We Underestimate Kids

Individually, and as a whole, we vastly underestimate what kids can do.

A few examples from my recent experience:

  • My family has been playing a board game this summer, labeled 14 and up. We were cautious about the nine-year-old, but he picked it up immediately. It was our six-year-old who surprised us. He plays it perfectly and wins probably more often than I do.
  • Our four-year-old can answer drop-the-needle tests with dozens of artists – composers and pieces ranging from Bach and Schubert to The Real Group and the Beatles. His response to music is visceral and omnivorous.
  • Recently we’ve been digging deep into the poems of Mary Oliver. (Listen to her On Being interview.) The other night our nine-year-old was weeping – weeping! – at the beauty of her poetry.

Before you say it: I use my kids only because they are the handiest examples. I have hundreds of examples of students rising to occasions and accomplishing things I didn’t think possible – as does any teacher who has worked for any length of time.

Children have deep intellectual capacity, deep musical capacity, deep emotional capacity – provided we give them the opportunity and don’t get in their way.

Sometimes I wonder: are prodigies incredibly rare and special, or are they kids with a gift who just haven’t been underestimated? How many Joey Alexanders would there be if we all agreed not to set our bars so low?