Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gifted or How to Destroy Your Child's Life

My mom used to say that she was grateful to have smart children, but not geniuses. I have a better idea of what that means now that I've read "Gifted" by Nikita Lalwani. This book is a great guide in what not to do if you have a child math prodigy. Rumi Vasi is born to native Indians who now live in England. Her father is a math wiz himself, teaching at a nearby college, and her mother is no dummy either, having been accepted into a medical school in India before her parents arranged her marriage. You can see where Rumi's brains come from. Once her intelligence is discovered, Rumi's father goes into overdrive, scheduling out her day down to the minute and pushing her growing abilities to the max. How could this story possibly end well, people? I ask you!

Rumi is being raised by people whose cultural norm is completely different from what she is surrounded by day to day. I'm not saying that she shouldn't be raised in a traditional Indian way, but how much harder is it to follow when you're surrounded by a vastly different culture? You have to believe in what you're being taught, and Rumi does not. Of course, her father's stringent rules and demands and her mother's constant guilt trips don't help. Rumi decides that the only way she'll have any freedom and break loose of her father's grip is to get accepted into Oxford at the age of 15. It's far away enough that she'd have to live there, at least part of the time, and she could determine her own schedule. The pushing for early acceptance now comes from Rumi, not her father, though he has no idea of her real reason.

So sad. This whole book is sad. Her father's complete emotional constipation, her mother's violent outbursts, her sweet little brother getting lost in the mess, her friends who can't seem to reach her, and most of all, Rumi's spiraling self-destruction. Man, I'm depressed thinking about it. It was kind of cool to look into her brilliant mind a bit, as she counts and multiplies when she's nervous or stressed. But mostly, it was depressing. Well written, but sad. Pray for normal children.

Speaking of abnormal children, I read a Time article a few months ago about brilliant children and what's best for them. The article quoted evidence that letting children skip grades ended up with a more emotionally, socially well-balanced person than holding them back to be with their age group. Being held back intellectually was more frustrating and harmful than being much younger than their classmates. Interesting. There was a kid down the street from me growing up who was a math genius. He was bussed from the elementary school to my math class in junior high. He was slightly odd and talked weird, but not a bad kid. In high school, I saw him again somewhere and he was surrounded by friends (nerdy ones, but friends no less), having a great time. I knew he was at least 3 years younger than most of them, but he seemed perfectly happy. It's possible. Brilliant does not a unhappy child make. It all comes down to the parents, I would guess. They have more to do with a child's behavior than their surroundings. Great. That means when my children are out of control or acting bizarrely, I know where to place that blame. Let's say it's partly the parents and partly the children themselves, their personalities and eccentricities. Whew. Dodged the bullet there.

Back to the point. Read the book. It's not too bad. Or don't. Whatever. I'm not smart enough to make a convincing argument. Thank goodness.


  1. Always interesting. My mom skipped a grade. B-girl probably should have, although she was not emotionally ready, she was gifted ready. M_boy attended a class during his regular school time called Academically Able during his 4th grade. He had extra homework from that and he hated it. So who knows?
    great blog

  2. That was a very enjoyable post. I think I'll look into that! I think it's a crapshoot when it comes to skipping grades or not. I'm very grateful that my parents did not have me skip a grade when it was presented to them. But it might work for some kids.

  3. Do you remember when that Time article was published? I'd be interested to read everything they said. Thanks for the book review, as well. It sounds fascinating. You see parents like that in the music world as well. I am glad that so far, it seems we'll have a normal child.

  4. Huh, I don't know when it came out. It was last summer sometime. Maybe you could google for it?