Is genius something that is innate, or can it be inspired and brought out over time? These debates have fascinated philosophers and educators for centuries, and can be briefly looked at via arguments for genius as being something tied to genetics, and as something that can be, if not created, certainly inspired and refined through hard work. In these cases, the definition of genius remains problematic, as does the variety of genius – is it more down to someone who has a natural talent for learning, or is more someone that can excel in a particular area?
Only a very small percentage of the world’s population can be considered geniuses, and even then the criteria are vague in terms of IQ tests and abstract reasoning. There does, however, seem to be a trend whereby those identified as geniuses have a highly developed frontal lobe in their brains, better alpha waves, and a larger hippocampus, which helps them to remember information. Whether or not genius can be created is consequently down, at least in part, to genetic advantages that you are born with.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that some forms of genius can’t be nurtured and inspired, if not actually created without natural talents. Children that are raised in homes where intellectual and creative stimulation is given can thrive if they have raw talent, while children without off-the-chart IQs or reasoning skills can still perform at a very high academic level. Genetics can arguably only go so far, and does not guarantee that success will be inevitable.
The importance of hard work and structured environments for inspiring and making the most of genius has been emphasised by studies into the origins of genius by Ericsson and Malcolm Gladwell. Studies suggest that those who excel in a given field like chess or music have to put in a huge number of hours of practice to turn their natural abilities into mastery. 10,000 hours has been suggested by Gladwell as the ‘magic number’ for achieving this mastery. Deliberate practice, and working at particular areas, can consequently make a major difference to an existing talent. Without it, a natural aptitude for maths, writing, or music, might decline, and what appears to be a prodigious talent can become less remarkable. A comparison might be made with a naturally gifted athlete that doesn’t practice or apply themselves to learning how to be part of a team, or able to maintain their fitness.
In this way, genius is something that does require inspiration and structure, even if it is not perhaps possible to take an ungifted but hard working child and transform them into a genius. Schools also face the problem of how to accommodate gifted students that may feel isolated in terms of curricula, and not challenged enough. Academically gifted students can lose interest if they aren’t catered to, and schools have to find ways to help their learning and allow them to excel. Some techniques include tiered marking, and providing additional assignments. So, to conclude, genius cannot be created, but can certainly be shaped and inspired into something substantial through hard work and structure.
Rob James has taught English in China, Spain and Peru. He now works in the UK and found his job via GSL Education. Rob enjoys the challenges of settling into a new culture. He can be found blogging about the many obstacles he has faced during his career.