Why are kids so smart?
They are, if we let them
On a recent Infinite Loops podcast, the question was asked: Many of the most important scientific breakthroughs have come from young scientists in their early 20s. I understand that some of the best stock traders are women in the 18-24 year range. Why is that?
We can easily explain why creativity and intellectual risk-taking decrease with age based on family and job responsibilities - one’s personal operating system consumes more and more of the available thinking resources. But why do so many geniuses shine at around age 20?
One explanation could be that there are chronological brain maturity processes that reach fruition at that time.
Maybe, but I would like to propose an alternative hypothesis:
At younger ages, these kids were equally, if not more, capable. However, the institutional education system was not able to provide them with the inputs they needed or to process and recognize the results of their genius. We need to rethink education from the bottom up. Ender’s Game is an instruction manual.
My step-grandaughter is ten years old. She has grown up so far in Singapore, speaking English, Mandarin and Swedish. Encouraged by her aunt, who is a world class restaurant reviewer, she decided to start a business of reviewing restaurants from the perspective of kids.
With the help of her father, an information industry leader himself, they are together learning AI tools like Stable Diffusion, GPT variants, and running a Substack. Her reviews are as good as any from a professional adult, humorous and insightful about what is important to kids.
Meanwhile, her seven year old brother is chomping at the bit to get his YouTube channel set up. At age 2, he was running his iPad like a boss.
Both of them are forging ahead with their ambitions, learning what they need to know on their own, unconcerned about the risks and willing to incorporate failure as part of their learning process - the very thing that education and “adult guidance” often try to beat out of them.
So the point of my hypothesis is this: Kids don’t have to wade through the years-long learning curve that us older folks had to endure. They start from where we are today as a given and move on from there.
Without the baggage of suppressed creativity, confirmation bias and tee many martoonies, they are clear to think in new ways about many, many things.
So, if we want to realize the incredible resource of genius that is our children, we need to free them from the one size fits all classroom dungeons and make all of the intellectual resources we adults take for granted available to them at the earliest possible age.
This doesn’t presuppose turning them loose into a feral existence (as my parents did), but channeling their energy into disciplined activities, like preparing Ender for an alien invasion.
Our new global connected human mind and the recent arrival of workable AI offer all of us the opportunity to learn, think and do faster and better than ever before. We need to make sure that our children maximize these new resources from the earliest possible age.
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