Meanwhile, we have that other kind of precocity. Not the disturbing anachronism of tweens dressing like Christine Aguilera, but the intellectual facility that makes one assume maturity because little Tiffany has memorized the all the planets and the major constellations all by herself. Well, technically, it was not completely by herself, because you did buy her the book and start the process with her sitting down and showing her how delighted you were each time she coughed up a word or two. But still, this is a whole lot better than her peers who are eating the sand out of the sandbox. It is sadly true that you derive a bit of pleasure when you note these little “average” kiddos seem incapable of combining any two words together in a meaningful sentence, who, at almost three, are still running around in pull ups. But your benign respect for delayed development prevents you from smiling openly. Yet, you are still enjoying this a little more than you should.
So how do you know if you have a Mensa candidate? Well you don’t. As a matter of fact even the folks in Mensa are not Mensa material. At four or five or twelve you are a kid. Kids should not be put in the awkward position of keeping up the family honor, or being impossibly smart, or impossibly talented. Neither should they become world-class gymnasts, nor should they appear on child-Jeopardy. At this point you may ask, “What will the world do without world-class child gymnasts, without the next Macaulay Culkin, without Avril Lavigne?” My thinking is that it will do just fine. Children are given an opportunity to be children and this does not recur every ten years.
Some other family can bring their own kid forward to be the bread winner for their family while mom and dad sit by and console themselves with the fact that this is the best thing for them. OK, I am confusing being a star of song, and stage with the truly important stuff of being way smart. But there is little difference. I use one to make a point about the other. The whole when-they-were-stars reference is helpful because we all know that the young and exploited grow old and are rarely well balanced after they are done being young prodigies. While I do not have the stats, many of the kids who seemed to have talent do not possess lasting talent.
Your young genius should be asked to learn. He or she should be asked to play. They should be encouraged to read, and to think about stuff. If you have academic programs and violin lessons and rhythmic gymnastics lessons, great. But let the world’s next prodigy come from someone else’s family. As for you and for me, I say we let our kids try and do all of the childhood stuff that they possibly can. If there are ten out of eighty years devoted to childhood, let that be devoted to something like imagination, and pretending and scraping knees and figuring out childish society.
This then leads us to ask when/why a kid should go to school at all? Well if the parent is a crack addict and tends towards violence then the kid should be there prenatally. If you are the leader in the field of home schooling and you quit touring to stay home with the kids because you are so fabulously wealthy, then maybe school is out altogether. For everyone else there are the questions of when, how much, and what?
There is a great book out there by Hirsch-Pasek et al called Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. It is a super indictment of the preloading frenzy that rules many families in America. I get the drive. I know that colleges want kids who are gifted, who were constructed from high-achieving high schools, which are fed by the gifted masses from advanced elementary schools, which are equipped with brilliance by the bright light of vigilant families. Colleges want more than high SAT scores. (This does not mean they do not demand that also.)They want community servants, violin experts, football stars, swimmers, debate champions, and kids who were driven hard. No school is asking if you played enough as a kid.