Are Geniuses Born or Made?

Salon discussion #5

The study of neuroscience and how the brain learns has fascinated me the most during my educational experience. There is still so much to “unveil” in this field that it remains an evolving mystery as to our brain’s complete functionality and capacity even today. Even scientists still don’t fully understand the complexities of the human brain. It remains unclear the reach of our intellectual prowess as more research into the human gift of intuition is still being explored. Yet, we know that children are born with over a billion neurons “wiring and firing” making connections throughout their entire development. With so much still unknown, questions abound about what constitutes a real life “genius” and to what extent are these abilities nurtured versus predetermined at birth or perhaps some combination of the two. Is our educational indoctrination system even structurally equipped to identify, nurture and support individuals with diverse talents at the “genius” level? If we BUMPED into one – – would we even know it? Perhaps we would simply view them as an exceptional child (most definitely trUe) or worst case scenario reject them as “weird” or “crazy”?

Meet a real life  “genius” in 2022

Elijah Precciely is a 14-year old child prodigy, who has preached sermons, published a book and currently attends Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He will be a college graduate next year. Precciely is the youngest person to receive a full scholarship to the HBCU and majors in physics and chemical engineering. “I’m trying to build an electrostatic generating socket. I don’t know if that’s a teenager thing, but I’m learning about it,” said Precciely.

The probability of bumping into a real life “genius” could be described as a miracle or even a lofty prospect similarly to seeing a real life unicorn. Yet some educators have speculated that each of us are born with unique and different gifts, talents and proclivities that could be called “genius” if allowed to grow and develop. Cultivating these talents would require an educational indoctrination system along with educators who have the ability to nurture this level of individuality, creativity, critical thinking and uniqueness in order to support such gifts. Our current educational system with its varied checks, balances and assessments often does not support such freedom of expression in all subjects within the normal school setting even though educators try desperately to help each student.

Dr. Joy Hirsch’s daughter sums it up perfectly:

“I learn in circles, they keep teaching me in triangles”

So, what attributes constitute a “genius” you might ask? For the sake of discussion, we will use the premise that most individuals considered to be at the “genius” level status possess the following:

  1. Independent thinking (not a copy cat and isn’t afraid to break the mold, explore new concepts and ideas)

2) An unbroken passion, interest and concentration toward something

3) Excels in logical, abstract and creative thinking

The genius mathematician, Albert Einstein, once said,  “I am not more clever. I just sit longer with a problem”. If this sentiment is true, it just may be the key personal trait one must posses to achieve the “genius” level status. Commitment to one’s gift(s) no matter how big or small, mundane or glamorous, simple or complex might just be the cornerstone for cultivating one’s unique passion or SUPER POWER. It should be noted that this does not mean that “others” or the world will acknowledge you for the effort. It often takes time for us regular people to catch up.

Children could be considered “geniuses” at birth since they are born seemingly knowing very little but have the neurological capacity to learn so much after exposure to stimuli, other humans and within the educational indoctrination system. American developmental psychologist and educator Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposes that “people are not born with all of the intelligence they will ever have”. This theory challenged the traditional notion that there is one single type of intelligence, also known as “g” for general intelligence, that only focuses on cognitive abilities. So what happens to make some loose this gift – – “g” – – or forget their own innate special SUPER POWER by the time they are finished schooling? Not surprising, most of us are acutely aware of the limiting parameters placed on the educational system where we continue to use antiquated strategies and outdated curriculums and standards, teach incomplete HIS-story (conformity, norms and traditions), tolerate group think and action while free independent thinking is not encouraged or supported, materialism has replaced substance and authenticity and life long learning is not widely hailed. These limitations often create the perfect conditions that limit the intellectual growth and potential for ALL children before they even have the opportunity to fully embrace and explore who they are and their unique gifts – – “g” . In recent years, it has become painfully obvious that the typical American has definitely been indoctrinated to accept conformity without questioning and to reject facts and trUth.

Both Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist Nikola Tesla and Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan faced rejection and condemned for their gifts and ideas but the belief in themselves and their unique gifts  – – “g” – –  proved too powerful to ignore. This is a perfect example of how those with unique abilities are not always nurtured or recognized. Our formal compulsory educational system also has limitations. 

We also know that there is still so much more to explore about how the brain learns and the study of neuroscience. Our school systems tend to favor those who exhibit intelligences in the areas of math or linguistics while ignoring the others. If a student is not good at math or linguistics, they could still be “gifted” in other subjects. Many of the other gifts are not traditionally labeled as “gifted” but why? Our compulsory educational indoctrination system has not been set up to provide individualized instruction which has been typically reserved for the wealthy and others with the means to afford to hire tutors to address individual students’ needs. Since each student differs from one another, there is no logical reason to teach and assess students identically either. During COVID-19, however, we have now seen how technology  – – along with master teachers – – can make it possible for more students to access a wide variety of teaching modalities and assessments depending on their needs and abilities.

As we evaluate the future of our educational indoctrination system, let us continue to support the notion that within its sacred halls are lots of “geniuses” with gifts – – “g” – – in every subject if allowed and encouraged to blossom. My only wish today is that we begin to fully appreciate the innate potential of ALL children without stifling their individuality and uniqueness. So I’m tossing this wish out into the atmosphere hoping it will resonate. CHANGE can happen even in the way we view “geniuses” – – from being rare SUPER humans to everyday human BEINGS. We owe it to the millions of children being born with unique voices and perspectives still waiting to be unveiled.
Imitation is not the sincerest flattery. It is called being a copy cat.

Are you the next Jeen-Yuhs?
There is sometimes a fine line between genius and insanity.

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