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We Live Among Genius

Updated: May 9

Written by Megan Jorgensen



The idea of genius has intrigued us as a species for over 100 years.  This drive to understand genius influenced my own family history as my grandfather participated in the Genetic Study of Genius or the Terman Study of the Gifted from 1921 until 1986.[1] While a few participants went on to achieve notable things, most chose to live a more mundane life.  My grandfather was in the latter group.   With this background, my interest was pricked when I read in John Gatto’s book, Dumbing Us Down, that “genius is as common as dirt.  We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women.”  I leave it for others to discuss whether genius is being intentionally suppressed, but with the innumerable inspirational quotes and public speakers about our potential, messages typically geared towards adults post graduation…

 

“Don’t be afraid to stand out in a world that wants you to blend in.”  - anonymous

 

“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success”– James Cameron

 

…it seems we haven't cultivated it very well pre-graduation.

 

This led me to three questions: 1) Are we all genius in some way?  2) If so, how do we cultivate it? 3) What would our world look like if it was more widely cultivated? 

 

Webmd.com explains genius as “someone with extraordinary intellectual or creative power. Psychologists in the early 1900s were the first to measure and define genius in terms of a person's intelligence quotient (IQ)... [over 180].


There is no one definition of genius. But many doctors… define genius as a wealth of originality, creativity, and the ability to imagine or think in new ways and areas.”[2]


If genius is simply a score on an IQ test and the ability to be original and creative, can genius be developed? According to Indeed.com it can. “There are different ways to measure IQ, but they all rely on similar principles, which means it's possible to increase your IQ with study and training. Improving your IQ can help you to improve your problem-solving and lateral thinking skills, which can be useful in many careers.”[3]

 

So, if the seed of genius lies within each of us, how do we get better at cultivating it?


Before we look at how to cultivate it, let’s look at the effects of what we currently do. In Dumbing Us Down, Gatto points to the school system as the culprit of genius suppression. He implies that the school system is a network designed to create employees and consumers.  A system which keeps us children longer than necessary and some of us indefinitely.  Those are some pretty hefty charges toward a system we’ve all grown up with in some way or other.  Yet, I also see the validity of the indictment. 


I recently substituted in a few Jr. high and high school classes.  Many of those students seemed so bored with school and it wasn’t just because a substitute teacher was in the room.  They told me straight out that they didn’t care about learning anything in that class.  They were more concerned with getting a passing grade to keep their parents happy. What amazes me is that the school system supplies the opportunity. 


For example, one student told me he had an F the last week of the previous term.  He came in after school during that week and spent 5 hours doing make up work and got his grade to a C+.  Another time a student asked, “Can I not do this assignment today? I’m fine turning it in late and getting a B.” She appeared to just want to socialize for an hour and half instead of doing the assignment because in her mind there seemed to be no connection between the assignment and valuable learning. These attitudes are prime examples of the cultivation of mediocrity, dependence, and external easy rewards, not genius.

Yet, upon casual conversation with students about what they were interested in, I could see a desire for genius.  One who I continually endeavored to redirect towards the assignment, spent the majority of the class period watching boxing on his iPhone.  He wanted to become a boxer and the history class we were in was just a thing to endure.  It was his 2nd time taking the class.  Why couldn’t he have a discussion about history in the context of boxing?  Could we have helped cultivate his genius in the direction he was already going?  Another one was never planning on going to college, he wanted to do summer sales in order to gain skills to become an entrepreneur in the financial field.  How could we help cultivate his success in that arena? There were others who wanted to develop their love of baking. Yet, they were all sitting in classrooms bored, tuned out, wasting their time, turning in work from which they may or may not have learned something. 

Now this was not everyone’s experience. There were other classes where students were engaged, writing their own works of fiction and nonfiction, working together to decipher the meaning of a book or creating a display portraying knowledge they had gained.  These students were developing skills of genius: creativity, connection, communication, problem solving etc. Why the disparity?


It’s easy to point fingers to explain the inconsistency.  We can blame the children themselves, their families, society, the system, the class size, the teacher, the state and national standards, the textbooks, etc.  Yet, the deciding factor has been and always will be the individual.  However, we must remember that the individual lives within a community and the culture within which they grow does have a profound impact on them. Thankfully, our educational culture is changing such that the individual has more autonomy. 


As stated previously, the development and use of genius is an individual matter.  During the Genetic Study of Genius it seemed that many of those genetically inclined towards greatness chose a more mundane life.   A person’s personal desire and ability to achieve in areas of their choosing is paramount in the cultivation and use of their genius.  My grandfather, for example, was a creative genius shipped off to boarding school at the age of 7. He spent the rest of his life self-medicating with cigarettes and alcohol the trauma of boarding school life heaped upon his tender heart. I assume the school wasn't bad, it just wasn't what my grandfather needed to develop his genius. The advantage of today over those in the past 100 years, is the surge of educational options.  With so many microschool, private, charter, homeschool, and coop options, individuals now have a choice to go where they can cultivate their individual capacities and genius best.  The institution does not have to be king anymore.  The individual and their family can take their rightful place as the fundamental force in a community.  If your child is going through the school motions just to get a grade and not developing their genius – take them somewhere else.  Mark Twain has been oft repeated, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”


Moving on to the final question: What would communities look like with a truly educated electorate living their genius?  We would see people who believe they have and then use their personal genius without the need for permission to act on it.  Couple this with an understanding that everyone else has the same opportunity with their genius.  Then collaborate geniuses together with polite and proper communication and what do we have - productive problem solving and so much more. 


We live among genius.   Today, right now, we have abundant opportunities to help ourselves and others cultivate it.  Don’t make this life about a grade, pleasing an authority figure, popularity, etc.  Make it about cultivating your genius in order to make the world a better place.  We live among genius and we need yours! 




[1] Genetic Studies of Genius, Wikepidea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_Studies_of_Genius

[2] What are Signs of Genius, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/

[3] 9 ways to increase IQ at home (plus definition and tips), indeed, www.uk.indeed.com

 

 

 

 

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