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Bright children

A By the time Laszlo Polgar’s first baby was born in 1969 he already had firm views on
child-rearing. An eccentric citizen of communist Hungary, he had written a book called “Bring
up Genius!” and one of his favourite sayings was “Geniuses are made, not born”. An expert on
the theory of chess, he proceeded to teach little Zsuzsa at home, spending up to ten hours a
day on the game. Two more daughters were similarly hot-housed. All three obliged their father
by becoming world-class players. The youngest, Judit, is currently ranked 13th in the world,
and is by far the best female chess player of all time. Would the experiment have succeeded
with a different trio of children? If any child can be turned into a star, then a lot of time and
money are being wasted worldwide on trying to pick winners.

B America has long held “talent searches”, using test results and teacher recommendations to
select children for advanced school courses, summer schools and other extra tuition. This
provision is set to grow. In his state-of-the-union address in 2006, President George Bush
announced the “American Competitiveness Initiative”, which, among much else, would train
70,000 high-school teachers to lead advanced courses for selected pupils in mathematics andscience. Just as the superpowers’ space race made Congress put money into science education, the thought of China and India turning out hundreds of thousands of engineers and scientists is scaring America into prodding its brightest to do their best.

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