Even Geniuses Need an Education

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Celeste M. Brooks P'12, '21, Director of Communications

From Robotics to Storytelling through Drama, R-MA Middle School students are engaged in their academics.

The blog below was originally published December 3, 2013. I decided to add an update to the end of it, for any curious souls.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post just published “Why geniuses don’t need gifted education.” Before I read it, I thought I was going to disagree with him. But I was wrong—well, mostly.

I have one of those children who tested into gifted and talented. (I’ve never had her IQ tested, so I have no idea if she’s a “genius,” but she’s smarter than the rest of the family!) She wrote a 2,500-word book in her spare time—at age 10. She asked to attend R-MA’s summer academic camp so she could do math over the summer. She finds things geared towards her age group to be boring.  She’s frustrated when she doesn’t get something the first time.

So when I read Mathews blog and it said, “What those children get in an occasional pullout class is likely to be less interesting to them than their own research in their parents’ bookcases, kitchens, the local library and the Internet,” I nodded. She was in that boat, alright. 

Mathews cites millionaire Warren Buffet, Beach Boy Brian Wilson, and Amazon.com founder (and the relatively new owner of the Washington Post) Jeffrey P. Bezos as examples of students who attended “average” public schools and still went on to be successful. In the end, he concludes, “All schools can do is give them [geniuses] what they ask for and get out of the way.”

Even geniuses need to understand teamwork, a critical life-long skill taught at R-MA.

It's a powerful ending to his blog, but I don't think it is entirely accurate. Schools have moved beyond simple academics. Next year, I hope to have my daughter attend Randolph-Macon Academy, but it’s not for the great academics (although the teachers are fantastic, of course, or we wouldn't consider it). Mathews is right about that—she will do well academically wherever she goes. R-MA’s curriculum is flexible enough that if she needs to be in a ninth grade science class when she’s in seventh grade, they will make that happen. She will not be held back.

It is because I want my daughter to grow in areas other than academics that I want her to attend R-MA. My daughter has a fear of trying new things and failing—the nurturing of the R-MA community will help teach her that it is okay to try and fail, even when others are watching.  She has traits of a leader, but she is afraid to lead—the Air Force JROTC program will teach her how to do it and build her confidence, and at the same time teach her to be part of a team, which is an important thing even geniuses need to know. Those intangibles are what I believe she needs to develop in order to be successful in life.

If a child like Bezos is getting all he needs from public school, then that is wonderful. There are plenty of highly intelligent students for whom public school does work. But if it isn’t working, then it is the parent’s responsibility to make a change. Whether that means private day school, boarding school, homeschool, or something else entirely is up to us, the parents. WE are the ones who know our children best. WE are the ones who have learned how they respond to different stimuli.

Maybe geniuses don't need a gifted education, but they do need one that works for them, just like every other child. If the school isn’t giving the child what he or she needs, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Learning to follow and to lead are important meta-skills that are taught within Air Force Junior ROTC.

Update November 6, 2019: Sometimes as parents, it is hard to see exactly what our children need, but in this case, I believe my husband and I were right. It's always a relief when you're right!

My daughter had an interest in volleyball, but she was afraid to try out. Her eighth grade mentor at R-MA, who was also the volleyball coach, signed her up and told her to be there. As a result, she found a sport she absolutely loves, and volleyball has taught her that it is okay to make mistakes, but you have to let it roll off of your back and focus on the next play. It is an invaluable lesson for her. 

As for her leadership abilities, my daughter didn't wait for AFJROTC opportunities. She ran for and was elected president of the Middle School's Student Council Association in her eighth grade year. For her junior year, she became the Communications Officer for the Interact Club, and she is the Incoming President for the German National Honor Society. She also applied for cadre, our student leadership group in Air Force Junior ROTC. She earned the rank of Cadet Master Sergeant, and was named Bravo Flight Sergeant, which makes her responsible for the well-being of her flight. 

Along with all of this, she is receiving a top-notch education and is benefiting from all of the exciting innovations happening at the Academy. She's also exploring outside interests, as she has gotten involved in horseback riding. She has truly blossomed. We're excited to see what the future holds for her.