Carson Huey graduated from high school with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and a 1770 Scholastic Aptitude Test score. He is now a freshman at Texas Christian University, studying calculus, physics, history, and religion for a total of 14 credit hours.
Impressive, you say? Consider this—Carson is eleven years old. (His brother is seven and studying at an eighth grade level.) He began reading books at age two and hopes to finish his Ph.D. by age twenty.
Stephen Stafford’s case is similar. Now sixteen, he also began college at age 11 and is pursuing a triple major—pre-medicine, math, and computer science. (He is also a classical pianist.) Two differences about Stephen: he is from Detroit, a city with a graduation rate of only 25%; and his parents took him out of public school in fourth grade and began home schooling him. (Over the next two years, his advancement was phenomenal.)
Two noteworthy facts: both Carson and Stephen are from two-parent families and both are black.
We must resist the temptation to jump to extravagant conclusions from these two cases. For example, it would be illogical to conclude that the same level of achievement is possible for all students. These two young men are obviously unusually gifted and their achievements surely can’t be matched by average students of any race, whether home schooled or not.
Nevertheless, there are reasonable conclusions that can be drawn even from such a small sampling of achievement.
Having two parents rather than a single parent contributed to the young men’s success, if for no other reason than that two individuals can accomplish more than one. (Though it is possible for a single dedicated parent to provide the same guidance, it is much more difficult to do so and therefore less likely.)
Effort was a factor in both stories. No matter how brilliant the young men are, if they did not devote the time to reading the books and doing the math problems, the books would have remained unread and the math problems undone. As a result, their achievements would be fewer and less impressive.
Positive, cooperative attitudes toward parents and teachers played a role in Carson and Stephen’s success. (That they have such attitudes is clear from the videos and news stories about them; that positive attitudes play a positive role may be inferred from the fact, as any classroom teacher can confirm, that negative attitudes have a negative impact on academic performance.)
If effort and attitude play a role in the achievement of geniuses like Carson and Stephen, they likely play an even greater role in the achievement of less gifted students.
So what lessons do these reasonable conclusions hold for those who have responsibility for young people: parents, teachers, and elected officials?
Parents should foster in their children the conviction that, though injustice and inequality exist in all societies, in America opportunities to overcome such handicaps are numerous and the key to profiting from them is effort. Also, that the goal of every task, no matter how small, should be excellence. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this point eloquently in a speech to an Ohio high school student assembly in 1967:
Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that nobody can do it any better. If it falls your lot to be a street-sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say “Here lived a great street-sweeper who [performed] his job well.”
Parents should also teach their children to respect their teachers. One way to do this is to help children appreciate how difficult a teacher’s job is and how important students’ cooperation and deportment are in the learning process. Whenever possible, parents should reinforce this lesson by demonstrating respect for teachers (and learning) themselves whenever the opportunity arises.
Teachers should realize that students learn as much from teachers’ behavior as from their formal lessons. Thus, teachers should model hard work and love of learning. They should also demonstrate their belief in the potential of all students by offering meaningful learning challenges and encouraging every student to strive for excellence.
Elected officials should do everything in their power to help parents obtain a good education for their children. This does not mean merely investing tax money in public schools and urging them to meet high performance standards. It also means allowing parents the option of removing their children from schools that do not perform well. This option is especially important in the case of low-income families and the only way to meet it is by a voucher system. In such a system, the parents can have their children’s share of the public school budget transferred to a private school of their choice. Many elected officials have been pressured by teachers’ unions to deny parents this option, but common sense and common decency demand they resist that pressure.
Achievements like Carson Huey’s and Stephen Stafford’s are not only cause for celebration, but also for renewing the belief that all young people have significant potential and strengthening our commitment to creating the conditions necessary for them to realize it.
Copyright © 2013 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved