In my time as a GAMSAT tutor I have corrected hundreds of essays by prospective medical students. The following are three of my favourites that were sent to me last year. Each shows a different style and each is great in its own way, but they also have a couple of key things in common. See if you can figure out what they are!
“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents”
I interpret the above quote to mean that parents play an important role in a child’s development.
Child development and resulting behavioural traits have been shown to be affected by a complex interaction of numerous factors like heredity, parents, peers and environment to create the fate of the child. Other factors include health and education of parents, family finances, birth order, friends, outcome of child’s attempts at self-actualization, neighbours as well as extended family.
These variables work in a similar way to how unseen microbes in the dirt affect the plant because although these factors are present, one can’t always quantify what they do, how they do it or when they do it.
Therefore to put responsibility solely on parents, teachers or peers seems a bit simplistic. One should not disregard parents’ altogether or pigeon-hole their role to the house, nor should one limit the role of peers and teachers to school because the reality is more complex than that.
For instance, children spend many hours per week in classrooms and with peers so one might expect these experiences to have strong effects over time. Conversely, at home some kids spend a lot of time with parents or have strong attachments to them whereas some spend more time in front of a T.V. Others might quibble with them over chores rather than spending time reading books or having conversations together to build a sense of connection. Thus, the quality and quantity of time affecting a child’s development can be rather paramount in determining the parents influence on the fate of the child.
Furthermore, the calibre to which the child’s fate lies in the parent’s hands depends on perspective. For instance one might assume a teenager’s behaviour is influenced 20% by their parents and 80% by peers. Each peer though is influenced 20% by their own parents so parents in the community in general might be seen to provide at least 36% of this influence. However each peer could also be viewed as being influenced 20% by their parents. If one keeps going with this logic, the influence of parents in general maybe somewhere near 100%.
On the other hand, the field of epigenetics suggests behavioural traits of humans develop ontogenetically under inseparable effects of both genes and environment. From this epigenetic perspective, one can’t determine what effect the parent has on the child because it would require that one must first separate them, which cannot be done because they are inseparable within the context of the system which we are attempting to study.
In conclusion, a child’s fate can be credited to many elements, including parents.
The above is an excellently structured argumentative essay. The psychology student who wrote it played to her strengths, responding to the quote in such as a way as to enable her to write about what she knows. Rather than arbitrarily ‘agreeing’ with the given quote, the student made it clear what she thinks the quote means, and then painstakingly outlined her position in relation to it. The conclusion sums up her main point, and is well supported by the multifaceted argument. No antithesis is required as the detailed approach to the subject sufficiently demonstrates depth of thought.
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of youth”
For me when I think of conformity I think of behaving the same as everyone else. Trying to ensure I don’t do anything that will make me stand out. By teaching them to conform, I think we start to stifle children’s creativity and their ability to express themselves freely – something we want to encourage in our youth, not discourage.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The other day I was coming back to my house after going for a run. My face was bright red after my exertions. I passed one of my neighbours who was walking to the shops with his child. The child, after seeing me, said quite loudly to her father “Daddy what is wrong with that lady’s face?”. Her father, embarrassed, shushed her and told her it wasn’t nice to say things like this out loud. We all probably have seen something like this happen or even remember incidents like this from our own childhoods. At the time we may not think much about it, but what we see here is a child being shown how to conform.
Another story that comes to mind is a nativity play I saw last year that my niece was performing in. We were all very excited because she was cast in the lead role as Mary. During one of the scenes where the wise men were giving their presents to Jesus, one of the kids mistakenly said ‘This is Frank said for baby Jesus’ instead of the line ‘This is frankincense for baby Jesus’. Everyone laughed at the child’s expression, which he was delighted with.
The child in the play was not afraid to give the line a go, even though he could not remember it properly. He wasn’t afraid to make a mistake and too young to be embarrassed by it. However, as we grow older we are taught that mistakes are bad, and that making them results in us standing out and suffering embarrassment. As a result of this fear we may avoid trying new things in case we make errors. We learn to conform at the cost of our own free expression, at the cost of our creativity. Just like the child in the first example we learn not to ask offensive questions. We stop making an effort to work things out for ourselves. This belief in the safety of conformity is in my mind the ‘enemy of youth’.
Essay number 2 exhibits a more story-telling orientated approach. The author speaks generally in order to describe her impressions of the meaning and effect of conformity, using simple stories to highlight specific examples of the same. In what sense is conformity the ‘jailer of freedom’ and ‘the enemy of youth’? The student answers these questions by example, showing how the urge to conform may represent a suppressive force in the creative life of a person.
“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” Anais Nin
Anais Nin gave the advice to “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new love, a new country”. Nin is not only suggesting to dream big (“into space”), but also to dream wide, shown by the subtle plurality of “dreams”. This almost unconstrained life advice can result in positive life events and in happiness independent of goal-oriented outcomes.
Like Nin’s kite in open space, setting our dreams and aspirations free lets them move and grow organically in the natural world of influence. The author is recommending a lack of attachment to any rigid outcome and enjoying the mystery of what can happen. This is something I can personally relate to from studying engineering with no rigid employment plans afterwards. I cast a wide net and found a research role as a PhD student. There one of my dreams (learning engineering continuously) was realised, and I also literally experienced each of “a new life, a new love, a new friend, a new country” in my work experiences and travels.
Further to the mystery of outcomes, the quote reminds us to enjoy the experiences and journeys along the way as our dreams develop. After all, we do not fly kites only to have a kite in our hands at the end; the enjoyment comes from watching them soar through the sky. Again, this is something I can personally attest to – learning, researching, networking and presenting to audiences is all part of an enjoyable journey that is more valuable than the piece of paper at the end. However, I remind you that the kite that lands back in my hands is not the one I threw up into space; it’s evolved and bettered, but only by letting it fly freely.
In closing, set your dreams free. Have multiple, let them grow organically. Expand the platitude of “follow your dreams” to give them the freedom to loosely guide you, as they themselves are guided like the kite in the wind. Catch them when they return, but also enjoy the flight itself. Lastly, always remember that “having fun while wasting time is not time wasted”
Here the student has responded to the quote by asking the question ‘ In what sense is this statement true for me?’ The student reflects on his own life and conveys his understanding of the given quote by contextualising it therein. In developing the quote’s kite analogy further “…we do not fly kites only to have a kite in our hands at the end” the student exemplifies his understanding of the metaphor, and successfully communicates further subtle meanings of the quote by expanding it. For his conclusion the student re-iterates the advice of the given quote, but in his own words.
What these essays have in common is that they are easy to understand. Their conclusions are straight-forward and supported by the content. In each case the student, in their own way, has demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the quote they have chosen to respond to. The discussions are cohesive, in that they do not contradict themselves, and in the end leave the reader feeling like they have understood something. Communication achieved!