Childhood is such a precious, yet trenchant part of life. We all have memories of our days as children along with stories of lessons learned.Childhood is reflected by most as being a time of bliss and enlightenment.As I recall my childhood an avalanche of mixed feelings suffocates me. Would I be able to interpret these feelings if I had not learned language? More importantly, is it possible to teach language after the “critical period” has been extinguished? This is the prominent question that arose in my mind as I read “A Silent Childhood”. The researchers’ goal was to establish if “Genie” was capable of language after eleven years of isolation. Also, how much of language, if any is innate, and how much is learned?
“Genie”? First of all, that name bothers me. Why in the world would someone name the child “Genie”? Granted, it was during the seventies when these events occurred, however, that is the best name they could conjure up? Webster’s dictionary defines a genie as “a supernatural spirit that often takes human form”. Were the researchers inferring that they did not view this poor child as human? Why not name her something ladylike and promising like “Hope” or “Heaven”. With a child like “Genie” who was deprived of any sort of nurturing and positive reinforcement, I would think the name would be the first place to start in reconciling the child with a positive outlook upon herself and the world. A name like “Genie” gives me the impression that it is going to take magic to repair all the damage that has been done. The article later stated that “Genie” liked when she was described as pretty. Wouldn’t it have been great if her name made her feel pretty? Since a name is something one hears hundreds time a day, the repetition of a beautiful name would redirect the negative thoughts that were pounded in her head for so many years.
Speaking of years, “Genie” was thirteen when her mother stumbled into the social welfare office. Scientists don’t agree how language is acquired, but they do agree that the first years of life a critical for language. Some scientists even believe that language is almost impossible to learn after the age of seven, six years before “Genie” was brought in for help. Behaviorists like B.F. Skinner believed language is learned through imitation, association of sights and sounds of words, and reinforcement. “Genie” was not exposed to any of this. Linguist Noam Chomsky believes that when a child is given the adequate nurture, language just happens to the child. “Genie” was not given the adequate nurture either. Because of this and the terrible condition she was in, I would have taken care of her emotional and physical needs first. Putting her in the hospital was the right idea, but that particular hospital was not the best place. Even though the hospital was well known, it was perhaps too well known. There was a tremendous amount of commotion and this is exactly what “Genie” didn’t need. I would have put her hospital that was smaller and less well known. The fact that “competition for access to “Genie” was fierce” by the researchers was something that should not have taken place. It appeared that many people were more concerned with their personal gains rather that the well being of the child.
Anyone concerned about “Genie’s” well being would have tired to get her out the hospital as soon as possible into a stable family. Visits from her mother was a great idea, but Irene was incapable of taking care of a child with so many needs; even after Irene’s therapy (which did not accomplish that much). I would have let “Genie stay in the hospital only long enough to find her a nurturing, stable home. She didn’t need to get attached to a place where she would leave in a short while. She did get attached to the cooks and the handy man at the Rehabilitation Center. Being moved from Jean Butler’s, back to the Rehabilitation center, to the Ringler’s, to her mother’s, and to foster homes was detrimental to any progress that was made. I would have let her stay with Jean Butler.
“Genie had gone from being ‘the most promising case study of the twentieth century’ to being, in Rigler’s words, ‘perhaps one of the most tested children in history.'” I realize that the studies were beneficial to both “Genie” and the human race, but I strongly believe the testing was excessive. Even though the tests were like a game and even though “Genie” preferred adults to children, she should have been able to have some sort of a normal childhood. I think too much studying was done and not enough caring was done. “Genie” needed more one-on-one time. She needed stability and the reassurances that she could act out and express herself. She only expressed herself to someone when she was used to him or her. She also stopped her “constipation” when she was used to staying somewhere. Because her environment was not threatening, she didn’t have to feel like she needed to control something (her bowels and her expression).
I would have placed her with a family that agreed to adopt her for life (preferably Jean Butler). She would have had a home health aid to make sure she continued to be healthy and maybe do some physical therapy to ease her development. I would have let Susan Curtiss observe and visit maybe three to four hours a day and any other research would have to be limited to just two days a week for two to three hours. Visits from her mother are very important so she could visit her mother whenever time permitted. I think putting her in school was also a great idea. I would have placed her in school as soon as possible. It’s hard to say if “Genie” would have been able to live independently, but that would have been my goal.
It is truly a shame that there was “competition” to study “Genie”, but when she was living with her mother, and she needed help hardly anyone could be found. It is also unfair that out of all the money that went to study her, almost none of it went to the benefit her or her mother. Why is “Genie” now living in a home for adults who are retarded when she is not retarded? Did everyone just give up on her?
“I have neither given or received nor have I tolerated the use of unauthorized aid.”