Your Baby is not Einstein

Updated 10-Feb-2021

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards

It is obvious that nearly all babies are not Einstein, the archetypal genius and polymath. Einstein is famously not created but arrived sui generis, emerged out of himself. As a child he didn't speak in full sentences until the age of five. This would be considered severely problematic, though it was obviously not due to a learning disability or lack of intellect.

However, Einstein is used as a prop in the marketing of education services and products. The idea is that given a particular product or service, the inner Einstein potential can manifest for a child. Such hogwash and really parents should both despise and decry such false idols. But really, most don't because they are not educated or intelligent enough to realize they are being duped. Wish fulfillment has a very strong pull on parents. They want only success for their children, as well as pride for their children's achievements and abilities. Don't we all.

Einstein did not use flash cards

An amazing break with the product and service category of child intellectual enhancement arrives in the tome entitled Einstein did not use flash cards. Seemingly helpful, this rejoinder to over-hyped intellect development seems at a loss for how to go on. The facile argument goes something like:

  • Einstein did not use flashcards
  • Therefore your child does not need to use flashcards (presumably to reach Einstein-level capability?)

The reality is that flashcards, if used appropriately (and not as a part of Shichida, Heguru, Right-Brain Scams), are fine. Why not use flashcards if they can help children learn? I recall my mother using flashcards back in 1970 teaching me to read at the age of 4.

Your baby is not Einstein

I think the main point to make of all this is that your baby is not Einstein, sorry to say. Sorry, not sorry. No, there is nothing wrong with not having Einstein for a baby. He was one-in-a-billion. All children are different from each other, but there are certain patterns that hold. Some may not respond well to flashcards, fine. Others will, fine as well. Use them or don't but why bring Einstein into this?

Your baby is not a genius (unless they are)

Unfortunately, people like to use words that don't apply, to make them feel better (or more likely because they can't understand a phenomena). Children are amazing and surprising, and seem at times to know more than they possibly can (and at other times, less than they should). This is not genius at work (unless it is, but that is quite rare). A recent post at Janet Lansbury fell into the same trap with the title Four ways to kindle your child's genius. In this sense genius is being used in a very different way:

Genius, commonly defined as "extraordinary intellectual and creative power", is a term we probably wouldn't use to describe ourselves or our children. We may believe we're smart or talented, but most of us don't think we're all that extraordinary. Even if we are "a person who has an exceptionally high intelligence quotient, typically above 140", we don't typically imagine ourselves geniuses.

Far more exciting and productive is the definition of genius that educator Rick Ackerly subscribes to in an inspiring and informative book I highly recommend, "The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity, and Creativity in Children". His perception of genius: "... a great science teacher I know called it 'the teacher within,' and we all have it. According to James Hillman and Thomas Moore, it goes by many names: soul, muse, calling, psyche, and destiny. It is the you that is becoming. It is our inner author and the source of our authority in the world."

That is all well and good, but why call it genius? This is just marketing hocus pocus. Call it muse, inspiration, the teacher within, what have you. Let's leave Einstein and genius out of it. While some may think this is making a mountain out of a molehill, the idea that a child has a genius within them we just need to leave alone is to abandon the role of a parent and forget the very real needs of a child, and the development that takes place.

Children in general are far from geniuses, though of course they have brilliant insights and can speak and act with intelligence at times. Even Einstein need to be taught how to put away his toys and to look both ways before crossing the street. Abdication of parental responsibilities is a real danger if we start to believe there is a genius (someone smarter than the parents) waiting and watching to take care of the children.

By all means, let them play, and encourage them to respond to their positive impulses, but we as parents have a vital role in how that unfolds as well as helping acculturate the children to a high functioning household and community.