Thursday, July 27, 2006

Haruki Murakami on Smart Kids


I've been reading the magic realism of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and really enjoying the book. I'm working hard at becoming a writer worth reading and in recent years I've rediscovered numerous works of super-fiction that interest me.

In any case, this short passage says more about the idiot zealotry of continuously raising the bar of expectations on children than any educational tome can.

Nakarta was one of five children evacuated to our town from Tokyo, and of the five he was the brightest and had the best grades. He had very pleasant features and always dressed well. He was a gentle boy and never butted in where he didn't belong. Never once during class did he volunteer an answer, but when I called on him, he always gave the correct answer, and when I asked his opinion he'd give a logical reply. He caught on right away, no matter what the subject. Every class has a student like that, one who'll study what he needs to without supervision, who you know will one day attend a top college and get an excellent job. A child who's innately capable.

But as his teacher I will say there were a couple of things about him that bothered me. Every so often I felt a sense of resignation in him. Even when he did well on difficult assignments, he never seemed happy. He never struggled to succeed, never seemed to experience the pain of trial and error. He never sighed, or cracked a smile. It was as if these were things he had to get through, so he just did them. He handled what came his way efficiently - like a factory worker, screwdriver in hand, working on a conveyor belt, tightening a screw on each part that comes down the line.

I've never met his parents so I can't say anything for certain, but there had to be a problem back home. I'd seen a number of cases like this. Adults constantly raise the bar on smart children, precisely because they can handle it. The children get overwhelmed by the tasks in front of them and gradually lose the sort of openness and sense of accomplishment they innately have. When they're treated like that, children begin to crawl inside a shell and keep everything inside. It takes a lot of time and effort to get them to open up again. Kid's hearts are malleable, but once they gel it's hard to get them back the way they were. Next to impossible, in most cases. But maybe I shouldn't be giving my opinions on the matter - this is after all, your area of expertise.

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