boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30

The Boy Genius and the Genius in All of Us A review of The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, Tom Clynes tells a fascinating story about a boy’s pursuit of a passionate interest in nuclear physics, and draws some surprising conclusions about the nature and development of genius-level intelligence. Clynes considers the roles played not only by innate ability and environmental factors such as parenting, teaching, and mentoring, but also by temperament, motivation, culture, and politics.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion chronicles the remarkable childhood and adolescence of physics prodigy Taylor Wilson, now 21 years old. Taylor did his first enormously successful TED Talk at the age of 17, and has already investigated such arcane topics as magnetic confinement fusion, radioactivity, and gamma ray lasers. He has several inventions and patents under his belt, including a specialized particle accelerator that could revolutionize the production of diagnostic pharmaceuticals, at one-thirtieth the cost and one-tenth the floor space of conventional methods; and a portable neutron detector that promises to counter terrorism. He is a young superstar who has attracted attention from Nobel prizewinners, Barack Obama, and the media.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is also a book about parenting and education in America today. Clynes raises important questions about the nature of genius, and how best to nurture its development. He concludes that parents are the most important catalysts of each child’s intellectual development. “The challenge is to find the outlet that best fits a person’s unique set of interests and characteristics,” he writes. “As a start, give kids lots of exposure to different experiences in their younger years, and pay attention to what they pick up on.” (p. 273) He recommends pulling kids out of school if that’s the best way to give them authentic learning experiences in areas of deep curiosity. He observes that attendance and grades are a lot less important than actual learning, especially in the early years.

Taylor Wilson thrived at the Davidson Academy for highly gifted learners, but his brother Joey, who scores higher than Taylor on intelligence tests, did not. After thinking about this, and talking to a number of gifted education experts, Clynes concluded that gifted education needs to be individualized; a one-size-fits-all gifted program can’t possibly work for everyone. Educators better serve children when they focus on (1) encouraging kids to discover and explore their values, goals, and interests; (2) helping kids develop talents into fulfilling careers that will provide a foundation for a happily productive life; and (3) encouraging the kind of intellectual risk-taking that moves a field’s or a society’s knowledge and practice forward. Specific educational approaches that worked for Taylor at Davidson that Clynes argues should be applied by all educators include individualized learning, targeted acceleration, dual enrolment (high school and university simultaneously), and the acceptance of every kind of diversity.

Amazingly for such an erudite subject, The Boy Who Played with Fusion is a pleasure to read. It’s beautifully written, in an intelligently thoughtful and accessible tone. Clynes enlivens challenging intellectual concepts with personal observations, concerns, and questions. Seamlessly, he weaves into the story informal conversations with all the players in Taylor Wilson’s story, as well as with a wide variety of educational and psychological researchers, including Carol Dweck, David Henry Feldman, Susan Cain, Ellen Winner, Scott Barry Kaufman, Joan Freeman, Barbara Kerr, Dean Keith Simonton,and David Lubinski, among many others. “Take your kids places,” writes Clynes, summarizing the extensive and growing body of evidence that suggests that a lasting capacity for creativity is enhanced by early exposure to unusual and diverse situations. “Early novel experiences play an important role in shapingthe healthy development of brain systems that are important for effective learning and self-regulation, in childhood and beyond.” (p. 75)

Although the subject of this book is extraordinary in many ways, Clynes’s attitude toward talent is not exclusive, elitist, or person-centered. He is aware of the confluence of circumstances required to nurture the development of giftedness and talent, and remarks that “the latest research suggests that nearly everyone has the capacity to achieve extraordinary performance in some mode of expression, if each can discover opportunities in a domain of expertise that allows his or her unique set of personal attributes to shine.” (p. xv)

Clynes makes it clear that talent development is not about money. As Taylor Wilson’s story illustrates, optimal child development experiences do not need to be expensive: “Whether we use it or not, we have the recipe…parents who are courageous enough to give their children wings and let them fly in the directions they choose; schools that support children as individuals; a society that understands the difference between elitism and individualizededucation and that addresses the needs of kids at all levels.” (p. 281)

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is an essential contribution to our understanding of the most important underlying questions about the development of giftedness, talent, creativity, and intelligence. It is urgently relevant to every parent, teacher, psychologist, educational administrator, and policy-maker who cares about children’s learning and about the future of our civilization.

For more:

The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster 

teen on screens

Stop Worrying! Six Reasons to Get Over The Amount of Time Your Teenager Spends on Screens

A guest blog by Amy Poeppel

teen on screensThere’s no opting out of technology anymore. Despite our nostalgia, determination, and occasional self-righteousness, we are faced with the fact that computers, cell phones, and tablets are as much a part of our lives as food, underwear, and indoor plumbing. When I worked in the admissions department of a NYC private school, I encountered many parents who wanted to make technology nonexistent or at least inconsequential in the lives of their kids, but I never understood how that could work.

One morning I had an interview with an 11-year old boy who was completely screen-deprived. His parents were convinced that computers, and especially video games, are damaging to developing minds, so they kept their young son away from screens entirely. They believed in old-fashioned, wholesome fun – fresh air, board games, and books. Maybe they’re right, but what I saw was a kid so obsessed with computers, that I couldn’t conduct a constructive interview with him. All he wanted to talk about, literally all, was access to computers at our school.  Read more

mom and little girl reading

Read to Your Child, Starting at Birth: It’s Good for Learning, Thinking, Imagining, and Relating

mom and little girl readingA child whose parents read to her, starting from birth, is more likely to do well in every area of life. She’ll start school with better language skills, find it easier to make and keep friends, feel better about herself, stay in school longer, and do better, both personally and professionally. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is now asking 62,000 pediatricians across America to talk to parents about the importance of reading. Read more

diverse learning needs

Meeting Diverse Learning Needs: How Parents Can Work toward Changing a Good School to a Great School for All Kids

diverse learning needs

When a school is already doing a great job with their kids, parents are generally satisfied. However, when change is needed—as in the case of moving toward meeting diverse learning needs—things can get rocky. It’s human to resist change, or feel threatened by it, or believe that a new practice or perspective will disrupt what’s already working very well.

With a visionary school leader, however, working with a team of teachers and parents, a school can make the transition from excellence for most to excellence for all, including meeting the learning needs of children who learn differently for reasons of attention or other kinds of learning problems.  Read more

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Build Their Intelligence

How Parents Can Help Kids Build Their Intelligence

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Build Their Intelligence

Children don’t start off smart. They become that way over time, with the right kinds of supports and learning opportunities at the right times in their lives. Here are four ways parents can actively participate in their child building a foundation for his or her intelligence:

1.      Appreciate your child’s unique profile of abilities:

  • Recognize that children’s abilities vary by domain—math, music, language, social, etc.—and that each child has a unique profile of intelligences. A child who’s highly capable in one area may have learning challenges in another area.
  • Pay attention to your child’s changing abilities, goals, attitudes, and interests.
  • Use different kinds of information sources, including school grades, and your own and others’ observations of your child’s interests, concerns, persistence, and motivation.
  • By appreciating individual developmental differences, you increase your child’s engagement in learning and intrinsic motivation, which leads to better learning outcomes, greater self-efficacy, and stronger likelihood of happy productivity across her life span.

Read more

Seeing Beyond the Distraction of IQ

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In our work with families and schools, we’ve noticed that people sometimes confuse encouraging the development of children’s real-world intelligence—that is, raising smarter kids—and raising their IQs. It’s a distinction worth noting. Here’s why.

Intelligence is so much more than a score on a test. Secrets for raising smarter kids include keeping the emphasis on thinking, learning, challenging, creating, finding balance, playing, working hard, collaborating, persevering, and becoming wise. Boosting a child’s real-world intelligence may boost his intelligence test score, but not necessarily. And vice versa. Read more

thinking

How Comforting Kids When They Fail Can Rob Them of Motivation to Learn, by Luc Kumps

thinking

Teachers’ attitudes can have a powerful effect on kids’ motivation. Comforting students when they don’t do well can rob them of their motivation to learn, reduce their likelihood of taking on challenging courses, and lock them into low achievement.

If you believe talent is something a person is born with, or not, you’re more likely than others to give up when faced with difficulties. You’ll think that setbacks indicate the limits of your ability. People who think this way—sometimes called having a ‘fixed mindset’– avoid investing a lot of effort in a task, since effort exposes their lack of natural ability. Read more