An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Innocent Moves: Managing Gifted & Talented Children

In games, parenting on March 28, 2012 at 2:33 am

Gifted children can often go unnoticed. Paul McCartney and John Lenon went to the same school in Liverpool with a few years of age difference between them. They had the same music teacher who didn’t recognise anything special in them. In other words, here’s a music teacher, who had arguably of the two great Musicians of the century in his class and didn’t notice it! Einstein is another classic example, after graduating he couldn’t get a teachers job so became a clerk. So bizarre were his ideas to the scientific community at the time, they didn’t publish it as they thought it was ridiculous. Ideas which would challenge the very foundations of Physics and change the way we look at the universe. I do thank him every now and then for his theory of relativity whenever I use a GPS system in my car. What if you do recognise your child’s talents? They needn’t be a prodigy but even just bright students need to be managed carefully at times with all the labels, grades, expectations etc schooling can put on them. In one case I know of a parent carried much resentment towards the education system for failing to nurture and develop his sons creative potential. Frankly, I feel as children get older and approach exams there is less scope for creativity in institutionalized education. This bothered me deeply in my own schooling experience. I feel my two year old son is a creative type – I’m really making plans now on how best I can facilitate his development by working with his learning style and help develop his talents in life. I personally have seen a number of cases in which excessive pressure can become counter productive. In some cases, like that of the legendary chess genius Bobby Fischer, it lead to self destructive behaviour. I really came to learn of him from the movie Innocent Moves based on the life of Josh Waitzkin; eight time national chess champion and two time tai chi chuan push hands world champion. Josh has written an amazing book called The Art of Learning which is about him and his life journey in cultivating two arts chess and later tai chi by looking at the very principles of learning that allowed him to achieve excellence in both fields. The film itself is an excellent movie to watch if you are wondering how best to manage a gifted child.  Probably one that stood out for me was a week or two before the championships Josh’s father encourages him not to play any chess but rather go and relax. It turned out his opponent was under a lot more parental pressure to win which possibly became the cause of his loss.

May be another reason why I find Josh’ story interesting is because he mastered two different arts which require two different modes of thinking yet is able to see their interconnectedness. He speaks of this in the video clip above. I can relate to this since as a teenager I had a passion for classical Urdu/Persian poetry and mathematics. Both really were due to my inclination for the mystical as I discovered much later. Both being languages yet almost mutually exclusive in their patterns. They do however have a common unifying factor: Beauty and Nature. Some would say the most beautiful equation in all of Maths is Euler’s e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0. Mathematicians find this sexy. For the record I don’t! I do find it fascinating though. Nature has ultimately inspired Physics and Mathematics. “Nature’s great book is written in mathematics” Galileo Galilei or ‘Pick a flower on earth and you move the furtherest star’ Dirac. Islamic Civilisation through the Qur’an have laid the foundations of modern science and had a different approach to science we see today- may be more like Goethe’s science – for another post at another time. I would often tell students Mathematics is like poetry as Einstein reminds us “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas”. The most elegant of solutions have an underlying tone of symmetry, harmony and clarity. Mathematicians, like chess players, are an interesting species. Some can be quite eccentric, intuitive and creative yet they work in black and white. They need definitions and clarity like a chess player. May be for this reason you would hardly hear of a Mathematician/Physicist who is also a poet. Omar Khayaam is the one person I can coming to think of. I doubt he would be both if he lived in our time; one of rationality and quantity. Seyyed Hossein Nasr may be another given he achieved top marks in Mathematics while at MIT and later himself wrote some poetry. Mathematicians may struggle with poetry given a word or line can potentially be interpreted in many different ways or levels. This would be like saying a queen can be both pawn, rook and herself depending on the situation. This would mystify Bobby Fischer himself. Once they have 64 boxes to work with and pieces are defined they’re creativity can then kick into play and then game unfolds. Saying that the best Mathematical solutions are also elegant & beautiful and the poetry uses rhythm and meter.  Another category of fish are mathematicians who are also mystically inclined.  I guess, French academic Rene Guenon and the Indian genius Srinavasa Ramanujan would fall into those categories. Such people are more steeped into the meaning of the symbol rather then form. Then there are people like myself who are mystically inclined and happen to be doing Mathematics for some bizarre reason. A decade ago I could sit for hours delighting over Rumi, Hafiz, Ghalib or Iqbal. However once I started work as a Maths lecturer, that some how faded and it seems I still carry some habits of thinking studying Mathematics inevitably brings. Rumi reminds us well “Reasoning has eaten your eyes”. (This of course isn’t the higher order of reasoning which inevitably invites us to reflect and contemplate as expressed in the Qur’an but rather rationality)

While on the subject, the Divine saying ‘I am in the opinion of My servant’ fits well with Dirac’s quote “If there is a God, he’s a great mathematician.”

  1. I think mathematics and spirituality go hand in hand. Both have everything to do with Truth and Beauty. I personally love mathematics for the reasons you highlighted; the clarity and reasoning, the patterns and rythms. From what I see in my children, there is a strong link between science and art. Two of my children who are the most scientific and logical, also happen to be the most musically creative.

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