How well can a child be educated by the age of 10?

Given opportunity and enough drive, how much can one child learn, how quickly, how well?

Lots, it turns out. John Rogers writes for the AP about a remarkable 10 year old boy named Moshe Kai Cavalin.

One of his primary interests is “wormholes,” a hypothetical scientific phenomenon connected to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. It has been theorized that if such holes do exist in space, they could – in tandem with black holes – allow for the kind of space-age time travel seen in science fiction.

“Just like black holes, they suck in particulate objects, and also like black holes, they also travel at escape velocity, which is, the speed to get out of there is faster than the speed of light,” Cavalin says. “I’d like to prove that wormholes are really there and prove all the theories are correct.”

First, he has statistics homework to finish. Later, he’ll work with his mother, Shu Chen Chien, to brush up on his Mandarin for his Chinese class. Then it’s over to the piano to prepare for his recital in music class.

His father, Yosef Cavalin, frets about the piano-playing, noting that his only child recently broke his arm pursuing another passion, martial arts. He has won several trophies for his age group.

His parents tried to enroll him in a private elementary school when he was six, but he knew more than the teacher about subjects and looked bored in class, so was rejected. His parents home-schooled him for two years, then decided college was the next step. Now he’s within a year of finishing junior college and transferring to a four-year school to study physics. His secret to learning is hard work and focus, combined with an ability to make sense of complex patterns (one of the more useful definitions of intelligence).

It’s common to see smart and hard working kids like Cavalin portrayed as freaks of nature. However, accomplishments similar to his are well within the capacity of moderately intelligent children. Back in the days before universal education in the US, the purpose of education was to cram children full of as much knowledge as possible. Since education was paid for directly and supervised by parents, efficiency and value were necessary. The average age of matriculation at Princeton in the 1700s was 13! Graduation at 18 with a law or medical degree was not at all uncommon. “Doogie Howser” is not a freakish modern character, but the return of an old-fashioned archetype of what was once expected of young people. John Taylor Gatto writes of George Washington.

Washington had no schooling until he was eleven, no classroom confinement, no blackboards. He arrived at school already knowing how to read, write, and calculate about as well as the average college student today. If that sounds outlandish, turn back to Franklin’s curriculum and compare it with the intellectual diet of a modern gifted and talented class. Full literacy wasn’t unusual in the colonies or early republic; many schools wouldn’t admit students who didn’t know reading and counting because few schoolmasters were willing to waste time teaching what was so easy to learn. It was deemed a mark of depraved character if literacy hadn’t been attained by the matriculating student. Even the many charity schools operated by churches, towns, and philanthropic associations for the poor would have been flabbergasted at the great hue and cry raised today about difficulties teaching literacy. American experience proved the contrary.

Let’s see where Moshe Cavalin fits into the program. Cavalin started his college studies at age 8. He is now 10, and almost halfway through his undergraduate program. He could graduate from college at age 12 or 13 and enter a professional program that fall, meaning he could complete a graduate degree by the time he is 15 to 17. That is one to three years early by the standards of an efficient educational structure such as the was found in the American colonies of the mid-1700s. Early yes. Unusually so, no.

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3 thoughts on “How well can a child be educated by the age of 10?

  1. Genetics may be helping out a bit here. Ashkenazi Jews and Eastern Asians tend to have a greater liklihood of high “G”–and both tend to have high maths IQs–not that verbal scores lag in those populations.

    Given his apparent genetic and social heritage (respect for intellectual achievement ranks high in both ethnic groups), he has a double liklihood of advantage in achieving his intellectual potentials… and of those potentials having been high to begin with.

    Sidebar: For an interesting short essay on “How the Ashkenazi Got Their Smarts” see the link.

    Like the Gatto quote. Have posted that one myself. Washington, though not generally considered the brightest candle in the candelabra, nevertheless attained far more cultural literacy (re: Western Civilization) than easily 99% of today’s college graduates. Just reading his collected letters (there’s a wonderful 10-volume set I cannot afford–*heh*–but spent a year with, off and on, in a college library) is an eye-opener. Sadly, every volume was always available. Never knew anyone elkse to read in them. Had been in the collection for years and looked nearly unused. *sigh*

  2. I’d be careful about depending overly much on the Bell Curve. As Gatto writes in his intro:

    In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

  3. Pingback: accomplishments of albert einstein

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