Book Review of
"Michael Kearney, 'Accidental Genius'"
Robert N. Seitz
Couldn't put it down. I think that this is a "MUST READ"
for parents of highly gifted children and a "GOOD READ" for all of us.
Michael Kearney began to say, "Daddy," and "Mama"
at four months. When he was six months, his mother took him to a pediatrician
with an ear infection. When the pediatrician said, "Now, Mrs. Kearney,
what seems to be Michael's problem?" Michael said, "I have a left-ear infection."
When he was 10 months old, he learned to read, with the following amusing
"For instance, most parents get to go through a
phase of child rearing where you can spell out to your partner whatever
you don't want the children to know. For us this phase lasted about two
weeks when Michael was only ten months old.
I would say to Cassidy , 'Why don't we go out and
get some F-R-E-N-C-H F-R-I-E-S?'
Michael would chime in from the baby stroller, 'That
sounds good. Let's go to M-C-D-O-N-A-L-D-S.'.
This was another great game to play."
"Somehow, we ended up giving Michael responsibility
for reading the road signs for us. He always took his responsibilities
very seriously. Michael would repetitively read aloud all the road signs
'Von's.' 'Sunoco.' 'Dad, the sign says 55, not 60.
You're going too fast, Dad.'
''Michael, Daddy has special permission to go 60.'
'That's not what the sign says, Dad.'
'Thank you, Michael. Why don't you read the license
plates for a while.'"
"In the supermarket checkout line he might say about
the lady behind us, 'Dad, look at that fat lady. She's enormous.' Of course,
people assumed that I had put him up to it.
I would say, 'Michael, be quiet, you're embarrassing
He would say, 'But she's fat! Look at her! Is she
going to eat all that ice cream?'
People already thought that I was a ventriloquist.
Cassidy and I worked out with Michael that he would whisper his comments
to us. That actually worked, especially when Michael spotted the fat lady
again and whispered, 'Dad, hide the ice cream.'
At five, Michael entered high school, completing
it nine months later. At the age of six, he then enrolled at San Joaquin
Junior College, where he majored in geology. At eight, he transferred to
the University of South Alabama, where he graduated fourteen months later
at the age of ten, with a 3.6 average and a degree in anthropology. After
taking off eighteen months, he enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University,
graduating with an M. S. in chemistry in August, 1998 at the age of fourteen.
Michael is the holder of four world records (for
early enrollment and graduation) in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Although trailing him academically, Michael's sister
Maeghan, who is fourteen months younger than Michael, is said to be as
bright as Michael. Maeghan is currently enrolled as a sophomore (?) at
Middle Tennessee State University, and eventually hopes to become a veterinarian.
In spite of being two of the most precocious children
on record, it is astonishing (and a little frightening) to me how often
the Kearney children were misdiagnosed or mishandled. When Michael was
born toxemic, and prematurely, the Kearneys were told that he might be
brain damaged and retarded. They went all out from Day One to stimulate
his mind. They little imagined that they would be confronted with a super-prodigy–an
It should be emphasized that, after determining
that Michael wasn't retarded, the Kearneys haven't pushed Michael and Maeghan,
but instead, have had to run to stay ahead of them. Both children are highly
energetic, require relatively little sleep, and are "black holes" for knowledge.
One of the Kearneys' concerns is that it would be very easy to misdiagnose
hyper-energetic children like Michael and Maeghan and conclude that they
are suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
To me, one of the striking aspects of the children's
upbringing is the fact that their parents are doing their level best to
insure that (unlike less-fortunate prodigies), they are well adjusted to
The Kearneys have evidence that there may be thousands
of children showing up throughout the country with the kind of energy and
rage-to-learn that has characterized Michael and Maeghan. The Kearneys
think that their dedication to keeping their children supplied with fresh
knowledge allowed a flowering of their children's minds that made possible
their full mental development. They are very concerned that other
children are, perhaps, being misdiagnosed, just as were Michael and Cassidy,
Of course, our school systems may not be well-geared to accommodate children
at this level of rarity, and yet, these are the children who on whom we
are depending to light the world. For the parents of such children, I think
"Accidental Genius" is a necessity.