Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education.

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is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:

4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602

Brad Kershner, PhD, works at Carolina Friends School as Chapel Hill Early School Head Teacher. In 2017 Brad moved to North Carolina from Boston, where he lived for six years and worked as a Primary School Director and K-8 Principal. Prior to living in Boston, he taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 5th grade at independent schools in San Francisco and Berkeley. He earned a BA in Philosophy from John Carroll University, an MA in Philosophy of Religions from The University of Chicago, a Teaching Credential from San Francisco State University, and his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College. Brad is a voracious reader, and brings his study of psychology, philosophy, religion, and leadership to bear on his work as a school leader.

An Intimation of Metamodern Parenting

By Brad Kershner, PhD

In our search to understand and support our children’s growth and learning, there are many competing and overlapping narratives, topics, concerns, and data points to ponder, each vying for attention and consideration. Technology and nature, screen time and down time, nutrition and exercise, genetics and environment, peer groups and secure attachment, free play and direct instruction, literacy and numeracy, home schooling, deschooling, unschooling, private schooling, and public schooling—oh my! From free-range kids to the over-scheduled, over-stressed, and over-protected, how we find our way in the mesmerizing milieu of parenting says a lot about how we understand ourselves, our children, and our world.

Brad Kershner

In the late twentieth century, there were attempts to reduce the complexity of child development to the frame of a simple binary: nature vs nurture. With research accumulating in biology and genetics, accompanied by an increasing prevalence of medical diagnoses, and with the continuous cacophony of competing approaches to parenting and education, parents and professionals sought for solid ground on which to stand. Where do we look for advice, guidance, and direction: sociology, psychology, or biology? PhD or MD? A pharmacist, a therapist, or grandma?

In the twenty-first century, it has become increasingly clear that the nature/nurture dichotomy is not an either/or binary; it is a way of pointing toward a both/and relationship. It does not make sense to privilege nature over nurture (or vice versa), so the frame of nature/nurture is now often recast as an inquiry into the relationship between our genes and our environment. It has become a question of how our environment of nurturing impacts our children’s biology and behavior.

And yet, even with increasing insight into the symbiotic relationships of epigenetics (the ways in which genes respond to environmental influences), I’d argue that even the notion of both/and is not sufficient. The binary of nature and nurture (or genetics and environment), even in the attempt to transcend an either/or way of thinking, is still too limiting and leaves too much out of the equation. Moving toward both/and thinking is not enough; we have to go ‘meta.’

Going meta means we continue to ask bigger, deeper questions to expand the context of our sense making and behavior. For instance, in politics: instead of choosing our place along the left/right spectrum of political theatre, we question the efficacy of a two-party political system and search for the underlying shared assumptions that perpetuate systemic problems. In economics: instead of orienting our lives toward maximizing economic gain, we recognize the inherent problems of growth- and debt-based financial systems, and seek pathways toward a post-growth, post-rivalry future. Similarly, instead of approaching parenting and education in a way that reduces our children to relations of genetics and environment and seeks to maximize their “success,” we take a step back and consider: What is success? What are our goals? What does it mean to be human? Is the fullness of human experience reducible to any combination of nature/genes and nurture/environment?

These are the kinds of questions we must elicit as we enter metamodern-ity—the period of human civilization that is now emerging in response to the problems of modernity and postmodernity (e.g., environmental degradation, economic inequality, cultural fragmentation, mental health deterioration, and political gridlock). At the very least, going meta means moving beyond materialism. The individual is not understood just biologically, but also psychologically. The environment is not reduced to terms of social structures and material relations, but is understood also in relation to culture. But however deeply we unravel the emergent relationships of bio-psycho-socio-cultural reality, no scientific approach will ever tell us what we should do, or what to value.

Every parent knows, somewhere in their heart of hearts, that their child is not something to be explained or described. Each child, each person, is irreducible and sacred. The map is not the territory, and the path is found by walking. As we open ourselves to the deepest and most important questions of our lives, our children are not the ones we need to provide answers to; they are the ones we can look to for guidance. What do they want and need? Who are they? What is their purpose?  Seek with them, and ye shall find.