A few years ago, Discovery Channel was running a month long series called Understanding the Brain which also talked about effect of environment on brain development. Whole series itself was quite informative but there was one particular documentary which impressed me the most.
They talked about a slum in Louisiana, USA with predominantly Afro-American population. The area was infested with poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and crime. Children born there grew up in the same environment, hardly attended any school and became an extension of their parents. This vicious circle of poverty->illiteracy->unemployment->crime->poverty had continued for generations till about thirty years ago a group of educationists together with US government decided to do something very drastic about it.
They believed that the kids there were growing up to become what they were because of the environment around them and if somehow, they were able to get an environment which could stimulate their intellectual development - their lives would change forever.
They started a program where they decided to take in kids as young as 2.5 years who belonged to this impoverished community. These kids were to be taken away from their home in a separate facility where they would stay, learn, think, play and do various engaging activities both individually and as a group. Initially, parents were reluctant but pretty soon that facility had at least one little kid from each of the family there.
As the programme began, educationists and scientists started observing children's behaviour and response. Initially, most of these children were either very aggressive or loners. Over the period of time, when scars and memories of abusive, neglected households were replaced with that of love and care, children normalized. They became happy, playful and chirpy like other toddlers typical of their age.
The group's average IQ was 60 to begin with which in just one year climbed to 80 and by the time they turned 10, every kid had an IQ upwards of 120. Later when these kids got admitted to community schools, many of them were judged "brighter" or "smarter" than the rest of the lot and their performance always remained exemplary for the rest of their academic lives. Many of the them went on to become scientists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and some of them teachers themselves.
The episode featured interviews of those grown-ups who were beneficiary of this unique programme talking about their experiences in schools and workplace where they derived great respect for their achievements. They also showed interviews of co-workers, classmates talking about these achievers - how all these individuals were highly regarded for their performance and behaviour.
Years later, this programme was abandoned in that area because it was no more required. A group of enthusiastic, fastidious group of educationists and scientists were able to break the vicious circle forever which had trapped that community.
This effort has clearly shown that the right kind of involved and stimulating environment can set kids on the path of intellectual development whereas if they had still relied on genes, people would have continued to rot in hell over there.
Genius are not born, they are made, and made early.