Can everyone turn into a genius? (about Genius in All of Us, by David Shenk)

I must say up front that I have not read The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, by David Shenk. I’m only writing about the Talk of the Nation NPR show “Not Too Late To Tap Into ‘Genius In All Of Us‘” discussing it.

I really liked the following statement:

“Having high expectations is always crucial. Another is that (and I do not envy the teacher in this) that the critical thing in a classroom of 20 kids or 30 kids or, God forbid, more than 30 kids is trying to find out the level of all these different kids and hit all of them just slightly above their level – not too far above, because that’s going to be discouraging to anyone, certainly not too far below because that’s going to feel really boring and be discouraging for a different reason, and also trying to find, in each of these distinct personalities, what gets them going.”

I wish David Shenk elaborated on the “discouraging for a different reason” piece, but overall he did say he does not talk much about education in his book. Too bad…

It is nice to tell the kids they all can be who they want to be and reach for the stars. I assume that this is what Genius in All of Us is saying.

But what about the kids who are very smart but whose passion for learning (and whose advanced synaptic connections) are killed by teachers forcing them to stay way below their level of ability?

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program

I mentioned research-supported findings about how stress affects physical health and well being in my last post “Worried about my telemers.” Since then, I have attended and completed an anxiety study at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and I’ve learned a few interesting things. It was an interesting experience as well.

The study (about which I learned from an ad on the subway) is titled “Stress Reduction Techniques and Anxiety: Therapeutic and Neuroendocrine Effects,” and it is sponsored by the National Institute of Health, and is conducted by the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital. I believe they are still accepting “subjects.” As the Center’s website says, the study is “testing the effectiveness of two types of stress management courses for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders.”

I was in the “meditation” class, and our teacher came from the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. Apparently, studies show that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction offers “reductions in medical and psychological symptoms across a wide range of medical diagnoses,” as UMass Medical Center’s page on research boasts, so now the MGH study is comparing the effects of MBSR to another stress management course.

Because we were “lab rats” so to speak, we did not have to pay tuition for the class, which normally is around $500 at the UMass Medical Center, although the center’s page does say: “Our goal is to the make the Stress Reduction Program available to those who can benefit without regard to ability to pay. Alternative payment options may be considered.”

Incidentally, my health insurance company, Harvard Pilgrim, offers a 15% discount off a mindfulness class at UMass Medical, but I also found that it offers a six-week class for only $150, which is a much better deal. Too bad Harvard Pilgrim offers it in only one location. Harvard Pilgrim’s site also has a page about mindfulness, together with free MP3 meditation downloads.

During the first class I asked our meditation teacher about the difference between the MBSR program and the programs at MGH’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. She said that there is an important difference, but I never got to hear what it is, because we were interrupted. I got to hear Dr. Benson speak once about his program, and it sounded fascinating. By the way, the Benson-Henry Institute is the only place in Massachusetts I found that offers a six-week stress management class specifically for parents of “behaviorally challenging children.”