How to Become a Genius

November 17, 2008

by Tammy Drennan

 

“[I]f you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

 

Here at Education Conversation our goal is to explore both the meaning and the means of education. To that end, here is a quiz.

 

How do you rear children to become geniuses – or at least really, truly excellent at something?

 

(a) Send them to school and make sure they get straight A’s, take a broad array of courses, become “well-rounded,” and end up with spectacular looking college applications.

 

(b) Give them lots of time to pursue their natural interests, encourage them to strive for mastery and excellence in what they pursue, shelter them from excessive negative influences.

 

“Most of us unwittingly or recklessly do everything we can to suffocate genius in our kids by insisting on doing what everybody else is doing with their children… ….The mass education of our public school system diminishes all three key factors that produce genius in children.” — Raymond and Dorothy Moore

 

The three factors the Moores refer to are love, protection and freedom – three elements glaringly missing from state schools and from an unfortunate number of private institutional schools.

 

To elaborate on the three elements of genius or excellence, the love that parents give their children must be nurturing and involved; the protection must be from the right things and people — with exposure to the right things and people; and the freedom must be freedom to pursue an interest passionately and doggedly.

 

So, we’re not talking about hanging out at home watching TV or playing video games or play-fighting in the yard all day long. We’re talking loving, involved parenting and guidance, and a huge amount of liberty, with a view toward excellence. But excellence is the result of effort concentrated in the area of desire.

 

The famous homeschooling Colfax family is a good example. Their boys enjoyed the freedom to pursue their love – animal husbandry and related sciences and skills. They rounded themselves out with more casual reading in areas of less interest (e.g., lots of historical fiction instead of history books).

 

Mom and Dad viewed their end of the job as resource providers, and they threw themselves into it with a passion, constantly searching out more and better books and materials to expand their sons’ expertise.

 

Their boys went on to win scholarships to Ivy League colleges.

 

In an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and most recently, Outliers: The Story of Success, Reader’s Digest (12/08) asked, “How does a kid become the next Bill Gates or Tiger Woods?” Here’s what Gladwell had to say:

 

“Both of these men had parents who allowed their children to focus almost exclusively on what brought them joy and what they were good at. And both of them were able, as children, to invest an extraordinary amount of time in pursuing that particular passion. Again, not just for a little time. The magic number for them, for Mozart, and for so many outliers, as I call them, appears to be 10,000 hours.”

 

To put that 10,000 hours in perspective, if you were to spend four hours a day, 365 days a year, devoted to honing a skill, it would take you close to seven years to reach the 10,000 hour mark.

 

According to Gladwell, that’s what it takes for mastery. Others don’t put a number on the hours it takes, but they clearly understand it takes massive amounts of time – and the freedom not afforded by a conventional, institutional education – to become a “genius.”

 

“Men give me some credit for genius. All the genius I have lies in this: when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me, I explore it in all its bearings. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort which I make, the people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.” — Alexander Hamilton

 

“People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over.” — Amadeus Mozart

 

The question is: Do we have the courage to do what works, or will we continue to feebly follow the government schooling model, cowed, intimidated, afraid to take education back from the state and restore it to health?

 

I think enough people have the guts, but their courage muscles are as under-exercised as their brains, so it’s going to take a little working out, some practice.

 

Here are some practice exercises:

 

  • Take your child out of school for a day to visit a museum or some sight, or to spend the day pursuing an interest (new or old). 
  • Extend Christmas break by a day or two. 
  • Try homeschooling for half a year – starting with Christmas break. Do it freestyle, helping your child concentrate on some area of intense interest, and fill in the, “blanks” by reading aloud together. 
  • Spend weekends helping your child learn something he or she would never learn in school.

Taste freedom. Let your child taste freedom. You’ll find it sweet and exhilarating and empowering.

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