This article was first published in 13d.com. Reproduced here by kind permission of the author, Kiril Solokoff.
In this uncertain world, we endlessly search for the best way to raise children and grandchildren.
As once again we consider home-schooling, we were recently drawn back again to the timeless Cradles of Eminence: Childhoods of More Than 700 Famous Men and Women by Victor Goertzel and Mildred Goertzel.
The Goertzels were intrigued with early influences on children, who later became famous people. Their research drew a number of conclusions about the upbringings of the celebrated people they studied, among them:
• They grew up in homes where excitement and love of learning were present, though they often disliked formal schooling and some were schooled at home. The homes the exceptional children grew up in were full of books and stimulating conversation and strong opinions. As a result, they learned to think and express themselves clearly from a very young age. They had at least one strong parent, usually the mother, who believed in them.
• Nearly all of the homes studied in Cradles of Eminence showed a love of active learning by one or both parents; these parents read literature to their children and discussed politics at the family dinner table. In fact, most parents of the later-to- be-famous children were highly involved in the daily lives of their children—even to the point of being pushy or dominating. They promoted educational pursuits like travel, study, practice, reading, playing board games, or making things.
• The majority of the people the Goertzels studied disliked school immensely as children; it was too slow for their quick minds. Many dropped out of school. Others skipped one or two grades—sometimes more—or were schooled at home by parents or tutors because school was not particularly challenging. The Goertzels found that talented young people often were not recognized by their teachers as having great potential. In fact, some, including Thomas Edison, Karl Menninger, Marcel Proust, Albert Einstein, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Winston Churchill, were even seen by their teachers as “dull” or “slow.”
• Are the traits of bright, talented children well understood by most educators? Regrettably, much ignorance and misinformation still exists about talented, able learners. Many bright adults tell us they experienced little challenge in school (at least until they reached college). These same adults are now raising children who also experience little challenge in school. With a lockstep curriculum, where every child is expected to learn the same material at approximately the same age, this is inevitable. The rationale teachers and school administrators give for keeping all eight-year-olds in the same grade is that socialization of the child is more important in the long run than academic challenge…Many of the eminent persons described in this book became eminent largely because they challenged prevailing social customs.
• Many education leaders note that the focus in many schools these days (except in athletics) is on basic minimal levels of competency that has had the effect of “dumbing down” curriculum content compared to that of earlier years. Though it is admirable to work toward all students meeting minimal competence, too much emphasis on this means slower students receive most of the effort and attention, which leaves bright students languishing with little or nothing meaningful to do.
Cradles of Eminence points out that to be eminent, one must learn to function independently and be self-directed, something George Betts and Jolene Kercher call the “autonomous learner.” An autonomous learner is one who is consciously aware of the learning process and is able to summon his or her skills and strategies to accommodate any new learning situation. If a learner can do this, he or she can become autonomous by taking control of and responsibility for his or her own learning. (Good luck trying that in the classroom.)
In the introduction to the second edition of Cradles of Eminence, James T. Webb, Ph.D., and Janet Gore, M.Ed., write as follows: “[The Media and] peer pressure in today’s world…handicaps the development of individual identities… [Our children are continually bombarded by media messages which attempt to tell them what to eat, how to dress and how to behave.] It takes a very strong adolescent to resist intense peer pressures, yet many areas of eminence—particularly those involving creative endeavors—require non-traditional behaviors and a strong sense of personal identity…Like the parents described in Cradles of Eminence, home-schooling parents today tend to hold strong and often unconventional opinions; they do not want their children subordinating themselves to peer pressures of conformity and mediocrity, and they themselves have a strong love for learning, a keen sense of values, and a personal mission.”