Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It is all about hardwork - of wizards and geniuses

Early this week, round about 7.30, Princess told me to watch this feature on Breakfast (TV One). It was about New Zealand’s most brainy kid – a 16 year old King’s College boy called Stephen Mackereth. The reason Princess was yelling for me was she had tuned in to a conversation I was having with a friend at dinner about this same boy and thought I shouldn’t miss the item. This Stephen boy topped the world in 4 out of the 6 Cambridge papers he sat, my friend told me. He was the Australasian champion for the Brain Bee competition and is a consummate debater (in Spanish) (I found this info from the web, incidentally). While reading up about neuroscience or the mystic workings of the brain, he also laps up on Ancient Greek during his spare time. What is it that makes him tick? His television interview doesn’t really shed much light. He seems like a nice kid.

Check out TV One's Breakfast interview with Stephen Mackereth

I have a confession – I am a sucker for watching boy wonders (champions in spelling or math and the likes). I spend hours watching You Tube clips of piano protégés. It fascinates me how children or young people have the capacity to coax their brains to do so much while my own brain is so static. The brain is a wonderful machine. Use it or lose it is the prognosis. I plan to do word puzzles to keep my brain going when I go older, or will it be too late then?

So back to talent. Lately, New Yorker journalist Malcom Gladwell (of Tipping Point fame) came up with a book on success – Outliers: The Story of Success. His point was although we love to think about genius or raw talent as key to success, the reality is successful people have been presented with great opportunities to do what they love in the first place. I have read in several places that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make a world class violinist. Gladwell reiterates this 10,000 hour-analogy. I haven’t read Gladwell’s book but a report in the Listener it sums up this way: It takes more than pure talent to succeed; it is better to give your kids more to do, more experiences, than to cushion them from hardwork. So if you are a mom ferrying your child to piano, to tennis, to math tuition, to drama, to dancing, to rugby, to cricket – you are on the right track. And if I heard all the child protégés correctly when they were interviewed, it tells the same story – they practice and practice and practice, some do three or four hours, others do six!

I keep parroting these words to Princess: “It is all about effort.” Some day, I hope she will remember talent is not everything, hard work is.

So Stephen, I think is a damn hardworking kid, to his credit. He also has inherent intelligence, curiosity and an infinite passion to learn – I think that is his key.

In schools, do they teach our kids in a way that unleashes their curiosity? Do they give kids the freedom to explore, to seek, to challenge? Or do the kids sit restless listening to the teacher drone on about this or that? This week, Princess has a topic to write on. No prizes for guessing. It has something to do with a dead boy king, some believe bludgeoned to death by a rival.