All Children Are Capable of Greatness

Kumon and the crumpled math paper

Posted Aug 12, 2011

Yes, I said all.  Actually the Kumon press materials said it:

At the heart of the Kumon Method is the belief that all children are capable of greatness. With the help of their parents, family and friends, children can develop in ways that will humble and amaze you.

Kumon's founder, Toru Kumon, believed every child has the potential to learn far beyond his or her parents' expectation. "It's our job as educators," Kumon said, "Not to stuff knowledge into children as if they were merely empty boxes, but to encourage each child to want to learn, to enjoy learning and be capable of studying whatever he or she may need to or wish to in the future." Children who learn through the Kumon Method not only acquire more knowledge, but also the ability to learn on their own.

But I believe it too (though I do wonder if this "Kumon belief" extends to middle aged adults, or if there's a point at which our brains calcify and aren't as "capable of greatness" as they once were).

Last week my friend Catherine and I visited the Kumon headquarters.

I bring back some Kumon lore:

  • Kumon started in 1954, when 2nd grader Takeshi Kumon came home from school with a crumpled up math test stuffed in his backpack.  I find it hilarious, by the way, that the "crumpled math test" is this universal experience that transcends continents and generations.
  • Today, there are 4.2 million children studying Kumon in 46 countries.

What about the "grown ups?" 

Turns out, there is an adult Kumon workbook, Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brainand it has sold millions of copies. From the introduction:

Through my research, I found that simple calculations could activate the brain more effectively than any other activity. I also discovered that the best way to activate the largest regions of the brain was to solve these calculations quickly.

Through my research, I found that simple calculations could activate the brain more effectively than any other activity. I also discovered that the best way to activate the largest regions of the brain was to solve these calculations quickly.

Eight months into this crazy Project, and I'm thinking it's Kumon (not Kaplan) that might get me to a perfect score, and I'm thinking that the "10,000 hours till mastery" theory is probably not so far off.  (I keep meaning to calculate how many hours are left in 2011.)

Seriously though, I think I'm a Kumon-lifer now.  After I finish the math program (it goes through calculus), I want to start the Kumon reading regimen (lessons include Shakespeare, Homer, James Baldwin, Mark Twain -- for starters).

And then, I want to make a sculpture out of my workbooks, just like this little boy's:

I believe they said he finished the reading and the math programs, by the third grade.

Not that this is a competition or anything, but if she can do it.....

.....then so can I.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis