“Raise A Genius!” by Laszlo Polgar | Quintillion Ink-Strokes

I could not find a physical copy of this book, so I could only find PDF files for it. I originally came across Laszlo Polgar’s lifelong experiment through Matthew Syed‘s book about geniuses and the myth of inheritable talent.

Plot

Hungarian psychologist Laszlo Polgar explains to an interviewer how he raised his daughters, their achievements, and his unique method of pedagogy. Specifically, he focuses on his pedagogy of specialization throughout the interview. It then ends with an interview about Polgar’s wife, Klara, about family life.

Laszlo & Klara Polgar

Since Polgar is a psychologist with 15 years of experience in psycho-pedagogy, it would make sense why he would focus on the biographies of brilliant people like Albert Einstein and Mozart in order to see what exactly their childhoods were like.

He and the interviewer talk a lot about Polgar’s daughters, particularly since the entire focus is put upon their pedagogical development. Polgar talks about how much they succeeded in the world of chess despite their age and gender. He mentioned how he was a feminist and set out to prove that women are just as capable of men of competing in chess.

Klara gets more in-depth about the family life with her daughters and her own family. She talks about how the way that Jews conducted themselves in Hungarian society had to do with societal conditions that forced them into those roles in the first place. She was more responsible for taking the girls to any locations, while her husband spends the day tending to the house; which revealed the complex gender roles that may occur between both parents when raising genius children.

Themes

One major theme that he points out–and one that he constantly repeats–is the idea that no child is born a genius, rather is raised as one by the right environment. He noted this because of his intense studies of the most brilliant people and how they were raised. As such, pedagogy becomes an important theme throughout the book.

He constantly highlights the role that environment has in the interaction between the genius child and itself. Polgar notes that the child should have always have a playmate that is slightly more proficient, so as to provide guidance to the child. He also suggests that in the realm of chess, children should start practice with ones who have similar proficiency to them, so they won’t feel discouraged from playing chess. There appears to be the interplay between those children who are familiar with the child and those who are not.

Children’s developments are important foci of psychology, especially during the first years of their lives. It is during this time that children are able to become proficient in more than one language, because their brains are in states of forming speech.

Although Polgar has stated that a child can be specialized in any subject, Polgar himself chose chess to be the main field of specialization for his own daughters. The reasons that he gave were that there are concrete rules, multiple theories involving it, and requires discipline and concentration.

Conflict is a major theme throughout this book. There is the conflict that Polgar and his wife had with government officials and his fellow chess members, implying that he was ruining their childhoods by homeschooling them, which he refutes by explaining how they would have been ruined in the standard public educational system. There is also the political conflict that Polgar had with his own beliefs. Although he was originally Communist, he started to diverge away from that political philosophy, because it was against gifted education. Another conflict was the fact that the Polgars are Jewish and were part of a history of European Jews having to assimilate into European society, being subjected to pogroms, and eventually dying in the Holocaust. Both parents reasoned that they needed to raise children who were egalitarian and socially responsible.

Historical Context

At the time he implemented his lifelong experiment, everyone around him in Hungary thought that he was crazy, such as the president of the Chess Association. As such, Polgar bemoans the lack of cooperation that they had with their daughters’ education, particularly since he noted that the environment is crucial in the child’s education.

Since Hungary was a part of the Soviet Union, Russian was the official language. However, Polgar wanted to emphasize the importance of Esperanto and how it should be taught as a second language, particularly for its use as a transition from one language to another, and its auxiliary use it could have in ending conflicts and bigotry.

It was also at the time when Polgar raised his daughters that homeschooling was not allowed in Hungary except under strict exceptions. He had to fight with government officials in order to be allowed to homeschool his daughters, which he eventually won the right to do.

Writing Style

This book is actually a long interview where Laszlo and Klara Polgar answer questions with long answers.

He uses a lot of descriptive words throughout the interview, though it might be because it has been translated from Hungarian to Esperanto to English and those languages’ nuances affected the word choice.

He frequently quotes Roman philosophers alongside psychologists and pedagogues, so as to establish a Greco-Roman framework for his pedagogical philosophy. It also shows the universality of the pursuit of knowledge and how it continues to be relevant.

Real World Application

Polgar himself never strongly recommends his pedagogy to anyone, rather if it suited them. He made that perfectly clear throughout his interview.

He referred to compulsory schools as laboratories where every student is equally low. He further explained that schools are more focused on multidirectionality and less on specialization, which he argued would dampen the child’s interest and lose his focus. Thus, he argued that specialization does lead to multidirectionality, since intimate knowledge of one field requires knowledge of many fields. For example, computer science would require physical science, math, and linguistics.

The most telling part of this interview was that Laszlo Polgar prepared for his own daughters’ curriculum before they were born and even before he met his wife. This is an important deciding factor in a child’s success, which involves the planning of the child.

Cynical as it may sound, but children should be treated more like a 15-25 year investment, rather than as a token of societal capital. That child has use in society when it grows up and it should be something that all aspiring parents should keep in mind. Although the Polgars mention that children should live in an environment of reciprocal love, they would also need to be prepared for life in the real world. The point of this interview is to highlight that progression and to show how happy the three sisters were in their very early career.

Suggest This To…

  • Any potential parents–more specifically one who has yet to even meet their spouses. This interview would be important for them to seriously consider specialized education for their future children. Although Laszlo himself recommended this interview to professionals and parents alike, this interview would be central to every parents’ rationale for having children in the first place.
  • Anyone who is doing research on Albert Einstein and Mozart and other creative intellectuals, for they would benefit knowing the common link between all of them that was applied by a Hungarian psychologist within the curriculum of his daughters.

Polgar, Laszlo. “Raise A Genius!” Translated from Esperanto by Gordon Tisher (2017). Translated into Esperanto by Josefo Horvath (2004). 1989.

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