EDITH HAD HAD IT. She does not want to talk. She is very polite about it, ver gracious in her refusal, but in the end very firm. She has her reasons. One of them is her recovery from some unexplained minor surgery. The term itself - surgery - makes you want to pull back and say, "Sure, I understand", But it really isn't that at all. Edith is just tired of being treated like a freak.
Edith's mother does not understand. "She's a nasty little thing," she says. There's a shrug in her voice, "She's 24 years old. Maybe it's because this is her first day back at work from surgery. It was minor surgery, nevertheless it was surgery." I say I understand, but Edith's mother is vexed anyway - angrier at Edith than I am at being turned down for an interview.
Her mother explains. Edith may have decided that she has talked to her last journalist.
"After all", her mother said, "she has been at it since she was 12 1/2 years old." That was when Edith enrolled in college.
Edith is Edith Stern, daughter of and creation of Aaron Stern. She was bron in 1952 and either on the day of her birth or the day after, her father called a press conference. Two reporters showed up. They looked at him, Aaon Stern recalled, as if he was a nut, but he said it anyway. He said he would make jis daughter into a genuis. "I shall make her into the perfect human being," he said
So beginning at birth, he started what Harper's Magazine called "the Edith Project". Immediately, Aaron Stern turned the radio to a classical music station in order that henceforth only the classics would be heard in his house. He forbale babytalk, taked incessantly to the infant, and made flash cards with the pictures of letters and animals on them. Thses he moved before the slowly focusing eye of his infant daughter.
Stern was unemployed and unemployable. He is a survivor - a survivor of concentration camps, Gestapo brutality and, of course, the war itself. In 1949, he and Bella, whom he had married in the Warsaw ghetto, came to America. They lived in poverty, first in Brooklyn, and later under better cicumstances, in Miami. Stern, it was discovered, had cancer of the jaw. There were operations, then other sicknesses, than other operations. Always a meticulous perons, Stern says he had been hospitalized 170 times. He could not work. What he decided to do was raise and educate Edith. This was his job. He devoted full time to it.
He calls his technique "total educational immersion." He says that intellectual growth begins at birth and ends with death. In between is nothing but promise. With Edith he wasted not a minute.There was no such thing as a simple walk. A building was a reason for a lesson in architecture; a picket line meant a lesson in civics. He demanded all of Edith's time. He saw her face when she was being nursed and he said this would be the perfect time for learning. So he took her from her mother's breast and fed the baby himself. It gave him more time to teach.
By the age of 5 Edith had read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. By 12, she was in college, by 15 she was teaching mathematics at the college level. She holds a PhD. in math and currently works for IBM in Boca Raton, Fla. That much her mother knows. "I don't have my idea what she does," her mother said. It appears to be something classified - secret. It doesn't matter. For the sake of the record, Edith is a genius. Her IQ, a test her father says proves nothing, is above 200. Some people say anything over 150 is genius. The Edith Project is success.
I know what you're thinking. I'm thinking the same thing too, too: but is she happy? Has stern proved anything? After all, he himself is no slouch at intellectual achievement. He can write six languages. He can lecture. He taught school right after the war to the children of displaced persons. The reason his cancer was treated at the Mayo Clinic is that Einstein arranged it. How's that for name dropping.?
Still, give the man his due. Edith's accomplishments are mind-boggling - the entire encyclopedia by 5! College by 15! This is more than just smart, a quantum leap from brilliant. Take a bow Aaron. And he has. He asked to prove that he could duplicate his experiment. He said he would take infants of the Tasaday tribe, isolated throughout history in the Philippine jungle, and raise them in his Miami house. He would make geniuses of them, too, and he'd prove that intelligence, if that's the word to use, has nothing to do with race or culture. It has to do with "total educational immersion".
Still, the thing vexes me. I believe in childhood for the sake of childhood, running through fields and throwing rocks into puddles, and spending hours pretending you are both the horse and the rider. This, too, takes work. I recalled once when my son was about 2 and someone asked me what school he was attending. "School"? I asked. "At 2?" The woman frowned. He was thirsting for knowledge, she said. He could be taught. Every moment gone was a mement wasted. She had a point. I didn't care.
In talking with Edith Stern, I do not ask if she is happy. It is a bad question. Are people raised conventionally always happy? There's a better question: Would you raise your children the same way? In the Harper's article, she said she would, and now she says that she never spoke to anyone from Harper's. I read her the quote.
"I didn't say that", she says, "but what's what I would say if I were asked."
Her father is sick at heart at what the Harper's reporter has said. He says he took him into his house, fed him, treated him like a friend, and he wrote things that were meant to be private. One of these was when Edith talked about her body. She was overweight then, Aaron Stern says, but, yes, she said it. She was talking about how she has always clumsy. She said, "I don't care for my body. I'd be happy to leave it at home in the mornings." It occurs to me then that there was something Aaron Stern did not consider when he talked in 1952 of "the perfect humen being."
He was an immigrant and there was something he did not know.
In America, to be smart is not always enought.