Dear Dr. Fournier:
I was recently reading a Parenting magazine at the dentist’s office, and I stumbled onto an article entitled “Raise the Next Steve Jobs.” I couldn’t help but notice that some of the recommendations and concepts it mentioned were ideas I have read in some of your past columns, like the overemphasis on standardized testing, celebrating curiosity, and the role of a parent.
Some critics have raised eyebrows whenever I have said, “All of the children I work with are geniuses,” or “I have only taught geniuses.” The assumption, of course is that I am referencing children with a very high I.Q. test score. However, and as your article also noted, “genius” is a term that is loosely defined at best, and leaves us with an awkward, cultural understanding of the term. It reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quotation when attempting to define the parameters of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
I confess that this article heading is written tongue in cheek, because headlines and numbers of this kind will typically stop parents in their tracks. With that said, the article you referenced does do a good job of calling attention to certain trends without attempting to push a one size fits all sort of solution to the very nondescript goal of raising a “genius.”
Remember that just because I recommend that a parent try to focus on certain areas, or a magazine says something similar, the ultimate decision is up to you since you must take into account what works best for your family. The points I will focus on below are positions of mentality that may be able to help parents focus on developing effective strategies for their children rather than try and force a method of learning onto them that does not suit their strengths.
WHAT TO DO:
Celebrate!: The article said to celebrate curiosity. I certainly agree with this, and would add that one of the main problems in education is to maintain that curiosity rather than humiliate, criticize, or otherwise destroy this natural desire to learn in children.
I can also say that an important component to celebration that was not mentioned is to celebrate poor or failing grades. Are we celebrating mediocrity? Absolutely not. What we are celebrating is an indicator of what is left for the child to learn, and the grade tells us this. Instead of saying, “How could you make a 66?” say, “Okay, you made a 66. That means you still need to learn 34% of the material. Let’s get started!” The transformation this can bring to a parent’s mentality is profound.
The Process comes First: Along the same lines as celebration, I was pleased that attention was called to perseverance and tenacity with the process of doing over the achievement of the desired result. This is the most important understanding that I can think of with regard to education. There are times when children will work hard and prepare as best they can, yet still be frustrated by failure. This is a critical moment. If a child feels terrible about the result of the process, and that feeling is compounded by negativity from the parents, then the message the child may take is that his or her hard work is meaningless, and the result is all that matters.
What should be extracted from this scenario is that the results tell us that the process needs a different strategy to get a better result. If this is the understanding, then the grades are merely indicators, as they were meant to be.
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