Discovering Genius

Posted by Paula Paine on April 1, 2015 in william_maxwell,-Photo-in-Albania.jpgWe are created in God’s image and know that God is a genius. What if each of us has genius within us and with encouragement and mentoring, we can develop it?
Dr. William Maxwell is a man on a mission. He believes that “all humans at conception are potential geniuses in some domain and that that genius is time-sensitive, environment-sensitive and mentor-sensitive.” This Genius Principle guides Maxwell’s latest endeavor, The Genius Discovery Academy, which “will function by ingeniously focusing upon finding and training geniuses in every field, from athletics to mathematics, to music, to zoology.”
Some might question whether every person is a possible genius but considering Maxwell’s childhood, few would be surprised by his passionate view on an individual’s potential. Maxwell grew up in Arkansas surrounded by a very large and diverse family. His mother had ten siblings and his father had three. Maxwell’s maternal grandparents were a rarity in that time—he was white and she was black. His parents did not have much formal education but they took every opportunity to teach Maxwell and his younger siblings and cousins what they knew. He was raised to consider a person’s character above all else—skin color and background were not factors determining a person’s worth. Neighbors doted upon him and his elementary principal gave him the nickname “professor” when he was in first grade. William Maxwell’s potential was recognized and valued. He wants every child to enjoy such early validation. He discovered his upbringing was unique when he arrived at Howard University (a school primarily for black students) in 1947.
IMG_0040.jpg“I was shocked and disappointed to learn that this university did nothing to teach character,” says Maxwell, “but focused on the superfluous.” He was so frustrated by a seemingly universal refusal to consider character instead of outside appearance that he left the school and transferred to Oregon State. Maxwell was an instant student celebrity because he was the first Black male on campus. He enjoyed the popularity and spent the next four years in many leadership roles. He majored in science education but because the college would not allow him to student teach (it said it would be impossible to find him work due to his skin color), he never received his teaching license. Undaunted, Maxwell went on to Harvard University where he took classes to be a school superintendent.
“Every misfortune can be transformed into something good,” says Maxwell and his life is evidence of that. Maxwell and his wife lived for extended periods in Korea, Nigeria and Fiji, where he taught or served as a professor or head of schools of education.  They also lived in Switzerland, England and all over the United States, from North Carolina to California. His wife, due to the stress level of living in Korea in the 1960s suffered two miscarriages and the loss of a still-born baby.  But the couple, particularly Mary Elizabeth, chose to rejoice in knowing they would see their children in heaven rather than focus on their earthly loss.
Maxwell took a pay cut to teach at Ottawa University’s Phoenix campus from 1993 to 2003. However, he knew it would be worth it because a fellow professor told him how OU was different—the students sincerely wanted to learn and they worked hard to reach their goals. Maxwell taught classes for Ottawa University for ten years and found his friend’s words to be true.
It took Maxwell fifty years to fulfill his dream of creating a school for parents and children to explore and develop their natural genius talent. The Genius Discovery Academy, headquartered in Berkeley Lake, a suburb of Atlanta, recently opened and is accepting students. Parents attend classes to discover their children’s hidden genius and then develop skills to nurture that genius.
“The great thinkers have three things in common,” says Maxwell. “They dreamed of being great by age six. Their parents encouraged their greatness by age three and all of them were focused upon a specific career at an early age. Da Vinci was mentored from age two and a half.  The Mayo Brothers were tutored and mentored by their father from earliest childhood.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother decorated his nursery in an architectural theme. Unfortunately, most parents are so busy, so overcommitted now that they can’t focus on their children long enough to discover what their children’s genius can lead to.”
“Each of us is called by God to improve the world, “ says Maxwell, echoing John Calvin. Perhaps inspiring a child to reach his or her potential is one way to do that.