Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"All children are born geniuses, and we spend the first six years of their lives degeniusing them." - R. Buckminster Fuller

I've never really liked the use of the word genius in pithy quotes about education. It's always felt to me that claiming every child to be a genius was sort of the height of silliness--an exaggerated, rose-colored, and naive view of what could be a more pragmatic acceptance that children are likely to excel in different areas, and not all of them in academic pursuits. And that some children are born with difficulties and constraints, not by any fault of their own, who deserve no less love and attention from the adults in their lives.

But I recently came across this definition of genius, and it allowed me to shift my view. "The word genius derives from the Latin gignere, 'to beget.' The word also carried the meaning of a guiding spirit, present with every individual from birth: literally, a spark of the divine" (from What is Generative Literature? Introducing “The Generative Literature Project”, emphasis mine).

This idea that every child has a spark of the divine surely resonates with parents. We may be intimately aware of the struggles of our own children, but we also deeply believe in them.

Our willingness to see that spark in each child, whether we believe it is divine or just evolutionary potential, is critical to building a healthy culture of learning, and a healthy society.

Robert D. Shepherd gives us a scientific view of the same:
Every child born today is the product of 3.8 billions years of evolution. Between his or her ears, is the most complex system known to us, and that system, the brain consists of highly interconnected subsystems of neural mechanisms for carrying out particular tasks.... The truth is that there are, quite literally, billions of intelligences in the brain–mechanisms that carry out very particular tasks more or less well, many of them sharing parts of the same machinery to carry out subroutines.Over that 3.8 billion years of evolution, these many intelligences were refined to a high degree....
Almost every new parent is surprised, even shocked, to learn that kids come into the world extraordinarily unique. They bring a lot of highly particular potential to the ball game. And every one of those children is capable, highly capable, in some ways and not in others. 
On the religious side, we can turn to the Quakers. Because Quakers believe there is “that of God” - an Inner Light - in each person, a "hallmark of the Quaker school experience is the basic belief that we are all teachers and learners and that each child has unique gifts and talents" (quoted from here). And the Quakers are not alone in believing this as a part of their core religious tenets.

Religious terminology carries a lot of baggage these days, but I think if I ever write a book, I might call it The Divine Learner.

So, are all children born geniuses? Yes, of course... if we believe them to be so.

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