Life On His Own Terms

April 11, 2010

BKprojectBalakrishna, 15, is a math and science prodigy. At age two, he was already a confident reader. When he turned four, he started reading National Geographic and Popular Science magazines. By the time he was seven, he was filling his days with textbooks on Trigonometry, Calculus and Algebra.

Two months ago, we talked to his mother, Juliana Pillai, about what it means to parent a highly gifted child. She explained that one of the major decisions she and her husband made when Balakrishna was younger was to homeschool him so that he could develop at this own pace and follow his interests.

Now we hear Balakrishna’s point of view. He is not one to mince his words—saying it exactly as he perceives it and woe is the person who takes it the wrong way.

You went to kindergarten for a while. What was it like?

I went to four kindergartens in all. Except for one, I did not stay longer than a month in any of these kindergartens.

I stayed for one whole year in one kindergarten as my mother was convinced that I would be able to adjust if given the time. I spent most of that year in the principal’s office and it certainly was more interesting than being in the classroom. I remember I was four years old then and I got into trouble with this girl who took another girl’s Barbie doll. I promptly returned the doll to its rightful owner and gave the “thief” a good scolding. The little tell-tale complained to her father who insisted I be expelled. I am quite sure she spun a different tale!

I positively hated all the kindergartens. They were like boot camps and the teachers were convinced beyond any doubt that there was only one way of doing everything and at all costs that must be the only way of doing things. Needless to say, I was not very popular with some teachers. I did get along famously with some, though, on a one-on-one basis.

BKsnowIt was frustrating having to attend these kindergartens. There were so many things I could have done if I had not been in “school” and they would have been far more interesting and exciting. The teachers just did not like to be told they were wrong so there was this continuous battle on how things should be done. I am a very slow learner when it comes to dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s”.

What is the best thing about not having to attend school?

The freedom, I guess. I learn differently and it is important for me to understand the concepts and not just study mechanically and then regurgitate it. School takes the fun out of learning. I guess being on my own allowed me to develop at my own pace with little interference. My parents gave me a wide berth to experiment and make messes and I found that I was happier with that kind of approach as opposed to the “do as I say” approach.

I am also the type of person who finds great difficulty sitting at the same place upright and doing work. I think best when I am relaxed which often finds me stretched on the floor. My best thinking comes in that position. I have secretly taken things apart and have been unsuccessful in putting them back.

What has been the highlight of your life thus far?

2009 has been very eventful for me. I won first prize in an international competition and I got a paid trip to attend a summer program in Vermont. I decided that I would kill two birds with one stone and got myself accepted for a six-week summer program in MIT. The MIT stint was the highlight for the year. I dream of going into MIT one day. It is Nerd Central.

A close second is hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand’s South Island with my parents in April last year. We are not what you would call the athletic types so we barely made the four-day three-night hike alive! We were infamous as the “mad Malaysians”.

What are your plans for the future? What would you like to do/be when you grow up?

BK with cameraI want to study physics. Physics is my passion and I would like very much to read Physics in MIT. I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed but unfortunately for me everyone who applies to MIT is super good so it is a long shot. Right now that is my only goal and I have no long-term plans. I will cross the bridge of what to do after I get my shot at MIT.

Editor’s Note: Just a couple of weeks ago, Balakrishna was accepted to study Physics at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He will begin his course later this year and we wish him all the best.

Our Interview series focuses on parents, teachers, role models and children with interesting tales to tell, lives to share and inspiration to give. If you have a suggestion for someone you’d like to see interviewed (including yourself, ahem!), drop us a note at parentingworks AT gmail DOT com to tell us why the person should be featured.

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2 Responses to Life On His Own Terms

  1. Audrey on April 13, 2010 at 2:10 am

    It is refreshing to see parents so in tune and involved with their son’s gifts and talents. If only that had been the case for author, Robert A. Benjamin! After reading his story it really made me think about being proactive in my own child’s abilities. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article and for taking us into a gifted child’s personal world.

  2. Eileen Lian on April 15, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Hi Audrey,

    Thanks for stopping by and for bringing Robert Benjamin to our attention. I guess we all have our individual paths to walk and some are circuitous and roundabout while others are more direct. But you’re right—the wonderful thing is that, as parents, we can make a difference.

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