences that a child has while growing up will profoundly dictate his character and personality. Education plays a role in an individual’s formation through the experiences in which that institution exists. Different types of people also help determine the personal nature of an individual. The experiences that one has due to the effects of his educational process, his social relationships with different types of people, and his association with various environments set the scene for his life, thus forming his individuality.
Experiences are not just events that may occur, but anything that stirs emotion or evokes a feeling or reaction in a person. Experiences can range from actual events or physically engaging actions, to inanimate objects or concrete details, and even to other people. As long as a phenomenon causes a person to question, evaluate, or draw some sort of conclusion about it, and he therefore consciously or subconsciously commits it to memory, it is absolutely an “experience.” In other words, an “experience” is by definition, anything that happens to a person; anything that is seen, done, felt, or lived through. Life itself, is an experience full of experiences. All of these happenings, good and bad, are the sum of a person’s experiences called the “frame of reference.” This is the very composition that makes a person who he is. But when does one cease to rely on outside factors to prompt these experiences? When does one begin to rely on himself to create them? Until a person reaches this point he declines to take credit for his actions and lacks responsibility. Until this point he is innocent. But when this change occurs he must be independent and self-reliable. A person starts to learn this responsibility in school. When a person enters into the realm of education and is generally knowledgeable, he is then guilty of his actions.
To educate means to train or instruct mentally and morally; to provide schooling for. In time, children get older and start this process of education. Many of their experiences will occur at school or happen as a result of being there. Children are faced with different challenges in school that shape their character. It is here when they begin to initiate self-responsibility. Paulo Freire helps to explain this process in his essay, “The Banking Concept of Education:”
Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves
related to other problems within a total context, not as a theoretical question,
the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly
less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed
as committed. (Freire, 215)
Through education students learn about many subjects and are faced with many challenges and experiences. These events will begin to shape them into the individuals that they will become.
One’s social relationships, or types of people whom one associates with in life, also help to shape his entire being. Positive and negative experiences resulting from the effects of these associations or relationships (or therein the ratio between the two) can affect or alter whether one becomes a “good” or “bad” person, timid or bold, confident or diffident, or even successful… or not. But what, how, and why do different types of people affect and indeed shape a child’s intellect? There is no real answer in this, perhaps because the minds of any two given children, or anyone, are never the same and therefore cannot be collectively absolute. First, different types of people (as in character, not social stature) provide different types of role models. If a responsible person is raising a child, it is likely that the child will naturally learn that trait or quality. Joyce Carol Oates, author of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” writes about a fifteen year old girl named Connie who was affected by her mother’s personality, which she considered to be trivial. Her mother was once a beautiful woman. She, like Connie, gave priority to her appearance. But now she scolds Connie for doing the same and Connie can’t understand this. Instead, her mother praises Connie’s sister, who is a sore sight but a good, responsible daughter. Connie’s mother created a conflict for her in trying to understand her own priorities. Connie gave to her appearance the same importance that her mother once did. She was not however, responsible like her sister, and so she was less liked by her mother. She found herself asking the question of whether she wanted attention (from men) through appearance, or acceptance from her family. She chose her appearance, and her life was then forever damaged by that naive choice. Like Connie’s mother and sister, different types of people contibute to a person’s frame of reference and help to distinctively shape him.
The environments in which a person is associated also contributes to molding his personality. The effects of a child’s environmental surroundings cannot help but draw somewhat of a reference to social stature or class definitions. For instance, people who live in wealthy, higher class areas are many times less appreciative of things. They don’t have to work for them; things are more often given to them. This strikes any commonalties that upper classes have with “lower” classes. Living in lower or middle-lower class areas makes people appreciate more all that they’ve worked so hard for. In any case, a child will most likely adopt very similar, if not the same, work ethics as those with which they grew up. Different types of environments shape children’s minds and attempt to teach them as much as possible about theirs’ and other various environments in order to prepare them for their own individual lives. Clearly, environments help in the determination and make-up of a person and the life they live.
The process of one’s education, the effects of his social associations, and the environment in which he associates all come together to compose the essential contributors to the formation of a person’s character. As in Oates’ story, Connie’s experiences with her mother caused her to make a foolish decision reguarding her priorities, and it inevitably lead to her death. Her character flaws are what caused her own downfall. But who is to blame for the kind of person that Connie became? Is it her parents, or sister, or friends? Is it possible for her to blame herself? Afterall, she too was born tabula rasa, and had influences and experiences from others that were brought upon her. But somewhere along the line, a person uses what he has learned from his experiences in order to think for himself; at this point a transition occurs. This transition makes a person independent, and ready to initiate his own real life. Until the moment this transition occurs, one is innocent. The moment it happens and anytime thereafter, he will be proven guilty.
Freire, Paulo. “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education.” 215.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going. Where Have You Been?”
Illinois. Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1981: 2134.