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第4册 - Unit 7, Section B - Geniuses and Better Parenting

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It is a popular myth that great geniuses - the Einsteins, Picassos and Mozarts of this world - spring up out of nowhere as if touched by the finger of God. The model is Karl Friedrich Gauss, supposedly born into a family of manual workers, who grew up to become the father of modern mathematics.

A professor who studies early learning has attacked this myth, saying that when he looked into Gauss's childhood, he found that Gauss's mother had been teaching him numbers at the age of two. His father had supervised manual workers, not been one, and played calculation games with him. Furthermore, Gauss had an educated uncle who taught him sophisticated math at an early age.

It is the same story with other geniuses. Einstein's father was an electrical engineer who fascinated his son with practical displays of physics. Picasso's father was an art teacher who had young Pablo painting bowls of fruit at the age of eight. Mozart's father was a musician employed at a noble's court who was teaching his son to sing and play almost before he could walk. 'In every case, when you look into the backgrounds of great people, there is this pattern of very early stimulation by a parent or teacher figure,' the professor says.

But what sort of parental stimulation should it be? There is plenty of evidence that, too often, pressure from parents results in children suffering fatigue rather than becoming geniuses. One study has identified two kinds of parent style - the supportive and the stimulating.

Supportive parents were those who would go out of their way to help their children follow their favorite interests and praised whatever level of achievement resulted. Generally, such parents created a pleasant home governed by clear rules. Stimulating parents were more actively involved in what their children did, steering them towards certain fields and pushing them to work hard, often acting as a tutor.

The study followed four groups of children: one with supportive parents, one with stimulating parents, one whose parents combined both qualities and a final group who offered neither. The children were given electronic devices; when these made a sound, they had to make a note of what they were doing and assess how happy and alert they felt.

The not too surprising result was that the children whose parents were simply supportive were happier than average but were not particularly intense in their concentration when studying or working on something. The children who fared best were those whose parents were both supportive and stimulating. These children showed a reasonable level of happiness and were very alert during periods of study.

Children whose parents were stimulating without being supportive were candidates for fatigue. These children did work long hours, but their alertness and happiness during study time was far below that of children in more balanced family environments.

Another crucial factor is the need for parents to have proper conversations with their children. Through having the chance to talk with adults, children pick up not only language skills but also adult habits and styles of thought. One reason why prodigies such as Picasso and Einstein had a head start in life was that they had parents who demonstrated how to think about subjects like art or physics at a very early age.

A survey in Holland showed that a typical father spent just 11 seconds a day in conversation with his children. A more recent study in America produced a somewhat better result, but the fathers in question were still talking to their children for less than a minute a day.

It is not just the time spent that counts, but also the way in which a parent talks. A parent who only gives a brief reply to a child's questions or gives dull answers will be passing on a negative, narrow-minded style of thinking. On the other hand, parents happy to take a child step by step through an argument, encouraging him or her to explore ideas, will cultivate an open and creative thinking style.

One researcher is attempting to show this experimentally with a study in which groups of parents are taught how to have beneficial conversations with their small children. He says these children have an advantage over their peer group in language ability, intellectual ability, and even social leadership skills. While the study is not yet complete, the children appear to have been given a long-term advantage.

So what is the outlook for parents who do everything right, those who manage to be both supportive and stimulating, who are good at demonstrating thinking skills to their children and successful at cultivating a self-motivated approach to learning? Would such parents be guaranteed to have a genius as their child?

There is general agreement that genuine biological differences exist between individuals; geniuses need to be lucky in both their genes and their parents. The most significant implication would seem to be that while most people are in a good position to fulfill their biological potential - barring serious illnesses or a poor diet during childhood - it is far from certain that they will grow up in an environment where that capacity will be developed.

So although knowing more about the biology of genius is all very interesting, it is research into better parenting and educational techniques that will have lasting significance.

有一种流行的说法,世界上的伟大天才──爱因斯坦们、毕加索们、莫扎特们,似乎都是造物主神功使然,不知从什么地方冒出来的。

卡尔·弗里德里希·高斯就是一个典型,据说他出身在一个体力劳动者家庭,后来却成了现代数学之父。

一位研究早期学习的教授驳斥了这一说法,称他研究高斯的童年时发现在其两岁时,他母亲就教给他数字。

他的父亲是个体力工种的监工,本人并不是工人,还常和高斯玩计算游戏。

而且高斯还有个受过教育的叔叔,他在高斯很小的时候就教他复杂的数学。

其他天才们的情况也是一样。

爱因斯坦的父亲是位电气工程师,他所演示的实用物理知识令儿子很着迷。

毕加索的父亲是位美术教师,他让小帕布罗在8岁时画一碗又一碗的水果。

莫扎特的父亲是位受雇于贵族宫廷的音乐家,他在儿子还不会走路时就教他唱歌、弹奏乐器。

"在每一个例子里,仔细研究一下天才的成长背景,都可以发现父母或教师进行早期激励这种模式,"这位教授说。

但是父母应该给予怎样一种激励呢?

大量证据表明,家长的压力常会导致孩子疲劳厌倦而不是成为天才。

有一项研究认为有两种家庭教育的风格:支持型和激励型。

支持型的家长会尽全力帮助孩子发展兴趣爱好,赞扬其获得的成就,不管它多么微小。

一般来说,这样的家长会营造一个有规矩的、令人愉快的家庭环境。

激励型的家长会更主动地参与到孩子们的活动中去,在某些领域里带领他们前行,推动他们努力,通常起着导师的作用。

这一研究跟踪了四组儿童:一组儿童的家长是支持型的,一组是激励型的,一组是支持激励相结合的,最后一组儿童的家长既不支持也不激励。

孩子们领到了一些电子装置。当发出声响时,他们就要记下自己在干什么,并评估自己从中所感受到的快乐和反应的敏捷程度。

结果并不太出人意外。支持型父母的孩子所感到的快乐程度高于平均水平,但学习或做事时精力却不是那么高度集中。

表现最好的孩子的父母结合了支持和激励型的教育。

这些孩子显示了相当不错的快乐感,在学习过程中反应也很敏捷。

给予激励但缺乏支持的父母,他们的孩子很可能会疲劳厌倦。

这些孩子确实能长时间努力,但他们在学习过程中的敏捷程度和快乐感大大低于生活在能兼顾激励和支持的家庭环境中的孩子。

另一关键因素是父母需要与孩子进行适当的交谈。

通过与成人交流,孩子学会的不仅是语言技巧,而且还有成人的习惯与思维方式。

像毕加索、爱因斯坦这样的神童之所以能在生活中率先起跑的一个原因就是他们的父母在他们很小的时候就教给他们如何思考像艺术或物理这样的科目。

在荷兰进行的一项调查表明,父亲们一般每天用于与孩子交谈的时间只有11秒钟。

新近在美国作的一项研究显示了稍好的结果,但这些父亲每天与孩子的交谈时间仍不到一分钟。

重要的不仅仅是花了多少时间,还有与孩子交谈的方式。

对孩子的问题只做出简单的回应,或是只给出乏味的回答,这样的父母带给孩子们的是一种消极的、狭隘的思维方式。

从另一方面来说,乐意与孩子作一步一步深入的论证,鼓励子女探索各种想法,这样的父母会培养出孩子开放的、创造性的思维方式。

一名研究人员试图通过实验论证这一观点。在他的研究中,几组家长学着与自己幼小的子女做有益的交谈。他说这些孩子在语言能力、智力,甚至社交领导才能上都比同龄孩子要强。

尽管这一研究尚未结束,这些孩子已表现出具备了长期的优势。

那么,对那些模范家长,那些同时给予孩子支持和激励,善于教给孩子思考的方法,成功地培养孩子学习上的主动性的家长,前景如何呢?

能否确保他们的孩子成为天才?

人们普遍认为,个体之间存在着生理差异,要成为天才必须幸运地既拥有天才的基因,又拥有能造就天才的父母。

最重要的启示似乎是:尽管大多数人都有条件很好地去发挥他们的生理潜能──除非童年时得了严重疾病,或饮食太差──但是,他们能否成长在一个能开发其能力的环境中则很不确定。

因此,虽然了解天才人物的生理特征十分有趣,但对良好的家庭教养和教育技巧的研究才具有长远的意义。

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