Korea’s obsession with geniuses

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Korea’s obsession with geniuses

Now that my children are grown, I sometimes wonder what happened to all their “gifted” classmates I knew when they were younger. Some of their friends were “certified” talents, having passed an assessment test and going on to enroll at education centers for gifted students. I thought, “How can there be so many gifted children? It must be a good business - capitalizing on parents’ hopes that their children are extraordinary.”

Still, I was envious.

“Finding Genius” is a television program that reflects the desire to foster young prodigies when giftedness is considered the foundation for social success. It features candidates with natural aptitudes for foreign languages, math, music and the arts. There’s one 3-year-old who can read and write in five languages, and a child who solves college-level math problems.

Specialists evaluate the youngsters and advise their parents on how they should be educated. And the disappointment is obvious when some parents find that their “extraordinary child” is actually pretty ordinary.

Kim Ung-yong, with an IQ of 210, is perhaps the most famous gifted child - a real boy genius. I still remember him solving complicated math problems and speaking foreign languages on television. Later, he graduated from a local college and became an ordinary office worker.

In an interview later, he admitted, “I was never a genius, just someone who learned what others learn throughout their lives at an early age. I’m happy now, but other people don’t believe [it’s possible for me to be content].”

One self-proclaimed “genius” fabricated an admissions letter from a prestigious university in the United States to please those around her who had high expectations for her success.

And another child prodigy, Song Yoo-geun, was accused of plagiarism. His adviser, a co-author of the article in question, admitted his fault and that Song’s teacher was all too eager to make the boy famous.

“According to research on prodigies in other countries, most geniuses lose their giftedness as time passes. What parents and society need to do is not to try to maintain that diminishing giftedness but to help the students avoid mental breakdowns when they realize they are no more capable than average kids. In many cases, these prodigies know at 10 years old what other people know at 20, for whatever reason,” Hong Sung-wook, a professor at Seoul National University, wrote on his Facebook page.

Growing up a genius is harder than being born a genius, and being the parents of a child prodigy may be harder and more important than being a prodigy in itself. Nurturing, educating and raising real geniuses is just as much an important job for society.

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 27, Page 35


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