Bring up Genius

post by Viliam · 2017-06-08T17:44:03.696Z · score: 55 (50 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 58 comments

Contents

    Introduction
  1. Secrets of the pedagogic experiment
    1.1. The Polgár family
    1.2 Nature or nurture?
  2. A different education
    2.1. About contemporary schools
    2.2. Each child is a promise
    2.3. Genius - a gift or a curse?
    2.4. Should every child become a celebrity?
    2.5. Esperanto: the first step in learning foreign languages
  3. Chess
    3.1. Why chess?
    3.2. How did the Polgár sisters start learning chess?
    3.3. How can we make our children like chess?
    3.4. Chess and psychology
    3.5. Emancipation of women
  4. The meaning of this whole affair
    4.1. Family value
    4.2. Being a minority
    4.3. Witnesses of the genius education: the happy children
    4.4. Make your life an ethical model
None
59 comments

(This is a "Pareto translation" of Bring up Genius by László Polgár, the book recently mentioned at Slate Star Codex. I hope that selected 20% of the book text, translated approximately, could still convey 80% of its value, while taking an order of magnitude less time and work than a full and precise translation. The original book is written in an interview form, with questions and answers; to keep it short, I am rewriting it as a monologue. I am also taking liberty of making many other changes in style, and skipping entire parts, because I am optimizing for my time. Instead of the Hungarian original, I am using an Esperanto translation Eduku geniulon as my source, because that is the language I am more fluent in.)

Introduction

Genius = work + luck

This is my book written in 1989 about 15 years of pedagogic experiment with my daughters. It is neither a recipe, nor a challenge, just a demonstration that it is possible to bring up a genius intentionally.

The so-called miracle children are natural phenomena, created by their parents and society. Sadly, many potential geniuses disappear without anyone noticing the opportunity, including themselves.

Many people in history did a similar thing by accident; we only repeated it on purpose.

1. Secrets of the pedagogic experiment

1.1. The Polgár family

The Polgár sisters (Susan, Sofia, Judit) are internationally as famous as Rubik Ernő, the inventor of the Rubik Cube.

Are they merely their father's puppets, manipulated like chess figures? Hardly. This level of success requires agency and active cooperation. Puppets don't become geniuses. Contrariwise, I provided them opportunity, freedom, and support. They made most of the decisions.

You know what really creates puppets? The traditional school system. Watch how kids, eagerly entering school in September, mostly become burned out by Christmas.

Not all geniuses are happy. Some are rejected by their environment, or they fail to achieve their goals. But some geniuses are happy, accepted by their environment, succeed, and contribute positively to the society. I think geniuses have a greater chance to be happy in life, and luckily my daughters are an example of that.

I was a member of the Communist Party for over ten years, but I disagreed with many things; specifically the lack of democracy, and the opposition to elite education.

I work about 15 hours a day since I was a teenager. I am obsessed with high quality. Some people say I am stubborn, even aggressive. I am trying hard to achieve my goals, and I experienced a lot of frustration; seems to me some people were trying to destroy us. We were threatened by high-ranking politicians. We were not allowed to travel abroad until 1985, when Susan was already the #1 in international ranking of female chess players.

But I am happy that I have a great family, happy marriage, three successful children, and my creative work has an ongoing impact.

1.2 Nature or nurture?

I believe that any biologically healthy child can be brought up to a genius. Me and my wife have read tons of books and studies. Researching the childhoods of many famous people that they all specialized early, and each of them had a strongly supportive parent or teacher or trainer. We concluded: geniuses are not born; they are made. We proved that experimentally. We hope that someone will build a coherent pedagogical system based on our hypothesis.

Most of what we know about genetics [as of 1989] is about diseases. Healthy brains are flexible. Education was considered important by Watson and Adler. But Watson never actually received the "dozen healthy infants" to bring up, so I was the first one to do this experiment. These are my five principles:

* Human personality is an outcome of the following three: the gifts of nature, the support of environment, and the work of one's own. Their relative importance depends on age: biology is strongest with the newborn, society with the ten years old, and later the importance of one's own actions grows.

* There are two aspects of social influence: the family, and the culture. Humans are naturally social, so education should treat the child as a co-author of themselves.

* I believe that any healthy child has sufficient general ability, and can specialize in any type of activity. Here I differ from the opinion of many teachers and parents who believe that the role of education is to find a hidden talent in the child. I believe that the child has a general ability, and achieves special skills by education.

* The development of the genius needs to be intentionally organized; it will not happen at random.

* People should strive for maximum possible self-realization; that brings happiness both to them and to the people around them. Pedagogy should not aim for average, but for excellence.

2. A different education

2.1. About contemporary schools

We homeschooled our children. Today's schools set a very low bar, and are intolerant towards people different from the average by their talent or otherwise. They don't prepare for real life; don't make kids love learning; don't instigate greater goals; bring up neither autonomous individuals nor collectives.

Which is an unsurprising outcome, if you only have one type of school, each school containing a few exceptional kids among many average ones and a few feeble ones. Even the average ones are closer to the feeble ones that to the exceptional ones. And the teacher, by necessity, adapts to the majority. There is not enough space for individual approach, but there is a lot of mindless repetition. Sure, people talk a lot about teaching problem-solving skills, but that never happens. Both the teachers and the students suffer at school.

The gifted children are bored, and even tired, because boredom is more tedious than appropriate effort. The gifted children are disliked, just like everyone who differs from the norm. Many gifted children acquire psycho-somatic problems, such as insomnia, headache, stomach pain, neuroses. Famous people often had trouble at school; they were considered stupid and untalented. There is bullying, and general lack of kindness. There are schools for gifted children in USA and USSR, but somehow not in Hungary [as of 1989].

I had to fight a lot to have my first daughter home-schooled. I was afraid school would endanger the development of her abilities. We had support of many people, including pedagogues, but various bureaucrats repeatedly rejected us, sometimes with threats. Finally we received an exceptional permission by the government, but it only applied for one child. So with the second daughter we had to go through the same process again.

2.2. Each child is a promise

It is crucial to awaken and keep the child's interest, convince them that the success is achievable, trust them, and praise them. When the child likes the work, it will work fruitfully for long time periods. A profound interest develops personality and skills. A motivated child will achieve more, and get tired less.

I believe in positive motivation. Create a situation where many successes are possible. Successes make children confident; failures make them insecure. Experience of success and admiration by others motivates and accelerates learning. Failure, fear, and shyness decrease the desire to achieve. Successes in one field even increase confidence in other fields.

Too much praise can cause overconfidence, but it is generally safer to err on the side of praising more rather than less. However, the praise must be connected to a real outcome.

Discipline, especially internal psychological, also increases skills.

I believe the age between 3 and 6 years is very important, and very underestimated. No, those children are not too young to learn. Actually, that's when their brains are evolving the most. They should learn foreign languages. In multilingual environments children do that naturally.

Play is important for children, but play is not an opposite of work. Gathering information and solving problems is fun. Provide meaningful activities, instead of compartmentalized games. A game without learning is merely a surrogate activity. Gifted children prefer games that require mental activity. There is a continuum between learning and playing (just like between work and hobby for adults). Brains, just like muscles, becomes stronger by everyday activity.

My daughters used intense methods to learn languages; and chess; and table tennis. Is there a risk of damaging their personality by doing so? Maybe, but I believe the risks of damaging the personality by spending six childhood years without any effort are actually greater.

When my daughters were 15, 9, 8 years old, we participated in a 24-hour chess tournament, where you had to play 100 games in 24 hours. (Most participants were between age 25 and 30.) Susan won. The success rates during the second half of the tournament were similar to those during the first half of the tournament, for all three girls, which shows that children are capable of staying focused for long periods of time. But this was an exceptional load.

2.3. Genius - a gift or a curse?

I am not saying that we should bring up each child as a genius; only that bringing up children as geniuses is possible. I oppose uniform education, even a hypothetical one that would use my methods.

Public ideas of geniuses is usually one of two extremes. Either they are all supposed to be weird and half-insane; or they are all supposed to be CEOs and movie stars. Psychology has already moved beyond this. They examined Einstein's brain, but found no difference in weight or volume compared with an average person. For me, genius is an average person who has achieved their full potential. Many famous geniuses attribute their success to hard work, discipline, attention, love of work, patience, time.

All healthy newborns are potential geniuses, but whether they become actual geniuses, depends on their environment, education, and their own effort. For example, in the 20th century more people became geniuses than in the 19th or 18th century, inter alia because of social changes. Geniuses need to be liberated. Hopefully in the future, more people will be free and fully developed, so being a genius will become a norm, not an exception. But for now, there are only a few people like that. As people grow up, they lose the potential to become geniuses. I estimate that an average person's chance to become a genius is about 80% at age 1; 60% at age 3; 50% at age 6; 40% at age 12; 30% at age 16; 20% at age 18; only 5% at age 20. Afterwards it drops to a fraction of percent.

A genius child can surpass their peers by 5 or 7 years. And if a "miracle child" doesn't become a "miracle adult", I am convinced that their environment did not allow them to. People say some children are faster and some are slower; I say they don't grow up in the same conditions. Good conditions allow one to progress faster. But some philosophers or writers became geniuses at old age.

People find it difficult to accept those who differ from the average. Even some scientists; for example Einstein's theory of relativity was opposed by many. My daughters are attacked not just by public opinion, but also by fellow chess players.

Some geniuses are unhappy about their situation. But many enjoy the creativity, perceived beauty, and success. Geniuses can harm themselves by having unrealistic expectations of their goals. But most of the harm comes from outside, as a dismissal of their work, or lack of material and moral support, baseless criticism. Nowadays, one demagogue can use the mass communication media to poison the whole population with rage against the representatives of national culture.

As the international communication and exchange of ideas grows, geniuses become more important than ever before. Education is necessary to overcome economical problems; new inventions create new jobs. But a genius provokes the anger of people, not by his behavior, but by his skills.

2.4. Should every child become a celebrity?

I believe in diversity in education. I am not criticizing teachers for not doing things my way. There are many other attempts to improve education. But I think it is now possible to aim even higher, to bring up geniuses. I can imagine the following environments where this could be done:

* Homeschooling, i.e. teaching your biological or adopted children. Multiple families could cooperate and share their skills.

* Specialized educational facility for geniuses; a college or a family-type institution.

Homeschooling, or private education with parental oversight, are the ancient methods for bringing up geniuses. Families should get more involved in education; you can't simply outsource everything to a school. We should support families willing to take an active role. Education works better in a loving environment.

Instead of trying to a find a talent, develop one. Start specializing early, at the age of 3 or 4. One cannot become an expert on everything.

My daughters played chess 5 or 6 hours a day since their age of 4 or 5. Similarly, if you want ot become a musician, spend 5 or 6 hours a day doing music; if a physicist, do physics; if a linguist, do languages. With such intense instruction, the child will soon feel the knowledge, experience success, and soon becomes able to use this knowledge independently. For example, after learning Esperanto 5 or 6 hours a day for a few months, the child can start corresponding with children from other countries, participate at international meet-ups, and experience the conversations in a foreign language. That is at the same time pleasant, useful for the child, and useful for the society. The next year, start with English, then German, etc. Now the child enjoys this, because it obviously makes sense. (Unlike at school, where most learning feels purposeless.) In chess, the first year makes you an average player, three years a great player, six years a master, fifteen years a grandmaster. When a 10-years old child surpasses an average adult at some skill, it is highly motivating.

Gifted children need financial support, to cover the costs of books, education, and travel.

Some people express concern that early specialization may lead to ignorance of everything else. But it's the other way round; abilities formed in one area can transfer to other areas. One learns how to learn.

Also, the specialization is relative. If you want to become e.g. a computer programmer, you will learn maths, informatics, foreign languages; when you become famous, you will travel, meet interesting people, experience different cultures. My daughters, in addition to being chess geniuses, speak many foreign languages, travel, do sports, write books, etc. Having deep knowledge about something doesn't imply ignorance about everything else. On the other hand, a misguided attempt to become an universalist can result in knowing nothing, in mere pretend-knowledge of everything.

Emotional and moral education must do together with the early specialization, to develop a complex personality. We wanted our children to be enthusiastic, courageous, persistent, to be objective judges of things and people, to resist failure and avoid temptations of success, to handle frustration and tolerate criticism even when it is wrong, to make plans, to manage their emotions. Also, to love and respect people, and to prefer creative work to physical pleasure or status symbols. We told them that they can achieve greatness, but that there can be only one world champion, so their goal should rather be to become good chess players, be good at sport, and be honest people.

Pedagogy puts great emphasis on being with children of the same age. I think that mental peers are more important than age peers. It would harm a gifted child to be forced to spend most of their time exclusively among children of the same age. On the other hand, spending most of the time with adults brings the risk that the child will learn to rely on them all the time, losing independence and initiative. You need to find a balance. I believe the best company would be of similar intellectual level, similar hobbies, and good relations.

For example, if Susan at 13 years old would be forced to play chess exclusively with 13 years old children, it would harm both sides. She could not learn anything from them; they would resent losing constantly.

Originally, I hoped I could bring up each daughter as a genius in a different field (e.g. mathematics, chess, music). It would be a more convincing evidence that you can bring up a genius of any kind. And I believe I would have succeeded, but I was constrained by money and time. We would need three private teachers, would have to go each day to three different places, would have to buy books for maths and chess and music (and the music instruments). By making them one team, things became easier, and the family has more things in common. Some psychologists worried that children could be jealous of each other, and hate each other. But we brought them up properly, and this did not happen.

This is how I imagine a typical day at a school for geniuses:

* 4 hours studying the subject of specialization, e.g. chess;

* 1 hour studying a foreign language; Esperanto at the first year, English at the second, later choose freely; during the first three months this would increase to 3 hours a day (by reducing the subject of specialization temporarily); traveling abroad during the summer;

* 1 hour computer science;

* 1 hour ethics, psychology, pedagogy, social skills;

* 1 hour physical education, specific form chosen individually.

Would I like to teach at such school? In theory yes, but in practice I am already burned out from the endless debates with authorities, the press, opinionated pedagogues and psychologists. I am really tired of that. The teachers in such school need to be protected from all this, so they can fully focus on their work.

2.5. Esperanto: the first step in learning foreign languages

Our whole family speaks Esperanto. It is a part of our moral system, a tool for equality of people. There are many prejudices against it, but the same was true about all progressive ideas. Some people argue by Bible that multiple languages are God's punishment we have to endure. Some people invested many resources into learning 2 or 3 or 4 foreign languages, and don't want to lose the gained position. Economically strong nations enforce their own languages as part of dominance, and the speakers of other languages are discriminated against. Using Esperanto as everyone's second language would make the international communication more easy and egalitarian. But considering today's economical pressures, it makes sense to learn English or Russian or Chinese next.

Esperanto has a regular grammar with simple syntax. It also uses many Latin, Germanic, and Slavic roots, so as a European, even if you are not familiar with the language, you will probably recognize many words in a text. This is an advantage from pedagogical point of view: you can more easily learn its vocabulary and its grammar; you can learn the whole language about 10 times easier than other languages.

It makes a great example of the concept of a foreign language, which pays off when learning other languages later. It is known that having learned one foreign language makes learning another foreign language easier. So, if learning Esperanto takes 10 times less time than learning another language, such as English, then if already knowing another foreign language makes learning the second one at least 10% more efficient, it makes sense to learn Esperanto first. Also, Esperanto would be a great first experience for students who have difficulty learning languages; they would achieve success faster.

3. Chess

3.1. Why chess?

Originally, we were deciding between mathematics, chess, and foreign languages. Finally we chose chess, because the results in that area are easy to measure, using a traditional and objective system, which makes it easier to prove whether the experiment succeeded or failed. Which was a lucky choice in hindsight, because back then we had no idea how many obstacles we will have to face. If we wouldn't be able to prove our results unambiguously, the attacks against us would have been much stronger.

Chess seemed sufficiently complex (it is a game, a science, an art, and a sport at the same time), so the risks of overspecialization were smaller; even if children would later decide they are tired of chess, they would keep some transferable skills. And the fact that our children were girls was a bonus: we were able to also prove that girls can be as intellectually able as boys; but for this purpose we needed an indisputable proof. (Although, people try to discount this proof anyway, saying things like: "Well, chess is simple, but try doing the same in languages, mathematics, or music!")

The scientific aspect of chess is that you have to follow the rules, analyze the situation, apply your intuition. If you have a favorite hypothesis, for example a favorite opening, but you keep losing, you have to change your mind. There is an aesthetic dimension in chess; some games are published and enjoyed not just because of their impressive logic, but because they are beautiful in some sense, they do something unexpected. And most people are not familiar with this chess requires great physical health. All the best chess players do some sport, and it is not a coincidence. Also it is organized similarly to sports: it has tournaments, players, spectators; you have to deal with the pain of losing, you have to play fair, etc.

3.2. How did the Polgár sisters start learning chess?

I don't have a "one weird trick" to teach children chess; it's just my general pedagogical approach, applied to chess. Teach the chess with love, playfully. Don't push it too forcefully. Remember to let the child win most of the time. Explain to the child that things can be learned, and that this also applies to chess. Don't worry if the child keeps jumping during the game; it could be still thinking about the game. Don't explain everything; provide the child an opportunity to discover some things independently. Don't criticize failure, praise success.

Start with shorter lessons, only 30 minutes and then have a break. Start by solving simple problems. Our girls loved the "checkmate in two/three moves" puzzles. Let the child play against equally skilled opponents often. For a child, it is better to play many quick games (e.g. with 5-minute timers), than a few long ones. Participate in tournaments appropriate for the child's current skill.

We have a large library of different games. They are indexed by strategy, and by names of players. So the girls can research their opponent's play before the tournament.

When a child loses the tournament, don't criticize them; the child is already sad. Offer support; help them analyze the mistakes.

When my girls write articles about chess, it makes them think deeply about the issue.

All three parts of the game opening, middle game, ending require same amount of focus. Some people focus too much on the endings, and neglect the rest. But at tournament, a bad opening can ruin the whole game.

Susan had the most difficult situation of the three daughters. In hindsight, having her learn 7 or 8 foreign languages was probably too much; some of that time would be better spent further improving her chess skills. As the oldest one, she also faced the worst criticism from haters; as a consequence she became the most defensive player of them. The two younger sister had the advantage that they could oppose the same pressures together. But still, I am sure that without those pressures, they also could have progressed even faster.

Politicians influenced the decisions of the Hungarian Chess Association; as a result my daughters were often forbidden from participation at international youth competitions, despite being the best national players. They wanted to prevent Susan from becoming the worldwide #1 female chess player. Once they even "donated" 100 points to her competitor, to keep Susan at the 2nd place. Later they didn't allow her to participate in the international male tournaments, although her results in the Hungarian male tournaments qualified her for that. The government regularly refused to issue passports to us, claiming that "our foreign travels hurt the public order". Also, it was difficult to find a trainer for my daughters, despite them being at the top of world rankings. Only recently we received a foreign help; a patron from Netherlands offered to pay trainers and sparring partners for my daughters, and also bought Susan a personal computer. A German journalist gave us a program and a database, and taught children how to use it.

The Hungarian press kept attacking us, published fake facts. We filed a few lawsuits, and won them all, but it just distracted us from our work. The foreign press whether writing from the chess, psychological, or pedagogical perspectives was fair to us; they wrote almost 40 000 articles about us, so finally even the Hungarian chess players, psychologists and pedagogues could learn about us from them.

At the beginning, I was a father, a trainer, and a manager to my daughters. But I am completely underqualified to be their trainer these days, so I just manage their trainers.

Until recently no one believed women could play chess on level comparable with men. Now the three girls together have about 40 Guiness records; they repeatedly outperformed their former records. In a 1988 interview Karpov said: "Susan is extraordinarily strong, but Judit... at such age, neither me nor Kasparov could play like Judit plays."

3.3. How can we make our children like chess?

Some tips for teaching chess to 4 or 5 years old children. First, I made a blank square divided into 8x8 little squares, with named rows and columns. I named a square, my daughter had to find it; then she named a square and I had to find it. Then we used the black-and-white version, and we were guessing the color of the named square without looking.

Then we introduced kings, in a "king vs king" combat; the task was to reach the opposing row of the board with your king. Then we added a pawn; the goal remained to reach the opposing row. After a month of playing, we introduced the queen, and the concept of checkmate. Later we gradually added the remaining pieces (knights were the most difficult).

Then we solved about thousand "checkmate in one move" puzzles. Then two moves, three moves, four moves. That took another 3 or 4 months. And only afterwards we started really playing against each other.

To provide an advantage for the child, don't play with less pieces, because that changes the structure of the game. Instead, provide yourself a very short time limit, or deliberately make a mistake, so the child can learn to notice them.

Have patience, if some phase takes a lot of time. On stronger fundamentals, you can later build better. This is where I think our educational system makes great mistakes. Schools don't teach intensely, so children keep forgetting most of what they learned during the long spaces between the lessons. And then, despite not having fully mastered the first step, they move to the second one, etc.

3.4. Chess and psychology

Competitive chess helps develop personality: will, emotion, perseverance, self-discipline, focus, self-control. It develops intellectual skills: memory, combination skills, logic, proper use of intuition. Understanding your opponent's weakness will help you.

People overestimate how much IQ tests determine talent. Measurements of people talented in different areas show that their average is only a bit above the average of the population.

3.5. Emancipation of women

Some people say, incorrectly, that my daughter won the male chess championship. But there is officially no such thing as "male chess championship", there is simply chess championship, open to both men and women. (And then, there is a separate female chess championship, only for women, but that is considered second league.)

I prepared the plan for my children before they were born. I didn't know I would have all girls, so I did not expect this special problem: the discrimination of women. I wanted to bring up my daughter Susan exactly according to the plan, but many people tried to prevent it; they insisted that she cannot compete with boys, that she should only compete with girls. Thus my original goal of proving that you can bring up a genius, became indirectly a goal of proving that there are no essential intellectual differences between men and women, and therefore one can't use that argument as an excuse for subjugation of women.

People kept telling me that I can only bring up Susan to be a female champion, not to compete with men. But I knew that during elementary school, girls can compete with boys. Only later, when they start playing the female role, when they are taught to clean the house, wash laundry, cook, follow the fashion, pay attention to details of clothing, and try getting married as soon as possible when they are expected to do other things than boys are expected to do that has a negative impact on developing their skills. But family duties and bringing up children can be done by both parents together.

Women can achieve same results, if they can get similar conditions. I tried to do that for my daughters, but I couldn't convince the whole society to treat them the same.

We know about differences between adult men and women, but we don't know whether they were caused by biology or education. And we know than e.g. in mathematics and languages, during elementary and high schools girls progress at the same pace as boys, and only later the differences appear. This is an evidence in favor of equality. We do not know what children growing up without discrimination would be like.

On the other hand, the current system also provides some advantages for women; for example the female chess players don't need to work that hard to become the (female) elite, and some of them don't want to give that up. Such women are among the greatest opponents of my daughters.

4. The meaning of this whole affair

4.1. Family value

I am certain that without a good family background the success of my daughters would not be possible. It is important, before people marry, to have a clear idea of what expect from their marriage. When partners cooperate, the mutual help, the shared experiences, education of children, good habits, etc. can deepen their love. Children need family without conflicts to feel safe. But of course, if the situation becomes too bad, the divorce might become the way to reduce conflicts.

To bring up a genius, it is desirable for one parent to stay at home and take care of children. But it can be the father, too.

[Klára Polgár says:] When I met László, my first impression was that he was an interesting person full of ideas, but one should not believe even half of them.

When Susan was three and half, László said it was time for her to specialize. She was good at math; at the age of four she already learned the material of the first four grades. Once she found chess figures in the box, and started playing with them as toys. László was spending a lot of time with her, and one day I was surprised to see them playing chess. László loved chess, but I never learned it.

So, we could have chosen math or foreign languages, but we felt that Susan was really happy playing chess, and she started being good at it. But our parents and neighbors shook their heads: "Chess? For a girl?" People told me: "What kind of a mother are you? Why do you allow your husband to play chess with Susan?" I had my doubts, but now I believe I made the right choice.

People are concerned whether my children had real childhood. I think they are at least as happy as their peers, probably more.

I always wanted to have a good, peaceful family life, and I believe I have achieved that. [End of Klára's part.]

4.2. Being a minority

It is generally known that Jewish people achieved many excellent results in intellectual fields. Some ask whether the cause of this is biologic or social. I believe it is social.

First, Jewish families are usually traditional, stable, and care a lot about education. They knew that they will be discriminated against, and will have to work twice as hard, and that at any moment they may be forced to leave their home, or even country, so their knowledge might be the only thing they will always be able to keep. Jewish religion requires parents to educate their children since early childhood; Talmud requires parents to become the child's first teachers.

4.3. Witnesses of the genius education: the happy children

I care about happiness of my children. But not only I want to make them happy, I also want to develop their ability to be happy. And I think that being a genius is the most certain way. The life of a genius may be difficult, but happy anyway. On the other hand, average people, despite seemingly playing it safe, often become alcoholics, drug addicts, neurotics, loners, etc.

Some geniuses become unhappy with their profession. But even then I believe it is easier for a genius to change professions.

Happiness = work + love + freedom + luck

People worry whether child geniuses don't lose their childhood. But the average childhood is actually not as great as people describe it; many people do not have a happy childhood. Parents want to make their children happy, but they often do it wrong: they buy them expensive toys, but they don't prepare them for life; they outsource that responsibility to school, which generally does not have the right conditions.

And when parents try to fully develop the capabilities of their children, instead of social support they usually get criticism. People will blame them for being overly ambitious, for pushing the children to achieve things they themselves failed at. I personally know people who tried to educate their children similarly to how we did, but the press launched a full-scale attack against them, and they gave up.

My daughters' lives are full of variety. They have met famous people: presidents, prime ministers, ambassadors, princess Diana, millionaires, mayors, UN delegates, famous artists, other olympic winners. They appeared in television, radio, newspapers. They traveled around the whole world; visited dozens of famous places. They have hobbies. They have friends in many parts of the world. And our house is always open to guests.

4.4. Make your life an ethical model

People reading this text may be surprised that they expected a rational explanation, while I mention emotions and morality a lot. But those are necessary for good life. Everyone should try to improve themselves in these aspects. The reason why I did not give up, despite all the obstacles and malice, is because for me, to live morally and create good, is an internal law. I couldn't do otherwise. I already know that even writing this very book will initiate more attacks, but I am doing it regardless.

And morality is also a thing we are not born with, but which needs to be taught to us, preferably in infancy. And we need to think about it, instead of expecting it to just happen. And the schools fail in this, too. I see it as an integral part of bringing up a genius.

One should aim to be a paragon; to live in a way that will make others want to follow you. Learn and work a lot; expect a lot from yourself and from others. Give love, and receive love. Live in peace with yourself and your neighbors. Work hard to be happy, and to make other people happy. Be a humanist, fight against prejudice. Protect the peace of the family, bring up your children towards perfection. Be honest. Respect freedom of yourself and of the others. Trust humanity; support the communities small and large. Etc.

(The book finishes by listing the achievements of the Polgár sisters, and by their various photos: playing chess, doing sports. I'll simply link their Wikipedia pages: Susan, Sofia, Judit. I hope you enjoyed reading this experimental translation; and if you think I omitted something important, feel free to add the missing parts in the comments. Note: I do believe that this book is generally correct and useful, but that doesn't mean I necessarily agree with every single detail. The opinions expressed here belong to the author; of course, unless some of them got impaired by my hasty translation.)

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comment by gwern · 2017-06-11T02:11:30.606Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate the translation effort.

But now we've seen the secrets of Polgar and what a disappointment. Of course his premise is wrong but I thought he would at least bring something new to the table, perhaps with an Eastern European twist. But no, aside from being written after the Polgar sisters became famous (and so not representative of what he believed and planned beforehand), it's a mish-mash of tired educational dogmas and myths and pseudoscience and reverse or confounded correlations. (Einstein's brain was indeed unusual in some respects; see Simonton but many eminent figures didn't 'specialize early' or have important advisors as kids - Einstein being a case in point - and being gifted attracts advisors not the other way around; bright or gifted kids are healthier, not sicker; heritability is lowest at birth, not highest, because there's been no time for differences to manifest, shared environment is strongest in childhood/adolescent, and for intelligence heritability increases into adulthood; behavioral genetics had developed tremendously by 1989 and plenty was known about the genetic architecture of intelligence and other psychological traits; there were more geniuses in the 20th century than 18th and 19th because there were more people and all the datasets I am aware of from analyses like Murray's Human Accomplishment suggest that per capita rates have fallen; the claims about IQ are vague or false; chess training doesn't transfer to other areas any more than Go playing or music training does, which is not at all; the stuff about Esperanto making for a net savings in learning foreign languages is, IIRC, based on wishful thinking; Esperanto isn't going to make you a more moral person; and it doesn't take 15 years to become a grandmaster because kids are doing it at 12 years old these days - which casts doubt on any kind of generalization one might try to draw from chess because clearly it's nothing like other fields.)

The most certain disproof of Polgar's method is how humdrum and common they are. Let kids play? Homeschool them? Try to find a hobby early on (or just force them to learn the violin or piano...)? Use shorter 30 minute lessons? Play simplified versions first? Wow, surely no one has ever tried those - if only more people would, we would surely discover genius all over the place!

No, just one of the countless educators, writers, researchers and other miscellaneous people who declare that education is broken and they know how to fix it, but less amusing than gimmicks like Montaigne's father raising him on Latin (rather than Esperanto) and luckier than most in genetics & picking a field where kid cramming works. He only looks special when you ignore the endless litany of education fads.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-11T13:32:37.204Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen the linked "The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential" mentioned in the book, neither a discussion whether gifted children are healthier or not, so... please, let's focus on Polgár instead of including him in a large set and then debating other examples of that set instead.

I agree with you that dismissing IQ as irrelevant (or: irrelevant as long as the child is not retarded) is wrong. I suspect Polgár may live in a bubble where high intelligence is so overrepresented that he takes it for granted. (Essentially, I interpret this book as "assuming you already have a high-IQ child, this is what you should do"; which is not how he meant it.) However...

Let kids play? Homeschool them? Try to find a hobby early on (or just force them to learn the violin or piano...)? Use shorter 30 minute lessons? Play simplified versions first? Wow, surely no one has ever tried those - if only more people would, we would surely discover genius all over the place!

Uhm, let's start with the obvious: most people in developed countries don't homeschool their children.

Then, just look at the contradiction in what you wrote "let kids play... or just force them to learn the violin or piano". So, which one is it going to be? Because I know many people who let kids play, but that typically means sending them to a playground, letting them watch TV, letting them play first-person shooters, or letting them browse Facebook all day. That's not what Polgár says. And there are also a few people who force their kids to play piano lessons (there was this abusive "tiger mother" popular in the media a few years ago), but I am sure the kids would not describe it as being let play. So this is also not what Polgár says. What he says is to find something useful (well, assuming charitably that being a chess master is useful in some sense), and turn the first steps on the learning curve into a game. And then let kids play... along the learning curve... until they experience success and related social rewards, and then the motivational feedback loop is established.

I believe that most people fail at this step. (And so does the school system.) Because they push it too much, or because they give up too easily. Because they don't even know where the learning curve starts, either because they are too far themselves and never thought about this from teacher's point of view, or because they actually don't have deep knowledge themselves, and it's more about "teachers' passwords" and "applause lights" for them. In general, education is one of those areas where everyone goes full Dunning–Kruger, because everyone was at school once, so everyone feels like an expert. But I believe that at least 9 out of 10 people trying to teach their children chess would not start by playing dozens of games with kings and pawns only, but instead would try to explain how all chess pieces move at the same time, because that's how people around me do teaching all the time, including many teachers.

Doing this properly is a lot of work. You must think strategically to make a plan; instead of e.g. waiting passively until your child will spontaneously manifest a superior skill. And then you must spend hundreds of hours executing the plan, because learning is about repetition. And you must be good enough, both at teaching in general, and in the thing you want to teach specifically, for that plan to make sense. The first lessons you must give yourself; then you have to buy books, hire trainers, travel with kids to tournaments, etc. Even people smart enough to do this may be too lazy; or just too busy doing something else.

comment by gwern · 2017-06-11T14:31:44.411Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen the linked "The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential" mentioned in the book

It's what he's referring to when he mentions 'Philadelphia', see the SSC comments.

neither a discussion whether gifted children are healthier or not

"Many gifted children acquire psycho-somatic problems, such as insomnia, headache, stomach pain, neuroses."

Then, just look at the contradiction in what you wrote "let kids play... or just force them to learn the violin or piano". So, which one is it going to be?

Both. There's more than one hour in the day.

But I believe that at least 9 out of 10 people trying to teach their children chess would not start by playing dozens of games with kings and pawns only, but instead would try to explain how all chess pieces move at the same time, because that's how people around me do teaching all the time, including many teachers.

I wasn't taught that way, and I know for a fact that beginners to Go are almost always introduced with simplified 'capture Go', usually on a 9x9 board, and Go appears little different. Schools also usually start with simple versions of things because to do otherwise would be even more frustrating than teaching is. ('See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.')

Uhm, let's start with the obvious: most people in developed countries don't homeschool their children.

They don't, but enough of them do. Tens or hundreds of millions of parents/kids over the past century have done homeschooling, unschooling, or Montessori. If Polgar's method could reliably turn most kids into geniuses, or could boost the odds so much that three chess masters is an expectable result, then even if only a tenth or less of those kids satisfied his criteria, hundreds of thousands of other children would already have succeeded. (Or is this a case of 'Polgarism, comrades, has never truly been tried'?) We should be coming out our ears with chess masters who were homeschooled or physics prodigies, it should be impossible to read a biography of any Nobelist or famous scientist without seeing 'oh and of course besides being Jewish, he was homeschooled'. This is what I mean by disproof: his nostrums have already been applied on a massive scale and failed.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-11T20:04:55.992Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It's what he's referring to when he mentions 'Philadelphia', see the SSC comments.

Thanks for explanation, didn't notice that.

Tens or hundreds of millions of parents/kids over the past century have done homeschooling, unschooling, or Montessori. If Polgar's method could reliably turn most kids into geniuses, or could boost the odds so much that three chess masters is an expectable result, then even if only a tenth or less of those kids satisfied his criteria, hundreds of thousands of other children would already have succeeded.

How is "homeschooling, unschooling, or Montessori" related to Polgár's method? Unschooling is fundamentally incompatible; Montessori probably also wouldn't be happy with kids playing chess 4 hours a day; homeschooling is a non-apple ("not in school" does not imply any specific teaching strategy).

Or is this a case of 'Polgarism, comrades, has never truly been tried'?

Sorry, what? Polgár tried his method on 3 children, with 3 successful outcomes. What is your favorite explanation? Is it all just a concidence? (There are so many people boasting that they know how to bring up kids; statistically, sooner or later one of them is going to have 3 internationally famous kids.) Or did the kids inherit a lucky mutation of a chess-playing gene? Or was it just a high-IQ gene?

I agree that the experiment would be much more convincing with replication outside of the Polgár family. But it seems strange to point at people who not just never user Polgár's method, but never even claimed to be using it, and most of them probably never even heard about the guy or his method, as if that is some kind of evidence that the method does not work.

It's not just homeschooling. It's starting the learning curve at an early age, as a game, and then spending several hours a day learning the subject. Essentially, having the proverbial 10000 hours done at puberty.

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-12T09:08:42.001Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's starting the learning curve at an early age, as a game, and then spending several hours a day learning the subject. Essentially, having the proverbial 10000 hours done at puberty.

To me the idea that if you can get a child to be interested enough in a subject, that they will want to study it in a playful way and have their 10000 hours at puberty, that will likely make them very skillful at the task doesn't sound like an extraordinary claim.

comment by bogus · 2017-06-11T20:12:36.616Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Many gifted children acquire psycho-somatic problems, such as insomnia, headache, stomach pain, neuroses."

The whole point of this sentence is that "psycho-somatic problems" are not actual health issues. I.e. when a gifted kid is complaining about her stomach, it's very possible that there's nothing actively wrong with her digestive system, and that the pain is just a random quirk due to excess stress.

Tens or hundreds of millions of parents/kids over the past century have done homeschooling, unschooling, or Montessori

"Homeschooling" and "Montessori" are not good stand-ins for the Polgár approach, at least not in isolation. "Unschooling" is a lot closer, and the jury is still out on that, I'd say. Even that, though, arguably lacks the focus on voluntary deliberate practice that appears to be critical in what the Polgárs were doing.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2017-06-11T17:44:08.701Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen the linked "The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential" mentioned in the book

It's what he's referring to when he mentions 'Philadelphia', see the SSC comments.

Specifically here

The passage is:

there exist so-called talent-forming, genius-educating schools in Japan, lsrael, the GDR, USA, etc. (e.g. the Superbaby Farm of Glenn Doman in Philadelphia).

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-11T20:25:28.075Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How likely it is that he simply approved of the idea of having talent-forming schools in general, knowing that no one would be allowed to create a school based on his ideas in his homeland (at given era).

comment by Wei_Dai · 2017-06-11T22:28:09.396Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What he says is to find something useful (well, assuming charitably that being a chess master is useful in some sense), and turn the first steps on the learning curve into a game. And then let kids play... along the learning curve... until they experience success and related social rewards, and then the motivational feedback loop is established.

Makes sense, but it's still disappointing if this is Polgar's main idea, since it doesn't seem particularly novel or easy to replicate. Besides being a lot of hard work on the parent/teacher's part as you mention, success also depends on how suitable the subject is for turning its learning curve into something fun for kids to play with, and how much the kids' personalities fit with this style of learning (for example the kids may already have strong interests of their own and refuse to be enticed into playing the thing you want them to play, or they eventually get bored when doing similar things over and over, or the social rewards aren't rewarding enough for them to motivate the hard work required). I'd guess that many other parents and teachers have tried something like this with various kids and various subjects, and Polgar's children are an outlier in terms of success due to a combination of 1) Polgar being very smart and hard working, 2) it's relatively easy to turn the learning curve of chess into something fun for kids to play with, and 3) the native intelligence and personalities of Polgar's kids.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-12T11:48:36.255Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine a 2-dimensional graph of lifestyle suggestions, where one dimension is labeled "insights" and the other one is labeled "hard work". Popular "life hacks" are medium or high on insights, and low on hard work. Polgár method is medium on insights, and high on hard work.

To this I would say -- if you know a method for bringing up "geniuses" that is lower on hard work and perhaps higher on insight, go ahead, you have my blessing. But in absence of such methods, sometimes the only way to achieve the desirable results is to "shut up and suffer".

how suitable the subject is for turning its learning curve into something fun for kids to play with

I always thought this was what teachers should give high priority to: researching ways how to turn specific subjects into playful learning curve. And the idea is not even new; Comenius wrote his Schola ludus in 1630. Yet somehow...

I guess this somehow rubs humans the wrong way. Perhaps we associate wisdom with high status, and play with low status, therefore our brains refuse to accept play as a legitimate way to achieve wisdom. Or perhaps from the educator's side it feels like a huge status loss to convert their hard-won lifetime amounts of knowledge into child games.

Essentially, you need to find a human who is (1) good at the subject matter, so they see how the learning curve goes, (2) good at education and gamification in general, and (3) does not have strong feelings over converting their high-status knowledge into a low-status play. Then the human needs to publish this, and other people need to use it, i.e. overcome their own status issues. Also, a few decades later someone else has to update the games to reflect more current knowledge, otherwise they will become outdated.

the kids may already have strong interests of their own

I'd say that in that case you should either go ahead with the child's interest (if it is something useful), or try to find some kind of intersection between what the child wants and what you want (e.g. if you want the child to be a painter, but the child is only interested in dinosaurs, let them paint dinosaurs).

it's relatively easy to turn the learning curve of chess into something fun for kids to play with

In Czech Republic, they recently started experimenting with Hejný method of teaching mathematics, which is a way to make mathematics fun; furthermore, the method is designed to work in a classroom environment. One day I hope to Pareto-translate some of that, too, but it is much more text.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2017-06-18T13:23:31.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say that in that case you should either go ahead with the child's interest (if it is something useful), or try to find some kind of intersection between what the child wants and what you want (e.g. if you want the child to be a painter, but the child is only interested in dinosaurs, let them paint dinosaurs).

Related: Building Islands of Expertise in Everyday Family Activity discusses how to take a child's intrinsic interest in something and then finding bridges between the "island of expertise" that the child develops around that, and everything else. A specific example used is a boy who's been very interested in trains:

By the time the boy turns 3-years old, he has developed an island of expertise around trains. His vocabulary, declarative knowledge, conceptual knowledge, schemas, and personal memories related to trains are numerous, well-organized, and flexible. Perhaps more importantly, the boy and his parents have developed a relatively sophisticated conversational space for trains. Their shared knowledge and experience allow their talk to move to deeper levels than is typically possible in a domain where the boy is a relative novice. For example, as the mother is making tea one afternoon, the boy notices the steam rushing out of the kettle and says: “That’s just like a train!” The mother might laugh and then unpack the similarity to hammer the point home: “Yes it is like a train! When you boil water it turns into steam. That’s why they have boilers in locomotives. They heat up the water, turn it into steam, and then use the steam to push the drive wheels. Remember? We saw that at the museum.”

In contrast, when the family was watching football—a domain the boy does not yet know much about—he asked “Why did they knock that guy down?” The mother’s answer was short, simple, stripped of domain-specific vocabulary, and sketchy with respect to causal mechanisms—“Because that’s what you do when you play football.” Parents have a fairly good sense of what their children know and, often, they gear their answers to an appropriate level. When talking about one of the child’s islands of expertise, parents can draw on their shared knowledge base to construct a more elaborate, accurate, and meaningful explanations. This is a common characteristic of conversation in general: When we share domain-relevant experience with our audience we can use accurate terminology, construct better analogies, and rely on mutually held domain- appropriate schema as a template through which we can scribe new causal connections.

As this chapter is being written, the boy in this story is now well on his way to 4- years old. Although he still likes trains and still knows a lot about them, he is developing other islands of expertise as well. As his interests expand, the boy may engage less and less often in activities and conversations centered around trains and some of his current domain-specific knowledge will atrophy and eventually be lost. But as that occurs, the domain-general knowledge that connected the train domain to broader principles, mechanisms, and schemas will probably remain. For example, when responding to the boy’s comment about the tea kettle, the mother used the train domain as a platform to talk about the more general phenomenon of steam.

Trains were platforms for other concepts as well, in science and in other domains. Conversations about mechanisms of locomotion have served as a platform for a more general understanding of mechanical causality. Conversations about the motivation of characters in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories have served as platforms for learning about interpersonal relationships and, for that matter, about the structure of narratives. Conversations about the time when downtown Pittsburgh was threaded with train tracks and heavy-duty railroad bridges served as a platform for learning about historical time and historical change. These broader themes emerged for the boy for the first time in the context of train conversations with his parents. Even as the boy loses interest in trains and moves on to other things, these broader themes remain and expand outward to connect with other domains he encounters as he moves through his everyday life.

[...] although some of the learning may be highly planned and intentional, much of it is probably driven by opportunistic “noticing” on the part of both the parent and the child. Recent efforts to consider parent input into children’s categorization decisions, for example, have predominately been directed at developing an account for how parents structure a fixed interpretation for children. As Keil (1998) pointed out, casting parents as simple socializers who provide fixed didactic interpretations for children is unlikely to be the right model. There is nothing more annoying then someone who provides you with pedantic explanations that you do not want or that you could not make use of. In reality, however, everyday parent-child activity hinges on a dual interpretation problem. The parent needs to decide what is worth noting, based on their own knowledge and interests, their understanding of their child’s knowledge and interests, and their current goals for the interaction. Children are making the same calculation, simultaneously. Over time, the family interprets and re-interprets activity, bringing out different facets: Sometimes they highlight the science, sometimes the history, sometimes the emotion, sometimes the beauty, and so on. Thus, the family conversation changes to become more complex and nuanced as it traces the learning history of the family and extends through multiple activities.

comment by bogus · 2017-06-12T13:18:38.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In Czech Republic, they recently started experimenting with Hejný method of teaching mathematics, which is a way to make mathematics fun; furthermore, the method is designed to work in a classroom environment.

Many of the broader ideas in this link seem to be sensible, but the overall method still needs to be tested empirically, and the extreme emphasis on "we'll just let kids discover the math on their own!" does not bode well, since this has been tried and failed dramatically, e.g. in the U.S.!

Sorry but math teachers need to actually know their math; they can't get away with just being "coaches" and "facilitators"!

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-12T15:18:35.703Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

math teachers need to actually know their math; they can't get away with just being "coaches" and "facilitators"!

Absolutely. If your math is not solid, and the child comes up with an unexpected idea, you can't provide a valuable "coaching" in return.

Unfortunately, school is what it is, and teachers are what they are, including math teachers. I guess in short term you have to accept that math teachers are often incompetent in math as a fact about the world, and try to minimize the damage. :( And perhaps the long-term plan is that the next generation brought up using this method will have more math-competent math teachers.

the overall method still needs to be tested empirically

In progress, as far as I know. At least the last time I heard about it, they were testing the method on a randomly selected group of Czech elementary schools.

comment by bogus · 2017-06-12T08:06:02.733Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Makes sense, but it's still disappointing if this is Polgar's main idea, since it doesn't seem particularly novel or easy to replicate.

The biggest problem with that idea is indeed that it won't work well in a formal context like a school, where instruction necessarily takes place in a one-to-many form as opposed to one-to-one tutoring. In such a case, there's a very real possibility that plain-vanilla "Direct Instruction" gives you the best bang for the buck, and that other "educational gimmicks" are simply misguided - including many attempts at "gamification". Even there though, keeping individual lessons short and starting from the simplest, most appealing steps seem to be good ideas.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-12T12:01:44.317Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

other "educational gimmicks" are simply misguided - including many attempts at "gamification".

A typical example of "gamification" seems to be too much about external rewards: points, awards, visual effects and music. That may be a nice bonus, but it does not address the essence.

I think the correct approach is to explore the zone of proximal development using a playful setting). For example, you could teach addition by talking about dinosaurs walking in a forest, how groups of dinosaurs meet, and they need to know how many dinosaurs are now in the joined group. The child gets hooked on the dinosaur narrative, but you are still doing perfectly valid math.

These two things are about as different as a slot machine and a role-playing game. They may seem similar to someone who doesn't understand the details and merely learned "make it more fun" as an aplause light.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2017-06-14T23:48:52.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How would this approach deal with something like mastering the basic math facts (learning to do single digit addition, subtraction, and multiplication quickly and automatically without conscious effort)? From my experience and what data I've been able to find (see http://mathfactspro.com/docs/MathFactsPro_Response_to_Intervention_Alignment_and_Research.pdf) it seems that a kid needs to do at least 1000 single digit addition practice problems just to master the addition facts. How to make this fun without external rewards?

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-15T12:39:10.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

1000 single digit addition problems doesn't seem like a lot to me. The linked website suggests that 250 problems can be solved by the average student in 35 minutes with their software. That suggests that you need three hours to train 1000 single digits problems.

I think there's a lot of software that gamifies simple addition problems well.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-15T11:08:03.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that thousandfold repetition is necessary to increase the speed and to make the process automatic enough that the student can now focus on the larger picture. Trying to teach understanding without repetition typically has the outcome that the student has a general idea about the whole process, but is unable to actually do it, because it is impossible to pay enough attention to all levels of complexity at the same time (calculation of 5+3 competes for attention with understanding of why are we adding this 5 and this 3 in the first place).

Thinking about myself at elementary school, the joy of being able to solve a problem would be (and actually was) enough motivation to solve 1000 single-digit additions. But I don't want to generalize from one example, and I am not opposed in principle to using gamification in such cases.

However, before gamification, I would make sure that the child understands precisely what is going on. (Just like in teaching physical movement, e.g. sport or martial art, you first want the student to do the movement correctly, and only afterwards to do it quickly. A correct but slow move can be made faster by repetition, but a mistake in an incorrect move will only get more fixed by repeating.)

So, in practice: Before moving to single-digit addition, I would make sure the child really understands the single-digit numbers per se. For example, it should be obvious to the child that five apples remain five apples regardless of whether you arrange them in a line or in a circle, or whether you count them left-to-right or right-to-left. (This can be achieved by e.g. playing stupid, asking the child to count the apples, then rearranging them, and asking the child to count them again. It should be the child who say that it doesn't matter, because the result will be the same.) Also, make sure the child can count to 10 flawlessly. (Alternatively, if the child can only count to e.g. 7 flawlessly, limit the lesson to addition of two numbers where the result is not more than 7.)

Now we can use objects (apples? pencils? toys?), and put 2 apples on the table, then put 3 apples on the table (next heap), then count all apples on the table. Repeat a few times. Then let the child make a prediction "if we put 2 apples and 3 apples, how many apples will it be together?" and verify the prediction experimentally. Celebrate the successful predictions! If you have multiple children, let all of them make predictions, and then one of them perform the experiment. (As an adult, you never comment on the predictions until the experiment is completed. This is how you teach the children that the answer is in the "territory", not in teacher's head. You also show them what to do if they later forget something.)

When the children are already good at this, make them discover the commutativeness of addition by "accidentally" making them calculate "4+2" right after they calculated "2+4", etc. At some moment a child will notice "hey, it's the same". If this happens in a classroom, this is the moment when you let children debate the new discovery among themselves. Don't tell them whether the discovery is correct or not, but perhaps suggest to make a series of further experiments (let the kids suggest the pairs of numbers to try).

And only after all of this, let them play a computer game with automatic feedback and artificial rewards, to gain greater speed. But maybe the children will be already motivated enough that you can just give them a paper sheet with thousand problems (and then let them review each other's answers).

Experience suggests that using this method you progress a bit slowly at the beginning, but the knowledge is more solid, which allows you to save time later. (Less need to backtrack to the old lessons, when the child would e.g. fail at a more complex task because they actually made a mistake at the subproblem of addition.) Later this deeper understanding will pay off, e.g. you don't need to teach commutativeness of addition as a separate fact later; your children will understand the concept on gut level, even if they never heard the word "commutative".

comment by Wei_Dai · 2017-06-16T07:35:53.705Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And only after all of this, let them play a computer game with automatic feedback and artificial rewards, to gain greater speed.

It's actually not easy to find a computer (or tablet/phone) game that is both fun and adaptive (i.e., customizes the sequence of practice problems to best fit the learner). Even filtering just for "fun", it's hard to find one whose fun doesn't quickly wear off as the problems and rewards both start feeling repetitive. (Also, my kid hates time pressure so that rules out games with time limits.) If you know any good ones, please share. So far, the games that have held my kid's interest the longest have been Mystery Math Town and Mystery Math Museum both by Artgig, but these are unfortunately not adaptive so they often waste time and game content/rewards on sub-optimal practice problems.

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-15T12:48:33.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think Sagaland is good at giving an intuitive understanding of numbers. If you roll a "5" and a "3" you can visit the tree that's 2 moves away.

A games like this, that requires you to apply the math are likely better than a game that just asks you to solve 5-3.

comment by bogus · 2017-06-12T12:57:47.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the correct approach is to explore the zone of proximal development using a playful setting.

Using a playful/intuitive narrative is indeed important, in ways that are sometimes less than obvious. It's also something that happens already, and indeed seems to be rather emphasized in more recent textbooks (e.g. in math) - quite possibly in an excessive way! When I mentioned "gamification" I mostly meant the other gimmicks you talk about, but it seems that even having too much "narrative" can be bad. This is one reason why these methods don't work very well in a school-based context.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-06-11T17:58:24.639Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You could reasonably have predicted all of this before reading the book, using the outside view that most interesting things are false..

The argument that Polgar had so much success that he couldn't possibly have failed to have some grand theory which was truly responsible for his success, fails in the way most inside views do. Much like my own inside view, a few days ago, when I lost my very large coffee cup in my very small apartment, searched the apartment about 10 times without finding it, and deciding that however incredible, it was no longer there. My inside view was telling me that I should be willing to bet $100 to $10 against finding it. I knew, of course, that the outside view would say that despite my certainty, it was still in the apartment. And predictably, it turned up within the next 24 hours.

comment by bogus · 2017-06-11T19:57:41.538Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But no, aside from being written after the Polgar sisters became famous (and so not representative of what he believed and planned beforehand)

Why do you believe that? I say it's very likely that he believed something very much like what he says in the book. You could argue otherwise, but such an extraordinary claim calls for extraordinary evidence.

many eminent figures didn't 'specialize early' or have important advisors as kids - Einstein being a case in point

And indeed, Einstein was not exceedingly smart. He was famously bad at math in school, did much of his early work in physics while employed as a patent examiner rather than in any academic position, and overall is better described as having been "in the right place at the right time" and having had a better idea of how science, especially physics should be done (that is, starting from plausible first principles and being ready to "bite the bullet" whenever a solid argument calls for that) compared to the likes of Lorentz and Poincare. That his work was so outstanding nonetheless says a lot more about what physics was like at the time, than it does about Einstein being somehow unique.

and all the datasets I am aware of from analyses like Murray's Human Accomplishment suggest that per capita rates have fallen

Or the standards of "genius" have risen - as the Flynn effect suggests would happen.

the stuff about Esperanto making for a net savings in learning foreign languages is, IIRC, based on wishful thinking

Esperanto does have propaedeutic value due to its "toy language" character, especially when learned as a first foreign language. Indeed, far from being based in wishful thinking, this is about the only reason some people are still interested in Esperanto these days.

Let kids play? Homeschool them? Try to find a hobby early on (or just force them to learn the violin or piano...)? Use shorter 30 minute lessons? Play simplified versions first?

OK, how many people do that - and do it right? Like homeschooling in the most beneficial way (rather than teaching Bible study and young-earth creationism, as is all-too-common among "homeschoolers"!), or "letting kids play" while still taking the time to suggest kinds of play that might be especially good for the kid? And what's wrong with "Use shorter 30 minute lessons" - I suppose you'll start complaining about Mr. Pomodoro's educational gimmicks too?

comment by gjm · 2017-06-12T01:58:24.727Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Einstein [...] was famously bad at math in school

This appears to be famous but false. See e.g. this or this or this or this.

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-13T09:54:58.054Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In his most productive years Einstein also lived together with his wife, who was smart enough to be the second woman to finish a full program of study at the Department of Mathematics and Physics at her university.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-11T20:38:25.920Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Wikipedia articles "Propaedeutic value of Esperanto" and "Paderborn method" contain no criticism section. So either everyone agrees... or, more likely, people don't care enough to publish objections and get them included in Wikipedia.

comment by lmn · 2017-06-12T22:35:40.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Or whichever wikipedia admin is watching those pages won't permit criticism.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-13T11:27:13.120Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In such case there is usually some debate on the Talk page, which I don't see here. At least it seems to me that on Wikipedia it is easier to censor information from the article than from the Talk page.

comment by JenniferRM · 2017-06-09T07:28:10.641Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I was really impressed by the chess curriculum in two ways:

Remember to let the child win most of the time.

The surprise I had here is that when my dad taught me chess when I was about 5, something that stands out in my memory is that he emphasized that he would always play to win, and if I won it would be a really victory, and if I lost I did not have a right to complain. I did not win much, but I really liked playing. I remember wanting to play more and him not having time, rather than having a problem with motivation.

Some tips for teaching chess to 4 or 5 years old children. First, I made a blank square divided into 8x8 little squares, with named rows and columns. I named a square, my daughter had to find it; then she named a square and I had to find it. Then we used the black-and-white version, and we were guessing the color of the named square without looking.

Then we introduced kings, in a "king vs king" combat; the task was to reach the opposing row of the board with your king. Then we added a pawn; the goal remained to reach the opposing row. After a month of playing, we introduced the queen, and the concept of checkmate. Later we gradually added the remaining pieces (knights were the most difficult).

Then we solved about thousand "checkmate in one move" puzzles. Then two moves, three moves, four moves. That took another 3 or 4 months. And only afterwards we started really playing against each other.

That is a really thoughtfully structured curriculum! Maybe it is a standard way to do it in some countries but all through my childhood when I taught people chess or saw it taught by others the basic process was just to explain the moves of all the pieces by demonstration and then just jump in. Rows? Columns? Notation? Endgames? That didn't come until way later.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2017-06-09T11:47:27.104Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Josh Waitzkin also learned in a similar way, and attributed some of his strengths to that. From his book:

Once he had won my confidence, Bruce began our study with a barren chessboard. We took on positions of reduced complexity and clear principles. Our first focus was king and pawn against king— just three pieces on the table. Over time, I gained an excellent intuitive feel for the power of the king and the subtlety of the pawn. I learned the principle of opposition, the hidden potency of empty space, the idea of zugzwang (putting your opponent in a position where any move he makes will destroy his position). Layer by layer we built up my knowledge and my understanding of how to transform axioms into fuel for creative insight. Then we turned to rook endings, bishop endings, knight endings, spending hundreds of hours as I turned seven and eight years old, exploring the operating principles behind positions that I might never see again. This method of study gave me a feeling for the beautiful subtleties of each chess piece, because in relatively clear-cut positions I could focus on what was essential. [...]

Once I experienced these principles, I could apply them to complex positions because they were in my mental framework. However, if you study complicated chess openings and middlegames right off the bat, it is difficult to think in an abstract axiomatic language because all your energies are preoccupied with not blundering. It would be absurd to try to teach a new figure skater the principle of relaxation on the ice by launching straight into triple axels. She should begin with the fundamentals of gliding along the ice, turning, and skating backwards with deepening relaxation. Then, step by step, more and more complicated maneuvers can be absorbed, while she maintains the sense of ease that was initially experienced within the simplest skill set.

comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2017-06-12T03:03:36.598Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More links: deliberate practice, granuralization.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-09T08:10:40.736Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That is a really thoughtfully structured curriculum!

Yeah, it is amazing to read ideas of people who are good at both the subject (e.g. chess) and teaching. The general idea is: "if anything is complex, split it into pieces, and teach those pieces separately". Very simple, but people constantly keep forgetting this. Or perhaps keep underestimating how things can seem complex to a beginner.

comment by Vaniver · 2017-06-10T21:26:13.127Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The surprise I had here is that when my dad taught me chess when I was about 5, something that stands out in my memory is that he emphasized that he would always play to win, and if I won it would be a really victory, and if I lost I did not have a right to complain. I did not win much, but I really liked playing. I remember wanting to play more and him not having time, rather than having a problem with motivation.

I seem to recall a friend having a similar dynamic with his father, which soured significantly when the friend started routinely winning.

comment by efenj · 2017-06-13T17:03:09.048Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you very much for translating this! Typos (if you care):

s/But I am happy that a have a great family/But I am happy that I have a great family/

s/and Slavic roots, so as an European/and Slavic roots, so as a European/

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-13T22:04:09.400Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, fixed!

comment by CurtisSerVaas · 2017-06-09T07:10:19.656Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you so much!

I wanted to read this book a while ago, but couldn't find a copy of it online or at my library.

There doesn't exist a full English translation?

comment by Elo · 2017-06-09T07:27:33.801Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

an English copy was recently found in a library in the Netherlands, free to read and copy. (if we know anyone there)

comment by Vaniver · 2017-06-10T21:29:03.695Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Which library? I have some Dutch friends.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2017-06-10T04:52:04.324Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What odds do you put that there is an English copy in a library in the Netherlands? (as opposed to, eg, a catalogue error)

comment by Elo · 2017-06-10T20:52:11.010Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good question. It was someone on the discords who found it. 90% it's real.

comment by Gram_Stone · 2017-06-08T22:35:58.258Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Discipline, especially internal psychological, also increases skills.

This is a little ambiguous; does he mean self-control or punishment?

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-08T22:55:53.996Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely the former. For more context:

Mi konsideras la disciplinon tre grava pedagogia faktoro. Mi estas nek for fera disciplino, nek por troa liberemo. Mi pledas por racia kaj memdirekta disciplino... La vera scienculo... bezonas memvolan feran disciplinon, por koncentri ĉiujn siajn kapablon al tasko... La blindan disciplinon mi tute rifuzas, ĉar ĝi ne venas de-interne. Mi atingas disciplinon per interesigo, ŝatigo de la objekto, kaj ne per trudo... La discipliniteco estas kompreneble ne nur ekstera kadro, sed ankaŭ interna psika kapablo. La eduko al disciplino ĝenerale disvolvas kapablojn, ĉar ĝi samtempe trejnas ankaŭ al persisto, volforto kaj atentemo.

"I consider discipline to be a very important pedagogic factor. I am neither for iron discipline, nor for excessive freeness. I plead for rational and self-directed discipline... The true scientist... needs voluntary iron discipline, in order to focus all their capability on task... I completely refuse blind discipline, because it does not come from inside. I achieve discipline through making one interested, making one like the object, and not by imposing... The disciplineness is of course not only external frame, but also internal psychological capability. The upbringing towards discipline in general develops capabilities, because at the same time it also trains persistence, willpower, and attentiveness."

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2017-06-12T13:16:19.531Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/p48/bring_up_genius/dtrf

And then let kids play... along the learning curve... until they experience success and related social rewards, and then the motivational feedback loop is established.

Any ideas for how to do this in math/science/programming?

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-13T09:23:39.140Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When it comes to learning numbers, according to my parents I learned to count by playing Sagaland with them.

Further down the line, for math there's Dragonbox.

When it comes to programming https://codecombat.com/ is great (created by Nick Winter, who I know from Quantified Self and who wrote the Motivation Hacker)

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-12T15:08:29.634Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My daughter is 2 now, so it's time to get ready... I guess the obvious first step in math is to learn the meaning of numbers "one, two three", and in programming to learn how to use keyboard, which consists of two parts: learning the alphabet, and learning keys like arrows and backspace.

The "intro to programming" part is easy -- she already enjoys typing random characters in Writer and erasing them afterwards using backspace. Now I need to teach her how words are composed from characters, read words, and then to type words. I assume this may take a lof of time (not sure whether her brain is already capable of ordering the characters correctly).

In addition, I have created a simple "game" for training the arrows keys: there is a picture of a cat, which moves when you press a key. Yeah, pretty basic. Later I may create a larger map that the cat can explore, and perhaps a few items it could interact with. But the idea is to learn how pressing the four arrows relates to positions on the screen.

The "intro to maths" -- my sister taught her son by role-playing shopping: "give me one apple", "give me two apples", "give me three apples". My daughter refuses to do this, so I have to either wait or find a different strategy.

But in longer term...

In math, I trust my math skills that I will be able to come up with a good material for the next step. I will also use Hejný's textbooks as an inspiration. Also, Montessori education has some good ideas on elementary-school math.

In programming, well, that is more complicated. People who try to do this have a lot of contradictory ideas, so whatever conclusion I make, many people will disagree with. Anyway, my outline is something like this:

The first step should be simple games. But you have to choose them carefully, because the goal is not to optimize for e.g. shooting skills, but to teach the child that there is an environment that can be manipulated. I would try finding games where the protagonist moves in a rectangular grid and manipulates objects; you know, where then emphasis is not on dexterity, but on perceiving and changing the state of the game. Simple puzzles. If necessary (and if I have time), I may program my own ones.

The next step should be sending commands in batches. Like, instead of pressing "up, up, right, down" and seeing the protagonist move in real time, you will first create the "up, up, right, down" sequence, and then launch it, and see how it gets gradually executed. If failed, make a new sequence and launch it again. Make the user interface as simple as possible, even if it goes against your intuition as an adult; for example for a child it is probably easier to erase the whole sequence and start from scratch, than to try fixing a mistake; even if for an adult, the idea of writing something again instead of fixing the mistake sounds horrifying (but that's because we are used to work with long sequences, while this game will only contain short ones).

Not really sure what the next step, i.e. the first non-linear program is. Really not sure. (Maybe something like Manufactoria, but simpler?) Not even sure whether this is generally the right direction for the next step. Will think about it later.

What I feel relatively sure about is that people who try to introduce a Turing-complete language too soon are making a mistake. Turing-completeness is something that adult programmers appreciate. But kids need to experience some simple scenarios first before moving to a more general one, and the simple scenarios can use a different environment and a different programming language. I would even use "goto" in the first programming language, because, let's be honest, all programmers know there is a "goto" command behind the scenes, we just don't think about it explicitly anymore. But to get to this level, you must get through the explicit level. Similarly, the first programming language that uses variables should have their values displayed on screen all the time. The first language that allows you to call a function from a function should display the call stack all the time. Etc.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2017-06-17T22:19:11.444Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On programming games, a friend's kid at least enjoyed Robot Turtles. It's exactly this

games where the protagonist moves in a rectangular grid and manipulates objects; you know, where then emphasis is not on dexterity, but on perceiving and changing the state of the game. Simple puzzles.

plus the thing about sending commands in batches that you mentioned.

comment by turchin · 2017-06-10T10:45:12.890Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The productivity of a neural net depends on the educational dataset. If it is applied to human mind, then the secret of intelligence not in the brains, but in the dataset that was presented to it.

Surely, the brain is important, but humans exist 200 000 years on earth, and civilisation exists only 5 000 years. So something changed not only in the brain. Probably the correct way appeared to educate the brain using symbols, texts, games.

But it is not really correct. Most children are educated rather randomly and still get great results. Polgar's sisters' result is the example that much more effective datasets exist.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-10T20:22:44.632Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If it is applied to human mind, then the secret of intelligence not in the brains, but in the dataset that was presented to it.

It's both. You cannot give the same dataset to a lizard and expect it to compete with humans. Culture is the magic, but a brain biologically capable of having culture is an important ingredient of that magic.

And it's not enough that a proper dataset exists; someone also needs an incentive to apply it on the next generation. For example, the Polgárs most likely spent more time and energy on bringing up their daughters than an average neighbor. Even assuming they really found the right way... will other people use it? Or will they all say something like "meh, too difficult"?

Cultures persist when their members have incentives to apply the culture to the next generation. Well, the school system is a clever invention when a lot of those costs is outsourced to professionals. But the Polgár method brings those costs back to parents.

comment by turchin · 2017-06-10T21:19:44.356Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would add that our culture system is partly installable on animals. Dogs could understand up to 500 words and bonobo - 3000. But children, grown by animals, are never able to speak human language.

So installing our culture on animals is like installing Windows XP on 386.

comment by lmn · 2017-06-11T17:24:48.615Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Surely, the brain is important, but humans exist 200 000 years on earth, and civilisation exists only 5 000 years. So something changed not only in the brain.

And neural nets existed for ~500 million years.

comment by ImmortalRationalist · 2017-06-29T18:18:19.871Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is anyone here familiar with the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study? Any opinions on it?

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-30T10:06:27.630Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First reaction after looking at the title: "Was someone trying to find out whether adopting children to a family of different race will change their color of skin?" :D

Sorry, I wish I could post a more relevant comment, but I don't understand it; seems like everyone participating in the study was losing IQ points over time, including the parents. Or maybe I am reading it completely wrong; that is actually quite likely.

comment by ImmortalRationalist · 2017-07-01T11:59:01.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

TL;DR: In the study, a number of White and Black children were adopted into upper middle class homes in Minnesota, and the researchers had the adopted children take IQ tests at age 7 and age 17. What they found is that the Black children consistently scored lower on IQ tests, even when controlling for education and upbringing. Basically the study suggests that IQ is to an extent genetic, and the population genetics of different ethnic groups are a contributing factor to differences in average IQ and achievement.

comment by bogus · 2017-06-13T06:44:10.125Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, we're not all that interested in love or pregnancy spells, but does he by any chance have a spell for turning your kid (or future kid) into a genius? A +5 Intellect, +5 Wisdom, +5 Charisma would be ideal, and it seems like it ought to be feasible but I'm not sure what the spellcasting rules are like in the real world...Thanks so much!

comment by Lumifer · 2017-06-13T14:57:25.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So Str, Con, and Dex are dump stats? 8-0 That might turn out to be a bit... unfortunate.