Re: Education

Elizabeth Childs (
Wed, 28 Apr 1999 10:04:50 -0700

Some concrete suggestions: there are N number of sounds ever used in any human language; I think N is about a hundred or so. Anyway, many of these sounds are used in English, but some are not, and native English speakers have a great deal of difficulty learning to pronounce these sounds.

According to one study, if you exposed infants to these non-English sounds, even without any further exposure, years later they would be able to pronounce those sounds correctly. A pretty easy way to help the kid to speak fluent Hindi later in life if he's interested.

According to many studies, breast feeding may be a significant factor in later IQ development, although I'm a bit skeptical of these claims, since it would be hard to properly control a study.

Surprisingly, some studies show that early musical training substantially enhances ability in math and science later in life. This study shows that music is even more effective than computer experience:

I got intrigued and did a little research of my own, I found these links. I have no idea if the information on here is reliable, but it at least seemed relevant:

All this aside, it's worth noting that study after study strongly suggests that 80% of IQ is inherited. I suspect that current techniques aren't going to be able to affect raw intelligence by much more than 20%. This in no way diminishes the importance of education, which can have a profound effect on a person's intellectual efficacy; sometimes you're better off with really good software that runs on a 486, rather than buggy software that runs on a Cray. My point is that I know of no established technique that can raise the processor speed by more than 20%.

> How often have we seen massively talented people in any number of fields
> whose explanation for their incredible abilities begins with something like
> "they started up on this even before they learned to walk."(This sentence
> should end with a question mark, but I'm not sure where to put it?) Ever
> notice the breathtaking intensity of focus and attention of children at
> that stage? Point number one: start 'em young, VERY young.

I suspect that in the vast majority if not all of these cases, the reason the kid was so strongly attracted to the activity in question is _because_ he was a prodigy, rather than that the skills developed through early childhood intervention.

This is not to say there's anything wrong with giving kids the option of trying advanced activities at an early age, without pressuring them. It sounds like that gymnastics class was very well matched for that kid. But I think it's important to recognize that children do have real limitations of ability, and pushing too hard on them is going to be painful for the child.

Which brings us back to a point made by others; kids know what they're interested in, and how fast they want to go. Harnessing that is going to be the most powerful thing you can do.

> I also think of the stories of William Randolph Hearst and Orson Wells.
> They were (1) doted on (lots and lots of emotional stroking), (2) never
> told "no", and (3) told repeatedly (at least in the case of Oson Wells)
> that they were "geniuses". What strikes me here--concerning specifically

I was told that there was a study done on young Nobel prize winners that showed that they fell into two camps; half of them went on to have rich scientific careers, making several discoveries that could have qualified for the prize. The other half were ruined by it, and never being able to top their early work, never produce anything meaningful again.

The very likely case is that any given child is not a genius, in which case telling him that he's a genius will only set him up to feel like anything he accomplishes will not be enough. Even child prodigies often find that the extraordinary degree of their ability fades in adulthood.

If the child really does have extraordinary talents, it seems appropriate to let him know. But there is a danger to emphasizing these abilities too much. Even if the parents intend otherwise, a child is likely to develop two misconceptions - first, that his self worth should be dependent on his intelligence, and
secondly, that he is fundamentally different than other people, and better.

What I would do if I had a really brilliant child is to acknowledge that the child was exceptionally intelligent, tell the child that it's a great gift and he's very lucky to have it. That it is true that sometimes he will understand things that other people won't, even adults. That he may be able to achieve things that have never been done before. But that having great ability with abstract thinking does not automatically translate into having great ability with the human problems of life - emotional resilience, compassion, courage, independence, integrity - and that on the human problems of life, even a retarded person might have something to teach him.

To any child, I would emphasize that human beings, in general, have great capacity, much greater capacity than is fully utilized, and that the child should dream big, not because he's a genius and has special talents, but because he's a person and his dreams are powerful.

A very funny piece on Suck about hearing "You're so smart!" at an impressionable age:

> As smarter folks than me have observed, our culture has created an
> educational system to suit its commercial and idealogical requirements.
> (Have you ever noticed that the row-and-column-everyone-facing-front
> arrangement of chairs in a classrom is the only geometry that prevents all
> other human contact than with the person at the front of the room?)

_Separating School And State_ by Sheldon Richmond has some devastating quotes from the people who founded the US public school system; their explicit goal was to train factory workers, and there are a lot of quotes about squelching individuality. I believe it's in that book where I saw the study that showed that literacy rates in the city surveyed (Pittsburgh?) have dropped substantially in the 100 years since public schooling was introduced. (dang, why don't I have this book anymore? Sorry to not have the actual numbers.)

I would also note that the public school system was initially opposed by most people; it was not a natural outgrowth of our culture, but the work of a small group of people who were able to get the right bills passed. Like so many unfortunate goverment projects, people can now no longer imagine its absence.


In the future, ice cream will come right out of the cow.

Elizabeth Childs