THE CARE AND FEEDING OF GENIUS

CAN WE REALLY KNOW WHAT GENIUS IS?

In the late 1970’s Popular Science ran an article about The Next Decades Up- and-Coming Young Scientists, or something of that nature. At the time I was busily engaged in the trenches rearing three small children. Our eldest son had scored very high on an IQ test (I almost want to say here that he was “diagnosed” with a high IQ), which was no surprise, but it did increase our insecurities about how best to meet his needs.

The author of the article in question interviewed several of the men and women scientists who had been recommended for the magazine’s honor. Some of the questions asked and the answers were very illuminating.

When asked when they knew they were “smart”, over half said they had no idea until they took the SAT and/or entered college. They thought of themselves as “just one of the guys” until they went away from home. There were very few who said their parents told them or any of their siblings they were smart or praised them for it. Some of the respondents still sounded shocked that they were considered smarter than average.

When asked what they considered their biggest advantages in growing up,  the answers were almost all along the lines of:

My parents made me do my homework, and they checked it.

I had responsibilities at home, but learning was a priority.

My mother took me to the library at least once a week to get as many new books as I was allowed to borrow, and made certain I both read the books and took care of them. My parents questioned me about them.

Both of my parents were interested in what I was doing and what I thought. We ate dinner together and discussed everything under the sun.

All of the respondents said their strengths started with their parents and being taught to work.

The article also quoted one top scientist as saying, “You can learn anything in the world if you have an IQ of 120, anything above that number is just so much gravy.”

I’m still not convinced that we know enough about intelligence to “test” for it. What is considered intelligence in one culture may be totally irrelevant in another. Is a Polynesian explorer steering his canoe by his knowledge of the ocean and heavens any less intelligent than a book taught scholar at Cambridge? Would some of our present day educators have enough knowledge to survive if dropped into a wilderness? What kind of IQ would survival take?

So, does IQ matter? I read once that after Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics, he and his wife visited his old high school where he asked to see his school records. Upon leaving he turned to his wife and said, “Winning the Nobel Prize didn’t seem like such a big deal, but now that I know my IQ it seems huge.”

I have watched the trap that parents of “smart” kids can fall into when they think that their child “has no peers”, as I heard one woman say. It’s an easy trap to be caught in. When our son skipped sixth grade and began Middle School he left his friends behind and felt lost without them. He came home one day and happily told me he had made a friend. Without thinking, I asked, “Is he smart?” My son, wiser than I, answered, “I don’t know, but he sure is nice.” I mended my ways.

Remember, we should be engaged in the business of rearing good people first, geniuses if we have to. Now that I have watched my children become adults and begin families of their own, I have learned a few lessons that, in the real world, seem important to me in growing those good people:

All children should be taught to work at a young age. They should also be given some moral and/or religious instruction.

All of your children, whether genius or not, will have different strengths and weaknesses. Other children are their peers.

All children will fail, and need to be told they failed. Their feelings will recover and their self respect will be strengthened when they master what they failed at.

Never be afraid to tell your children “NO”, and mean it.

Unless they are infants or ill, never clean up after your children. They need to clean up their own messes and mistakes.

All children should learn a skill or trade, but not all should go to college.

Your child may be a “late bloomer”, cut him or her some slack.

All children, no matter how “smart”, will have troubles and heartache. It’s called the human condition.

At some point, earlier than you might think, you lose the right to be your child’s boss. They’re on their own.

As long as your children know how to work and love God and learning, chances are, no matter what they do, they’ll be fine.

One more thing. If I were doing things all over again today, I would home school in a heart beat.

Leave a Reply