Responses to Growing Your Child’s Brain

Several people have responded to the article “Growing Your Child’s Brain.” We include here one response from a former student of Bob Valiant, Kristine Ellingson, who has had an extremely successful career in jewelry design and management, She now lives in the Yucatan where she and her husband operate a new Bed and Breakfast as well as other business interests. We remember her as a bright, hardworking student who always looked at things from a variety of angles and wouldn’t stand for “pat” answers. The second response is from a long-time teacher in the Kennewick, Washington School District, Dennis Sandmeier, who is a friend and colleague of Dr. Valiant. He is the kind of teacher we seek out for advice when tough decisions need to be made. As you will see, he thinks deeply about what he does professionally.


Very interesting article. I agree with all you pointed out, especially the original mental model as being HARD to dislodge. even with contrary evidence. I used to be terrified of bears. Real ones. Never having SEEN one, I could never figure out where this unreasoning fear came from, until I came across the old huge black bear rug that they used to put me on to nap when VERY small. Just seeing those horrid teeth again sent me flying backwards in time, and I knew where the fear came from. And it left. I realize this is not exactly what you are getting at, but amazing how much stress these small things can put in your everyday life.

I especially like the no one right answer bit.

I remember strongly disagreeing with a teacher on several history points, asking, “What if it didn’t happen that way”? What if that was only from one point of view?” Poor man..

I can drive people, kids, nuts with the “bouncing ball” type of questions. Amazing how such a simple item can be so complex. It’s my “THINK, people” concept. Delve into it! Study it from every angle! Upside down, if you want to!! Just THINK! Keep going on the subject until you can’t go anywhere any longer. then ask some else, and you’ll find that more things open up because of their take on the subject.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how one could /should measure “intelligence”. I don’t think it is enough to simply have the ability without two very important other qualities. Desire, and determination. Even if you are very, very smart (and one must analyze what “smart” is also), it will do you no good if you have no desire to use, or pursue it. AND you have to have the determination to get through the plateaus, tough spots in the learning, growing process. otherwise it might just as well be a brain sitting on a shelf. The potential is there, but so what? It�s like a light switch that has power, but no one is there to turn it on.

I keep wondering how the various teachers of one of my schoolmates have reacted to her getting her doctoral degree and teaching psychology (as I understand it). Talk about a person with potential, badly mis-directed in high school and very overlooked. Did anyone think of her with any potential? (except organizing great dances and parties!) I don’t think most people would have thought of me either as a person who would do, has done, and is doing the things I have done. I have never considered myself as that “smart”, ie: book learning. I don’t do well at trivia. I don’t quote out of books and poems. I seldom remember dates of historic events. What I do remember and connect seem to be odd things. the other night at the table (we had several young people as guests by chance) the conversation turned to “dictators” talking about Fidel Castro (Cuba is part of life down here), and I asked them all to name one other dictator, or what could be considered a dictator (we discuss that too) in the world now, and previously. All were hesitant, few have much “book learning”, so this took a while to get rolling. But after a while, ALL came up with someone. Now, before I DO things like that, I have to be sure that I can think of these people!! I remembered all kinds of wierd people, all over the world. We had a very interesting discussion. most of these kids would be overlooked in any sort of school system, but they all have a special talent. You just have to find it. Not all will use it. not all have the desire to do it, or IF they HAVE the desire, don�t have the “staying power”, ie, determination, to DO it. Many expect a magic wand. well, there ain�t none. So determination bacomes very important. From what I have seen, I would rather put my money on the person with ability (maybe not exceptional, but enough) and a whole lot of desire, and a TON of determination, than one “brain”.

There is one other person from high school who rather amazed people, did very well in the building/construction business, in the Portland area. Did he come to anyones attention? Not really. His slow, sort of sleepy, good old boy , aw shucks, manner put most of the “fast track” people in high school off. Yet, in that sort of business, where a lot of the “do it yourself” middle class people, who need more room, convert the gargage, add on, but can’t hire an architect to plan it out for them, need somebody they can feel confident in. He filled that spot nicely.

On the other hand, I know another person who is EXTREMELY talented, in roughly the same business, and has no success what so ever. Bright, well read (great at trivia….), BUT can’t put it together. Part of it is personality, but the rest is a lack of skill to put it ALL together. Piece by piece, she can do it all. So why can’t she put everything necessary to succeed in that business toghether ? Some people just simply can�t see, or grasp, or co-ordinate thej WHOLE picture. But they would be brilliant at PART of it. The Peter principle, I guess. Just because you can do one thing well, does not mean you should be running the show, but WHO out there, in the highschools, personnel department of companies, is guiding? Pointing out your advantages, AND areas where you don’t have the skills, for one reason or another.

I personally think too much attention has been given to “tests”. Both to acertain IQ, and to evaluate what you have supposedly learned of a class, the material. Now in real life, you can either DO it, or not. With book “stuff”, you can get away with just memorizing it for the test, and that’s it. Does that mean you know it?

What do IQ tests mean? I�ve a really good friend who tests out in the top 1% of the nation. mensa, and all that. Remembers amazing things. trivia. She is brilliant at some things but lacks street smarts. BUT, I hired her in three seconds to be my very specific secretary in the jewelery business, about which she knew almost nothing, run the computer keeping track of a zillion details, (knew nothing about computers either), and she was SUPERB. I was the “creator”, but she was one of the very neccessary parts that made it work. Who would have put her as a secretary, with that kind of an IQ? We are analyzing these people, kids, wrong, in my opinion. Someone needs to analyze their existing skills,and non skill area- recognize potential and develop that, and point out weak, or non existent skill areas.

I have learned to watch for the unexpected in people. don�t judge the book by the cover. I’ve learned to pretty much ignore the “cover”. When you learn what to look for, it really takes seconds, minutes, at times hours, to recognize these potentials. key questions, key tasks, show you. I’m not sure where I learned to do it, or recognize it, nor how I “qualify” these people, but I do. This is what good managers do. Find the right people for the job. THEN you have the potential for a great team, great office crew, great company, great nation. You’ll never find them if you rely on achievement and IQ tests as I remember them. You can�t test that kind of knowledge and ability, nor potential that way. What you need to be looking for is a new way to test people, maybe several new ways.


Hello Bob!
I had a long response to your article in progress when the school
secretary got on the all call and told everybody to clear out of their
computers because the server guy was going to perform some minor
miracles on its innards. The Reader’sDigest version of my response goes
something like : when I was in junior high I spent an afternoon in the
counselor’s office unsupervised – I looked up all my friends and my own
files and found out I had a measured IQ of 106 on the WISC. My good
friend Cliff, whose mother was the head librarian at the city library
and father a Ph. D. in economics doing auditing for the IRS, had an IQ
of 145. My mother and father learned English in their teens and neither
made it past elementary school in German. Cliff is now a senior
research fellow at U Texas, Austin doing work in vulcanology. Spending
time with Cliff’s family and living with Cliff for six months entirely
overhauled this poor white trash kid’s brain. I believe that. I still
have a pretty average IQ, but doing like Cliff and his family has made
it work for me. The real problem is that most kids in school don’t get
to be friends with a Cliff and his family (except for other Cliffs in
Odyssey of the Mind and such programs) and virtually none get to live
with a Cliff . And we teachers are just old kids – most didn’t have the
opportunity to get a brain overhaul from Cliff and his family either.
As I read your article all I could think of was how each characteristic
of superior brain activity was a palpable part of a day with Cliff and
his family. We have a system that manages kids reasonably well but
teaches by way of example little of importance or utility. How can
youngsters compare the breathtaking leaps that brilliance exposes us to
as opposed to plodding mediocrity when they see only the one? How can
youngsters then choose what appeals if mediocrity doesn’t? The
research is clear and it affirms what we suspected. But when you look
at the resarch and apply what we know about growing children’s brains to
those who are charged with that responsibility – their teachers – what
do most teachers know or care to know about growing their own brains?

By the way, when will teaching get easier? This is the only job I’ve
ever had that gets harder the better I get at it.



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