Thursday, June 01, 2006



In and out of psychiatric wards; completely dysfunctional family life; behavioral problems. These are not qualities one would expect from a young math genius…or maybe they are. Time and again, individuals who are able to wrestle with the complexities of math independent of a tutor have progressed mathematical thinking to a higher plane. Often, they are misfits – socially unable to adapt or interact with their environment. Some believe it is the level of abstraction necessary to advance ideas in math that prevent them from normal psychological development. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that genius and social ability do not often go hand in hand.

A student of mine fits the description above. He has been tested often for mental illness and psychological disorders. His family is a wreck. And he has spent more days at home suspended from school for fighting than he has in my class. Nobody teaches this kid math, yet somehow he just gets it. His test scores are among the highest in his grade and on the rare occasion that he graces my class with his presence he is able to figure out and understand some pretty high level mathematics.

In no small way, I wish the education system would get out of his way so that he can give real thinking a try. Administrators, teachers, and students are always pushing his buttons (of which there are many) and, being a loose cannon, he loses it. One of his teachers even refers to him as “Columbine.” Clearly, he is unstable. Through no fault of his own, he doesn’t know how to interact with other people. But it is also a terrible waste to keep him in a system set up for students like him to fail.

The tragedy of it all is that nobody has told him what a gift he has. Rather than nurturing his intellect and working with his needs, schools send him home or keep him in the office – apart from the very people that are able to cultivate his intellect.

And with this last sentence I should meet the word requirement.

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