Family Valued: Baby geniuses and the phantom future

One day when I was a pre-adolescent, a young mother and child paraded through our school escorted by the principal. The child was pre-school age, yet dressed better than the rest of us. He was also better behaved.

So, the principal sits this boy down in front of our high-performance class and begins to read off his accomplishments: something like he spoke five languages, had mastered Newtonian physics, and read James Joyce for fun. The whole room sat in silent awe. We were clearly not worthy. He mostly stared at his mother and paid little attention to anything around him. In retrospect, he probably wanted to have a snack and to go home. In conclusion, the principal led her two companions to the front door of the school and bid them farewell. Neither had articulated a single word, neither was seen again, and the incident was not spoken of again.

I cannot imagine what the principal hoped to accomplish by this dog-and-pony show, probably a misguided effort to lure the child into attending the school.

While I help my son with his homework, occasionally I remember that child in front of my middle-school class. I have to overcome the knee-jerk reaction which says similar phantoms are my boy’s competition for a quality future (you know: the good school, the good job, the good life). The daily repetition of parenting does not lend itself to maintaining a reasonable perspective. The pull of the elite education leading to entry into the imagined stratosphere leads to odd choices — even the little decisions that don’t seem like decisions and suddenly make this math problem in front of us more important than food or happiness or a life well-lived.

January, 2006

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