Book Reviews : Genius in Children
The Genius in Children:
Bringing out the best in your child
Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity, And Creativity In Children
Available in Paperback and Kindle Editions
“In my work I am constantly reminded how an emphasis on achievement rather than on developing an authentic sense of self is creating an educational, emotional, and spiritual crisis in today’s teens. In his remarkable book, The Genius in Every Child, Rick Ackerly shows how a focus on character, curiosity, and creativity at a young age light the path to a successful life that includes, but is not limited to, academic achievement. The heartfelt examples in the book show how parents and teachers build self-worth and confidence in children when they allow them to take on challenges, to learn from disappointment, and to take responsibility. When we partner with our children’s genius or inner spark, we create the conditions for success. When we try to engineer their success, we put them at risk.”—Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids and Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success
“Rick Ackerly’s journey through the travails and triumphs of parenting both as a parent and as a principal/father-confessor to parents is captured exquisitely in this book. . . . A vivid portrayal of how smart parents let their children discover their own genius and path.”—Pat Bassett, President, National Association of Independent Schools
“Drawing on a lifetime of experience with children, Rick Ackerly has written a lively, engaging, practical book that captures the dilemmas and joys of raising and schooling children.”—Robert Evans, Ed.D., clinical and organizational psychologist and author of Family Matters
“The accounts and learnings in The Genius in Every Child are so deep and layered, you feel in your bones Rick Ackerly’s forty years of teaching kids and parents how to grow their brilliance. This book, and Rick, have so much heart and wisdom, you’ll not only read their words gratefully, you’ll return to them again and again. This just might be the only book on parenting you’ll ever need.”—Rebecca Lawton, author of Reading Water: Lessons from the River
Amazon Reader Reviews
By Carla Silver, Executive Director of the Santa Fe Leadership Center
At the annual meeting of the California Association of Independent Schools in June, I found myself with a lively dinner companion and conversationalist, Rick Ackerly. In my years working in Bay Area schools, I had heard about Rick and followed his career as a school head of St. Paul’s in Oakland and The Children’s Day School in San Francisco. It was a fortuitous meeting; I made a new friend and colleague, recruited a first-rate keynote speaker for the November Leadership Seminar and discovered that Rick is the author of a new book, The Genius in Children: Bringing out the best in your child. What follows is a review of this important book.
Don’t let the word “genius” in the title mislead you. Ackerly’s book is not about children with “extraordinary intellectual power” – the definition you might find in the dictionary. He does not suggest that all children are geniuses. Instead, Rick returns to a lesser used definition of genius: “the tutelary spirit of a person, place or institution.” He makes the case that each child has a genius, a spirit, spark, or as Rick call it, “a unique me that is becoming.” By nurturing that genius, we can help children to “maximize their potential academically, socially, physically, and personally.”
Reading Ackerly’s book resembles a conversation with the author himself. The Genius in Children is full of engaging personal stories from Ackerly’s forty-plus years as a teacher, principal, and parent of young children and young adults. Each of these stories illuminates the underlying values of the book which include personal responsibility and accountability, self-discipline, perseverance, and resilience. His primary message is that parents and teachers who display these characteristics and provide children with an environment that offers space for self-discovery will end up with adult children who are also responsible, disciplined, resilient, self-reliant, and who know their own genius.
Rick Ackerly is in the same camp as Wendy Mogul, author of Blessings of a Skinned Knee, and “Free Range Kids” blogger Lenore Skenazy in his belief that children need to be allowed to take risks, make mistakes, chart their own paths, and self-advocate without the constant intervention of well-meaning but meddlesome adults. In addition, he provides clarity on how parents and teachers can divide and conquer rather than duplicate the roles they play in kids lives. Parents should be parents. Teacher should be teachers. Children should be children with their own authority. Rick adamantly tells the adults to “play position.”
The Genius in Children deserves to be on schools’ recommended reading lists for parents and teachers not because Ackerly shares groundbreaking new insights on children, but because his book is filled with common sense, experience and a deep understanding of the relationships between adults and children. In a world of increasingly anxious, hovering parents, this book reminds readers to back off, give children some space and authority to make their own decisions, to fail, make mistakes, to succeed on their own, and discover their genius.
What about the members of the administrative team? Yes, this is a read for them as well. This book is as much about leadership as anything else. Knowing when to act, when to speak, or when to do nothing at all – these are essential skills for all leaders. Having the self-discipline and insight to know when to take action or when to not engage – these are challenges for parents, teachers or leaders of any sort. But skilled leaders balance this tension.
This week at a birthday party, all of the messages of Ackerly’s book played out before my very eyes. I watched as my son’s school classmate clocked my child, hard, in the head. I didn’t see what had transpired before the punch, but my son is no angel, so I assumed there had been some provocation. My son came charging towards me crying. The parent of the other child rushed towards us, dragging his son behind him. “Apologize!” he demanded. There was a part of me that wanted to hear the child apologize, but another part of me that wanted to see what would happen if I “played position” and let the kids work it out – gave them the authority to decide what happened next. I poured them each a cup of lemonade and said, “It seems like you two have been making some bad choices with your bodies. Can you work it out?” They each whimpered, took the lemonade and nodded reluctantly. By the time the lemonade had reached their lips, they were back to playing as if nothing had happened. It might not have been the resolution that most parents would have liked to see, one that included “talking it out” or exchanging apologies or “learning lessons,” but it was the resolution that made sense to them. They were over the argument without needing to exchange messages, hug, accept blame or follow the decorum that adults might impose on them. It was one of many “Rick Ackerly” moments I hope to have as a parent and educator.
Email from teacher, Amy TaiDear Rick,
I can’t begin to tell you how useful, brilliant, wise and wonderful I found your book, The Genius in Children.
There are so many ideas, statements, observations and recommendations that you make that resonate with my thinking, questions, and deeply held beliefs. It is a beautiful book and one that every human being should read. How different the world would be if all of our teachers and parents had believed (or just assumed, as you wisely say we need to do) in that genius in each of us; allowed us to stay in the struggle to become our full selves; acted outside of fear, and just been with us through it all, no matter how “ugly” or “bad” we may have looked or seemed to the world.
I love the way that you look so carefully at important words like discipline and character, and make the distinctions between virtues that are disciplines and virtues that are aspirations…there are countless gems in your book that made me stop and think, and say, aha! Or moments where I had to put the book down to just think and process, make connections in my own mind. I read once somewhere that a truly great book is not one that you can’t put down, but one that you must put down so that you can think about everything it is saying. Yours is such a book.Another thing that I LOVED was your observation about the way children do not have to be carefully taught the prejudices of their parents, society etc. Our job is to help liberate them. Again, the liberation process is much more simple than many believe. It is about listening to them. Listening to them when they are angry, listen to them when they are hurting, when they are frustrated, when they are heartbroken. Not just their words, but even more importantly their tears, their laughter, their deepest fears. Children are inherently compassionate and want to be connected.
You are a brilliant and wise parent/educator. How lucky all those students, parents, and teachers who get/got to be inside your air traffic controlling screen are!
Thank you so much for writing your book.
With deep respect and appreciation,
Email from a Parent
I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading The Genius in Children. I think it will make a great book, and it is the kind of thing that I wish someone had handed to me as required reading when we first started thinking about schools and educating our kids. I think it definitely could fill a niche by become a standard (the standard) reader for the new generation of parents. Anyone who walks through CDS could/should be offered this book in some small format that invites repeated use, and fits in your back pocket or briefcase. It is unique and insightful on so many crucial subjects, and it has accelerated my thinking immeasurably.
I also should apologize for holding it so long, and for not getting back to you, mostly because I haven’t wanted to give it up. I want to go back, revisit some parts and provide some more intelligent feedback. Rather than reading it and giving it back or putting it on a shelf, I have wanted to have it around as a reference, to read it a few times to make sure I haven’t overlooked some seemingly simple but profound message. But without delaying further, I wanted to at least let you know I thought it was a winner, and a much needed resource for our time and place.
It is a bit more dog eared than when I received it. I have discussed it with a friend or two from other schools who want to see it, but I have not shared it or reproduced it (though I can tell you there is interest).
Congratulations on an important accomplishment, this type of wisdom assembled is not easy to find. I hope I can take time to read through it again and provide some better feedback.
Email from a School Librarian
Thanks so much, Rick, for recollecting in tranquility that which you learned in the heat of a myriad moments. It’s awesome, amazing and beautiful to be able to read and re-read your insights so that they percolate down (“metabolize?”) into our souls and can be drawn upon in the heat of the moment. So many of your pointers resonate universally for humans of all ages.[P.143 – It is common for a child (for all of us, actually) to feel the pressure of the group and to change behavior accordingly.]
Many thanks for sharing the past, present and future fruits of your genius with us!
Elsa Thompson, Librarian, Children’s Day School
“…our number-one job as parents and educators is to notice the children in our care and to delight in them.” — Rick Ackerly, The Genius in Children
This line from the Introduction to Rick Ackerly’s book, The Genius in Children: Bringing Out the Best in Your Child, accurately sums up his philosophy on child-rearing gleaned from 40 years of working with students, parents and teachers as a father, school principal and consultant. When he speaks of cultivating the “genius” in our children, he’s not talking about raising their test scores or making sure they’re prepared to attend an Ivy League college. Rather, finding a child’s genius is uncovering the teacher that resides within the child. As parents, it’s our job to create the conditions that help children teach themselves.
The Genius in Children shows parents how to:
- Instill self-discipline in our children
- Define and enforce boundaries
- Strengthen children as decision-makers
- Act out of love, not fear
- Encourage enthusiasm for learning
- Create the right emotional atmosphere for reading
- Build children’s self-confidence
- Respond to children’s suffering and disappointment
- …and much more
Ackerly demonstrates these concepts through true-life stories of the children and parents he has encountered over the years, including his own children. He reassures us that parenting isn’t as complicated as we make it out to be because our kids have the innate ability to teach themselves when we create the environment in which they can do that. And by observing and uncovering the genius in our children, we find that they have a lot to teach us about parenting and raising little human beings.
“Be obscure clearly.” I can’t stop thinking about E.B. White’s quote.
The author found his genius in writing, and once he wrote, “I can’t remember any time in my life when I wasn’t busy writing.”
But is genius so often spelled out like the words woven into Charlotte’s Web? True magic reveals itself in mysterious ways, so why should genius be any less extraordinary?
When you allow yourself to see genius through the lens of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, a whole new world comes to life. And it’s not one that’s dominated by tests and time limits.
It’s a world of…play. Some of us like to play with words, some with numbers, others with music or art, and some with dance or tennis. We may not all be geniuses in the intellectual sense of the word ( and this type of genius needs to be nurtured just like any other type of genius), but we all have a spark – something unique within us – that is a gift waiting to be shared with others.
Some of us never discover that gift, but that shouldn’t stop us from helping our children to find theirs. How can we do that, when the clues might not exactly be spelled out for us?
Well, according to Rick Ackerly, who recently published the book, The Genius in Children: Bringing out the best in your child, we need to “treat children as if they know what they’re doing.” Instead of rushing in to teach, we should watch, listen, and follow their leads. See what they come up with on their own before we rush in to solve a problem for them. It makes a lot of sense to me. As a matter of fact, I wish more teachers would follow this philosophy as well.
According to Rick, who has been guiding children as a principal and father for many years, a parent’s role is not to teach in the traditional sense of the word, but to enjoy learning along with their children. Instead of trying to teach academic skills, parents should share books and real life learning experiences. I love when he states that the one thing parents should do is to “read to their children every evening before they go to bed.” It doesn’t mean they should try to teach reading skills. It’s more important to make reading a fun, enjoyable, and memorable experience.
In Rick’s view, parents should act more like air traffic controllers than hovering helicopters. Give them freedom, but make sure they arrive and depart safely. Let them take responsibility for their words, choices, actions, and mistakes. Let them figure out who they are on their own terms, and without pressure to “succeed,” or to fill anyone’s dreams but their own.
Rick raises an important point that “We make a mistake every time we take responsibility for something children can handle themselves.” As parents, we forget that doing nothing is in fact a choice, and sometimes the best one we could ever make. Sometimes, we pass on our anxiety by stepping in before we give our children a chance to solve their own problems. He refers to a very interesting and relevant (even though it was published back in 2004) Psychology Today article, entitled A Nation of Wimps, by Hara Estroff Marano.
What I like most about The Genius in Children is the anecdotes the author shares, which come from his extensive experience as a father and educator. He sheds light on what it takes to help a child to not only unlock the rainbow which lies within, but to be proud of what makes him unique. When we celebrate and delight in our differences, that’s when we will truly shine.
So, E.B. White spent a lot of his time writing. It would seem his parents did not have a hard time figuring out what his genius was. It was plain for them to see. It isn’t that easy for most parents, though, is it? We have our children trying out all sorts of extracurricular activities, and taking all these AP tests, but where is it all leading? Are we missing clues because we’re so immersed in all that busyness? I know the movie, Race to Nowhere, is coming out soon, and is about this very issue. It’s not playing in many theaters, though, so I may not get to see it anytime soon. Please let me know if you do!
The road to discovering genius certainly is not a straight, paved highway. We try so hard to lead our children to the road of success, often eliminating any obstacles in their path; but in doing so, it’s quite possible that we’re taking away the magic.
The magic is in the ambiguity. Think of it not as a hurdle to jump over, but as the final piece of the great puzzle of life. One day, it might just pop up in front of you just as a rainbow would. Just make sure you’re on the look out for it. You wouldn’t want to be looking the other way, and miss out in it completely.
Remember to look closely at those cobwebs before you brush them away! And never forget the words of E.B. White: “Be obscure clearly.”