Post No.: 0898
Most ‘child prodigies’ are self-driven rather than arise due to pushy ‘tiger parents’ (read Post No.: 0844). They find a deep, almost insatiable, interest in specific areas or activities, like arithmetic or chess. However, acquiring knowledge quickly isn’t the same as being able to create or innovate. Thus most child prodigies don’t grow up to invent things or revolutionise their fields but have quite ordinary jobs and careers. This means that one shouldn’t be concerned if one’s child isn’t (or oneself wasn’t) regarded as a prodigy – it doesn’t guarantee success; plus we can innovate and succeed at any age. Woof!
Notwithstanding, if you desire to nurture a ‘child prodigy’ then parental support when a child is very young will assist them – their appetite for their specific interests needs to be fed with books, instruments, taking them to extracurricular activities and playing with them, for instance. Prodigy or not, a parent almost sacrificing their own life for their child and for one specific goal (e.g. a parent who takes their child go-karting on weekends, and perhaps even re-mortgages the house to fund this pursuit), as well as the child being dedicated to the very same goal, has boosted many young careers. Now this is a humongous risk and not every child will succeed despite such support – but at least they’ll have received such a boost because hardly all children are as fortunate.
Some people assume that it’s an immutable score but you can somewhat train to improve your IQ test score. Your score also depends on your general health, your mood and health at the time of testing, your upbringing, educational opportunities, aptitude for these particular types of tests, and more – which means that it’s difficult, or practically impossible, to disentangle your ‘raw, inherent cognitive abilities’ from your environmental factors and development. Nutritional deficiencies when young, or something like foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (which can occur if one’s mother drank alcohol when pregnant), can seriously affect one’s intelligence.
Studies do however show that IQ scores are pretty stable over our lifetimes; unless we experience a neurological insult or degenerative condition. Having said that, most of us don’t increasingly practise typical IQ test questions more as we age, and whatever age we reach, we’re still affected by our developmental history, the brain’s neuroplasticity generally decreases as an adult (which makes it harder to change our ways as we age), and environmental factors tend to compound (so if we had a deprived upbringing then we’re more likely to stay in deprived neighbourhoods when older). So again it’s hard to disentangle what’s down to our raw genetics and what’s down to our life experiences.
The ‘digit span memory test’ (memorising as long a string of random numbers as one can) is correlated with all kinds of academic achievement.
‘Savants’ are both exceptional in some areas and found lacking in others. This is a recurring stereotype of autistic people but ‘savant skills’ aren’t a defining feature of autism. This uneven range of abilities strongly suggests that intelligence shouldn’t or cannot be reduced to a simple number. It’s more than just fluid (broadly, working memory capacity) and crystallised (knowledge of things) intelligence.
Yet others argue that it still points to a single ‘g factor’ (general factor) – just that different people have different preferences based on individual background and external influences. It’s like, although a top golfer won’t automatically be a top swimmer, there aren’t dedicated muscles for golf and a separate set of dedicated muscles for swimming. If you commit your time to one field, or sport, then you cannot commit so much time in other areas, hence how intelligence, or sporting ability, specialises – and how otherwise smart people can occasionally do idiotic things! Everyone ends up having their own strengths and weaknesses. You can be good at music if you spend time playing music, especially from young, but that won’t necessarily mean you’ll be good at maths or languages unless you spend time specifically studying these subjects too.
If so, it’s difficult to improve our g factor but we can improve our abilities in specific areas – it just takes time, effort, persistence and the self-discipline to do stuff you don’t enjoy because it’s initially challenging. You could just carry on doing only the things you’re currently good at and know, but there’ll be a law of diminishing returns for your time and energy – so it’s worth trying new fluffy things occasionally.
But what if the overriding core attribute we need – masochistic self-discipline! – comes from one’s genes and cannot be effectively nurtured? You could have the genes to be highly creative but lack the self-discipline to make the most of them. Just like, if one wants to be strong – what’s the point of potential, like a bodily frame that could grow strong, without making use of it through committed resistance training?
Or even if our abilities could be nurtured, it still sometimes won’t be someone’s individual fault but their social factors like a lack of opportunities to learn, the quality of education available, a lack of nutrition, the parenting style they receive, injury, disease, expected cultural norms and stifling stereotypes. We again cannot disentangle ‘innate ability’ from environmental factors like culture.
Even just telling people that intelligence isn’t fixed can improve their effort and in turn performance. Self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion (expecting high performances) and Golem (expecting low performances) effects can also influence it. Well even what’s considered intelligent is partly shaped by one’s culture (e.g. the ‘correct’ way to categorise items into logical groups – should it be by function, material, weight, colour, etc.?) This can lead to judging members of other cultures, and other species, as less intelligent as us, when they’re evidently intelligent enough to survive in their own, possibly harsher, environments, and probably in a more sustainable way than we’re living too when we assume it’s more intelligent to rely on powered machines. Many of us also fail to hone our personal skills like navigating or calculating sums for depending so heavily on gadgets and apps. You can begin learning calculus, statistics or accounting by hand, for example, but then you end up using software packages that do most of the stuff for you if you just input the figures anyway. You might then eventually forget how to do these things by hand.
Modern tools do overall enhance our productivity though. Novelists, or really anyone, today who use word processors might want to spare a thought for writers from centuries ago who only had ink, quill pens and candlelight – finding and editing a paragraph is a doddle with software! Digital cameras allow us to see what we’ve shot immediately, rather than needing to wait until after developing the film. Yet still, such tools aren’t a substitute for skill – or if they are then they’ll take our jobs away altogether (like AI(!))
It’s not just the tools but also the teaching techniques. Through better understanding the human psychology of individuals and of group dynamics – scientists have devised numerous techniques that can improve pedagogy in schools, like picking random sticks with names on instead of only selecting any pupils who put their paws up; pupils using red, amber and green cups to indicate their understanding; pupils each using whiteboards to express their comprehension of a subject and to give them all a voice; inserting some physical exercise at the start of each day; giving detailed feedback and not so much grades; and perhaps even choosing a random secret student who has to behave in order for the class to gain points, and if a target number of good days are reached, a reward will be granted to the entire class!
It’s also probably better to teach subjects like maths via an applied or real-world problem-solving approach, as well as teaching formal measurement, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc..
If anything at all (the media likes to twist and exaggerate claims and it weren’t the scientists who coined the term ‘Mozart effect’) – classical music may at best induce a very temporary and small elevation in mental spatial performance. But even this claim is most probably about listening to, thinking about or doing anything that makes you personally feel happier. So listening to any kind of upbeat music before getting down to work may augment your performance.
It’s actually debatably more about learning to play music – which possibly teaches kids several key skills applicable to all academic study i.e. self-discipline, thinking, long periods of focused attention, practising and memorisation. When you first begin learning to play a musical instrument, you’re likely going to produce sounds that make cats cringe and dogs howl, and this is going to happen for a while. But if you can get past the embarrassment and the frequent early failures and stick with the activity then you’ll gradually improve with more practice, begin to enjoy it and start to make mellifluous sounds. (If you cannot afford a musical instrument then the voice is an instrument too, and good lead singers tend to receive more fame than good other instrument players if that’s what interests you or your child.) So your kids listening to music arguably isn’t enough – they must make their own music or do something else (like perhaps sport) that involves instilling self-discipline, focus and dedicated practice.
Classical music is considered more highbrow than say rock or folk music. Some interests or skills are encouraged just because they appear more ‘impressive’. I reckon too many high-performing pupils are, or at least were, goaded towards taking up subjects like Latin instead of more modern languages that are more useful in today’s world – if you wish to become a lawyer, for instance, then you’ll learn the Latin terms if and when requiratur!
It appears to be about classism as to why many people consider being able to play a classical musical instrument or speak a foreign language as more impressive than excelling at gymnastics or being able to fix cars. It’s not to denigrate the former skills but to recognise that many other skills should be regarded as just as useful (or useless compared to the opportunity costs).
It’s maybe also easier to recognise that the former skills are difficult to learn whereas one might not have a clue about what and how much is involved in a subject like psychology or computing to know how difficult these subjects are? Those in the know will also know that there’s a big difference between being able to speak and read a few foreign phrases or play a few songs on an instrument, and being able to speak and read fluently or play any kind of song just by following sheet music or copying by ear.
We do indeed always have to consider the opportunity costs for our time for spending hundreds of hours practising some kind of skill, like eventually being able to solve a Rubik’s Cube or stack cups in under 5 seconds, for instance. Do they involve transferable skills? The alternative isn’t just sitting on the couch and watching TV with one’s time (although a bit of this is fine). We could spend those hundreds of hours studying entire academic modules instead perhaps? This could be far more useful for one’s life, even though one won’t be able to show off with this newly-acquired academic knowledge as a party trick. (Please don’t try because you’ll be a bore!) We could be neglecting fundamental life skills like knowing how to cook? The point is that nothing comes for free especially when it concerns our time.
Of course, our children’s, and our, lives don’t have to be crammed with activities that must be productive and for some other purpose – we can just do some things for the fun of it. And as long as they aren’t wasting too much time, you or anyone cannot ask for anything more. Your child doesn’t have to be a prodigy to be happy.