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 

girl at window

Ten Steps toward Parenting for Happy Productivity Forget the résumé: Focus on self-actualization and legacy virtues instead

girl at windowAccomplishment, achievement, and recognition are good goals for our children, but being loving and happily productive on one’s own terms are better. For my children and grandchildren, what delights me more than any prizes the world might offer is a confident integrity; a radiant inner light; a life lived with love, kindness, courage, happy productivity, and appreciation.

David Brooks recently wrote a column in the New York Times called ‘A Moral Bucket List.’ In it, he distinguished between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues: ‘The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?’

Brooks goes on to write that although most of us see the eulogy virtues as more important than the résumé virtues, it is the latter—the attributes that bring wealth, status, recognition, and success in worldly terms—that we put the heaviest focus on through our culture and education. Kids are given more support for developing the skills and strategies they need for getting into top universities and making lots of money than for establishing the character strengths that lead to a life of happy productivity, love, and fulfilment, the kind of life that creates a meaningful legacy.

What can parents do who want their children to radiate the inner light that’s a symptom of self-actualization and the legacy virtues?

  1. Slow down enough to be loving and attuned. Too often, parents’ patience gets lost in the flurry of their busy lives, but loving attunement is the most powerful tool they have for supporting happy productivity across the life span. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Ensure ample time for free unstructured play. Free play—invented and managed by kids, both solo and with other kids—enables children to nourish their curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens their self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  3. Spend time outdoors. A daily dose of outdoor time—preferably in natural settings—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. By improving attention and focus, it also increases academic and other kinds of achievement.
  4. Help kids find their passions. Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery in the arts, the sciences, architecture, gardening, and more, as widely as possible. Support your children in developing their curiosities into passions.
  5. Welcome daydreaming, do-nothing times, and boredom. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  6. Teach your kids to breathe. Kids who learn mindful breathing techniques are better able to manage their stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention on cognitive, emotional, and physical activities. They can concentrate better on tests and exams, and cope better with challenging situations.
  7. Model a growth mindset. Reinforce your children’s awareness that abilities develop step by step, with hard work, persistence, and patience. Holding a growth mindset—including realizing that intelligence and creativity develop incrementally, and welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to higher measures of well-being in every area of life.
  8. Limit screen time. Yes, there is a time and place for electronic devices, but most kids are spending way too much time on them. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  9. Restrict homework and other structured activities. Yes, it’s important to support kids’ interests and abilities, but somewhat counter-intuitively, play and downtime are more important for happy productivity across the life span than more hours of homework, extracurricular lessons, organized sports, practice, and other good things.
  10. Say thank you. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s the opposite of entitlement, and people who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives experience higher levels of well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

In the end, parenting for self-actualization is probably all about balance. The first step—loving attunement—is the most important, and should come before everything else. After that, you can start with any one of the remaining nine steps, take it where it goes, and then try another. The ultimate goal is to integrate all of them into your children’s lives, in balance.

For more on these ideas:

‘The Moral Bucket List,’ by David Brooks 

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ Dona Matthews’ blog in The Creativity Post http://www.creativitypost.com/authors/list/162/dmatthews

 ’26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Rebecca McMillan, Jerome Singer, and Scott Barry Kaufman 

Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed me recently for a podcast in his series for Scientific American called ‘Beautiful Minds,’ where he explores intelligence, creativity, and the mind. We talked in some detail about the science of raising happily productive kids

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, Joanne Foster and I consider most of these ideas in more detail: www.beyondintelligence.net

 

Photo by Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons, Flickr

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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

intelligence IQ gifted education

Controversies and Misconceptions: Intelligence, IQ, and Gifted Education

intelligence IQ gifted education

Intelligence is a much more interesting, democratic, and dynamic process than a lot of people realize.

There’s a dangerous but all too prevalent misconception that some people are born intellectually gifted (and the rest of us aren’t). From this perspective, traditional models of gifted education make good sense. All one has to do is figure out who has the extra dollop of intelligence, call them ‘gifted,’ and segregate them with each other in order to give them special educational experiences. Under this misconception about the nature of intelligence, the best way to ascertain whether a person belongs to the gifted category (or not) is to administer an intelligence test. The resulting score—an intelligence quotient or IQ—is then interpreted as being stable over the person’s lifetime.

The more that’s being learned about the brain, however, the more that cognitive scientists and neuropsychologists are emphasizing the dynamic nature of intelligence and the diversity of developmental pathways that lead to gifted levels of competence and achievement. Ability is spread much more broadly across the population than the demographic distribution of IQ scores would suggest, and is much more amenable to environmental influences like family life and day-to-day experiences. Read more

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Parenting and Multi-Tasking in the Digital Age

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Tracy Dennis is both a mother and an eminent developmental psychologist who is interested in the impact of digital media on human development across the life span. She’s written several posts on this topic on her Psyche’s Circuitry blog. One of my personal favourites is the one where she writes about two ideas for parents to keep in mind when they are using digital media to multi-task while taking care of their kids.

Dr Dennis does not think that digital multi-tasking around children damages them, but does think it’s important to keep it in perspective, and keep it to a minimum.  Read more

Creativity: A Slow, Messy, Painful Slog, Followed by an AHA! (and More Work)

Creativity is mysterious, but it’s a lot more accessible than most people realize. The hard part about it isn’t the magic, but rather the fact that it’s built on and emerges from a whole lot of hard work.

Mark Changizi is a theoretical neurobiologist, who describes himself as ‘struggling with creativity both as a scientist trying to remain creative, and as a scientist trying to understand creativity.’ He writes a delightful blog for The Creativity Post on all manner of creativity topics.

In his most recent post, ‘The Provably Non-Incremental Nature of Creativity,’ he writes about the slow, painful, messy slogging that’s required to get to the beautiful magical AHA! moment: ‘Discoveries can be dressed up well, but the way we go about finding our ideas is almost always an embarrassing display of buffoonery.’

His analysis is both discouraging–creative breakthroughs take a lot of work over a lot of time, and require a tedious painful detailed muddling-through process–and totally encouraging–creativity is accessible to anyone willing to put in the work. He writes, ‘There’s no recipe for discovery… I’ve been able to prove that for some discoveries it is intrinsically impossible to know how close one is to reaching the end. For these puzzles, sudden breakthroughs—aha moments—are in fact logically required rather than due to some quirk of human psychology.’

http://www.creativitypost.com/science/the_provably_non_incremental_nature_of_creativity#.UMy_igFB6FE.facebook

Beware ‘neuroscience’ applied to education!

Neuroscience is one of the most exciting frontiers in our world today. Discoveries are being made that can transform our understandings of learning, teaching, resilience, and recovery from trauma. The concept of neural plasticity, for example, with discoveries of the extraordinary capacity of a brain to find work-arounds and continue developing across the lifespan–in spite of any previously diagnosed limitations of a person’s potential–supports optimism and continued efforts for parents and educators committed to the  optimal development of all children.

But there’s a lot of opportunistic misinformation, toys, electronic games, and gimmicks for sale being dressed up in the guise of neuroscience. Daniel Willingham suggests care in buying into stuff and educational practices that proponents describe as supported by neuroscience–currently there’s a lot more junk than treasure out there being called ‘neuroscientific’:

http://www.danielwillingham.com/1/post/2012/11/neuroscience-applied-to-education-mostly-unimpressive.html