‘EVERY CHILD IS BORN A GENIUS‘
by Buckminster Fuller
I observe that every child demonstrates a comprehensive curiosity. Children are interested in everything and are forever embarrassing their specialized parents by the wholeness of their interests. Children demonstrate right from the beginning that their genes are organized to help them to apprehend, comprehend, coordinate, and employ—in all directions.
-Buckminster Fuller, ‘Approaching the Benign Environment‘
An educational revolution is upon us.
One of the most important events of this peaceful but profound revolution is our dawning discovery that the child is born comprehensively competent and coordinate, capable of treating large quantities of data and families of variables right from the start.
Every child is born a genius, but is swiftly degeniused by unwitting humans and/or physically unfavorable environmental factors. “Bright” children are those less traumatized. Of course, some children have special inbred aptitudes and others, more crossbred, are more comprehensively coordinated.
But the new life is inherently comprehensive in its apprehending, comprehending, and coordinating capabilities. The child is interested in Universe, and asks universal questions.
Through electro-probing of the human brain, we are beginning to understand something of its energy patterns and information processing. We apparently start life with a given total-brain-cell capacity, component areas of which are progressively employed in a series of events initiated in the individual’s brain by chromosomic “alarm clocks.” Put your finger in the palm of a newborn baby’s hand and the baby will close its tiny hand deftly around your finger, for its tactile apprehending organism is operative in superb coordination, having been operative while as yet inside its mother’s womb. Soon, the alarm clock calls the hearing function into operation, and later, on its own unique schedule, the baby will also see. [End Page 3]
In a stimulating environment, the brain’s chromosomic alarm clocks and “ticker-tape” instructions inaugurate use of the child’s vast inventory of intercoordinate capabilities and faculties. Children are not in fact taught and cannot be taught by others to inaugurate these capabilities. They teach themselves—if given the chance—at the right time. This provision of environmental experience conducive to the child’s intellectual development has been termed the “problem of the match” by J. McVicker Hunt in his Intelligence and Experience (1961); he also speaks of “motivation inherent in information processing.”
Benjamin Bloom finds that environment has its greatest influence on a human characteristic—such as intelligence—during the period of time in which the characteristic is undergoing its greatest rate of growth or change. Thus, by age four, 50 percent of the child’s total capacity to develop its intelligence is realized.
If not properly attended to and not given the chance to function, despite the brain’s alarm-clock inauguration of progressive potentialities in the first four years, the brain mechanisms can be frustrated and can shut off the valves to specific capacities and capabilities to learn, then or later on. The capabilities need not necessarily be employed to an important degree immediately after being triggered into inception, but must be put into some use and kept in use as active tools in the human coordinating capability, else they will squelch themselves, “shut themselves off,” not necessarily irreparably, but usually so.
Piaget has said: “The more children have seen and heard, the more they want to see and hear.” I add, “The more children have comprehended and employed in principle (what I call “teleology”), the more they want to do so. And the younger they are, the more they feel this desire.” (By “teleology” I mean the intuitive conversion by brain and mind of special-case subjective experiences into generalized principles and their subsequent objective employment in special-case undertakings.)
By age eight, 80 percent of the child’s total capability to self-improve intelligence in learning how to learn is activated. By age thirteen, 92 percent of this capability is self-started into usability; and by seventeen the final 8 percent of the total capacity to coordinate [End Page 4] and apprehend, to comprehend and ideologically employ input data, has become operative.
Traditionally, the great bulk of government educational funds has been applied after the critical birth-to-eight period during which 80 percent of the child’s educational capacity is being established. In the light of the recent research findings our educational emphasis must be reversed. Personnel, funds, and energy must be channeled into early training. Operation Head Start and recent related programs appear to represent a more realistic utilization of resources.
Let us focus our efforts to help children learn in the critical first thirteen years, when approximately 92 percent of brain function is progressively and automatically “turned-on,” “tuned-in,” “tuned-out,” and “shut-off” in direct response to the positives or negatives of the individual’s environmental experiences and potentials, keeping in mind that by age four 50 percent of brain function is realized. Such function should be properly set in use and kept in use.
Not only is intelligence developed during these formative years, but also the basic characteristics determining much of the individual’s personality and behavior as well.
Will human adult-life design an environment to foster new child-life adequately—to nourish the unfolding flowers of the “cortical gardens”? This issue is not a new one. More than a decade ago, I suggested that discoveries of behavioral scientists would lead to an educational revolution:
In the next decade, society is going to be preoccupied with the child, because, through the behavioral sciences and electrical exploration of the brain, we find that, given the right environment and thoughtful answers to their questions, children have everything they need educationally right from birth. We have thought erroneously of education as the mature wisdom and over-brimming knowledge of the grown-ups injected by the discipline pump into the otherwise “empty” child’s head. Sometimes, parents say “don’t” because they want to protect the child from getting into any trouble. At other times, [End Page 5] when they fail to say “no,” the child gets into trouble. The child, frustrated, stops exploring. It is possible to design environments within which the child will be neither frustrated nor hurt, yet free to develop spontaneously without trespassing on others. [Saturday Review, November 12, 1966, p. 70]
When we combine our knowledge that the period from birth to four is the crucial “school” opportunity with the discovery that entirely new conceptual/mathematical simplicities are at hand, we must realize that educational theory is, indeed, entering a period of complete revolution. [End Page 6]
Buckminster Fuller would likely be best known for [his] designing the geodesic dome. Fuller was a renowned scholar and teacher who did extensive research in the fields of architecture, engineering, and design and also was an influential pioneer in thinking ‘globally‘ and, thus, increasing the thought potential of mankind.
* Copyright © 1981 by Buckminster Fuller.