Educational Advice for The Parents of Alexis Martin, 3-Year-Old Genius

Posted on February 21, 2014

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Check out Washington Montessori School and Bard College at Simon’s Rock.

Maybe you have seen the news:  three-year-old Alexis Martin of Arizona has an off-the-charts IQ and is the youngest-ever member of Mensa’s Arizona chapter.  Little Alexis reportedly reads at the fifth-grade level and taught herself Spanish using an iPad, among other insanely advanced accomplishments.

Now her father tells People Magazine they are in a quandary over how to educate her: “We’re kind of hesitant to move her ahead too many grades because we want her to get that social aspect.”

Ask yourself this, Mr. Martin (and parents of other super-geniuses):   what has worked for other outrageously high-IQ students?  I have in mind 26-year-old Ronan Farrow.  His measured IQ has not been published, but from his track record, it’s clear that he’s extraordinary.

UNICEF spokesman and fundraiser at 14.  Started college at 11, graduated at 15 with a double major in philosophy and biology.  Rhodes Scholar.  Speechwriter for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Graduated Yale Law School at 21, and was then recruited by Holbrooke as Special Adviser for Humanitarian and NGO Affairs in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Two years later, he became Hillary Clinton’s Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues, with a focus on such things as the widespread unrest that led to the Arab Spring.  He has published editorials in the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Foreign Policy Magazine and other high-quality pubs.  He has a book coming out next year, Pandora’s Box: How American Military Aid Creates America’s Enemies.  Now he’s starting his own TV talk show to highlight global and national issues.

And all by age 26!  He may never have had his IQ tested and it may not be as outrageously high as young Ms. Martin’s, but whatever it is, it’s up there.

Even more impressive:  despite the very public dysfunction between his celebrity parents, Farrow seems solidly grounded, passionate about things that truly matter in the world, and he is in demand and engaged in serious, intellectually challenging work.  He’s “launched,” well-adjusted, productive, successful, seems to work and play well with others, and seems happy.

So what’s the secret?

First, his formal education:  he attended Montessori schools for his elementary years, and they were responsive to the way he learned.  His mother, Mia Farrow, recalls his years at Washington Montessori School:

“He was a very persistent child. He knocked on Pat’s door and said ‘I need more.’  I think Pat (Werner, Head of School) was completely inspired by the way she listened to him, heard him and respected that his needs were legitimate and found a way to meet them.”

By the age of 10, Ronan was in a 7th grade classroom, taking individual high school classes and completing independent research projects.  With graduation from WMS soon ahead, it was becoming clear that the obvious next step—high school—might not be the best placement for Ronan.

“Pat was ahead of the game and connected us with the right people,” said Mia. Ronan finished his final year at Washington Montessori School in 1999 and was accepted to Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts. Although Simon’s Rock is an “early college,” designed for young college students, most enrollees are 16. At 11, he was and is the youngest student to ever attend  the school.

“I don’t know what he would have been like had it not been for Washington Montessori, because he just grew and grew in all the right ways, and they were there to encourage that growth,” said Mia, who also noted that her young son was just as socially prepared for college as he was academically. “I think it would have been possible that in the wrong school with the wrong structure, that he could have been boxed in.”

Pat Werner’s involvement in getting Ronan Farrow connected with Bard College was a key event in his upbringing.   For the uninitiated among us, who knew that there is such a thing as an “early college” designed for students right out of tenth or eleventh grade?  Probably not many, since Bard College is the only accredited four-year college of its kind.  Granted, the kids at Bard won’t be in quite the same league as young Alexis Martin, but they will be younger than most college students, exceptionally bright, and academically far ahead of their peers.  More importantly, the college itself is geared toward educating these exceptionally bright kids.  At Bard, they are the norm, not the oddity.

But formal education is not the only thing Alexis’ parents have to think about; there is also that informal education we all receive just by living.  As Ronan Farrow told the New York Times‘ Jesse Lichtenstein, “I grew up in a family where you could never be the center of attention.  I was pretty insulated from the entire Hollywood thing.”  Referring to his 14 adopted siblings, he said, “We were every minority in the town.”

Ronan Farrow’s awareness of the world, and his passions for international affairs and human rights, were shaped by traveling with his mother, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.  Growing up with his siblings – many of whom came from backgrounds most Americans cannot even fathom – also shaped his view of his place in that world:  it does not revolve around himself.  So it seems only natural that his interests lie outside of himself, too.

Now, I’m not thinking that Alexis Martin’s parents need to haul her to war-torn countries, or that they should run right out and adopt 14 siblings.  Fashioning a good education for Alexis just calls for a school that can challenge her and allow her to learn at her own rapid pace, as Montessori and Bard did for Ronan Farrow;  and for exposure to many different real-life situations and topics of serious interest.  Alexis will find her own passions there.  One thing is certain, though: she’s on her own schedule.

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