The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning - And Yours Too

Book Review

The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning - And Yours Too

by Peter Kline, Great Ocean Publishers, 1988

274 pages, paperback, $11.95

Great Ocean Publishers, Inc.

1823 North Lincoln St.

Arlington, VA 22207

This is an interesting book, written in a lively style, by a teacher who seems to care deeply about children. The general thesis of the book is that all human beings have a strong inborn urge to learn. Children come to this world with a great deal of curiosity and inner motivation. Above all else, schools should be structured to foster that curiosity, to allow children to discover knowledge for themselves.

Unfortunately our current school structures serve to dampen rather than foster curiosity. Our curriculums are pre-defined and rigid, allowing little room for experimentation. It's no wonder that children's natural enthusiasm wanes as they progress from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

This book was written primarily as a handbook for parents, but it speaks to issues of concern to anyone who cares how children learn. The author successfully blends theoretical musings with personal anecdotes. The result keeps you thinking about general ideas and their particular application.

One detraction, to my mind, is the repeated referral to the author's theory of "Integrative Learning." From what I can tell, Integrative Learning is as much a general approach as a method. While Peter Kline's ideas appear to have a lot of merit, it doesn't seem necessary to clothe them in a unifying theory. Besides, capitalized educational theories tend to have a flavor of dogma, regardless of their particular merits.

In this book, though, the concept of Integrative Learning is not presented as an inflexible dogmatic theory. Rather, the doctrine serves to pull together various ideas under one intellectual umbrella.

To give you a better sense of the structure and scope of this book, the table of contents is reproduced below:


A List of Games & Exercises in The Everyday Genius

Preface by Michael Alexander, Principal

A Mind-Map of The Everyday Genius

Part One: The Promise of Integrative Learning

1) The Infinite Possibilities of Your Child's Mind

2) How You and Your Children Learn Naturally

3) The Building Blocks of Learning

4) The Background and Development of Integrative Learning

5) Adjusting Learning to the Brain

6) How Integrative Learning Works in the Classroom

Part Two: Setting the Stage for Integrative Learning

7) How to Find Happiness in the Puritan Work Ethic

8) Working Within Limits

9) Making Your Life the Way You Want It

10) Learning to Deal with Feelings

11) The Joys of Cooperation

Part Three: Falling in Love with Learning

12) I Never Heard a Word You Said

13) I'm Glad You Were Born, Because

14) The Annotated Little Miss Muffet

15) Core Concepts that Structure Our Thinking

16) Is It Really You?

17) The Garden of Memory and Creativity

18) On Becoming a Poet

19) Only the Helpless Never Ask for Help

20) Meaning Deep Down in Your Gut

21) It's My Turn Now But How Am I Doing?

22) Intellectual Sleight of Hand

23) There's More Than One Way to be Right

24) Instant Memory Through Visual Thinking

Appendix One: Hope for a Brain-Damaged Child

Appendix Two: Principles of Integrative Learning

The author's prose in gripping in many places in the book. Here's a sample from the introduction:

"I've sat and watched an artist in front of a canvas lose all track of time teaching himself how light and shadow dance together in the inner darkness of the woods. I've seen the biochemist's keen gaze probing through the microscope the chemistry that shuffles and reshuffles life. I've walked with a child wondering at the mystery of the stars, exploring the realms of possibility with growing enchantment.

In all these events I've witnessed the elusive, joyous and deeply satisfying adventure of learning - an adventure that should be as commonplace as breathing, but that too many of us have lost sight of or forgotten.

For every one of us has a profound capacity and drive to learn, and to enjoy learning. The more we can satisfy this desire, the more likely we are to realize the enormous potential each of us has. This in turn is a measure of our happiness and success, and of the contribution we can make to the lives of others.

This book is dedicated to making this excitement and satisfaction more generally accessible --- to you, your children, and the classrooms and workplaces of the world."

In one section of the book the author discusses the phenomenon of child prodigies. The common myth is that such prodigies all have some sort of native gift. But an analysis of their family environment shows remarkable similarities in upbringing. So in the endless debate between nature and nurture, the nurture side repeatedly shows its dominant influence.

Another section of the book discusses in some detail the vital role that self-esteem plays in the life of successful learners. Self-doubt can be one of the most pernicious hurdles to the realization of educational goals.

The way to build self-esteem is to give children lots of opportunities to master simple skills. And once they attain mastery of a particular skill, their efforts need to be publicly and lavishly celebrated.

In some senses this book is just another book in the wave of "self-actualization" books that swept our shores in recent years. But this book goes beyond glib formulas to offer reasoned analyses of how and why children learn. It's thought-provoking reading for parents and educators alike.

Phil Shapiro


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