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Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Child is Father to the Man

Parents, our children are forming the adults they will become. That is not our task. Our task as parents is to find a way to give them opportunity to safely try their wings when sparks of interest fly about them. This requires discipline on our part because although we may have an exciting prospect for our child, if the child isn't interested, we must drop it and follow his lead. But do not lose heart, because at some different stage in his development, he may love what you are hoping he will love. Or not. Your critical input to your child's being is hardwired into her or him at conception. After that your job is mainly custodial: to watch, safeguard, marvel and encourage. And sometimes to teach.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, both went to Montessori schools. And although they met at Stanford, they credit Montessori education for giving them the opportunity to be innovators. Here is a link where they explain:


This next story has no similar Montessori connection. It is a true story so amazing that no script like this has yet been written for a motion picture. It is a true story that puts “Slumdog Millionaire” to shame. Here is Montessori's example of the child being the creator of the man. I borrow these excerpts from the Internet Website Medscape. The author of the original article is based in France, Dr. Marc Goslan who interviewed Mario Capecci in 2007. It was published online October 17, 2007.

Dr. Marc Gozlan: Can you describe your early childhood?
Mario Capecci: I was born in Verona, Italy, on October 6, 1937. My mother grew up in Florence. Her mother was actually American, from Oregon. She was a painter and went to Florence to paint. She married a German archaeologist. My mother was both a poet and a linguist, and she worked at the Sorbonne, in Paris, as a lecturer. Then she joined a group of poets known as the Bohemians, who did a lot of writing against Fascism as well as Nazism. My father, Luciano Capecchi, was an Italian air force pilot. He and my mother had a love affair, but my mother did not want to marry him. And so she had me. She moved with another poet friend up to Bolzano, which is up in the north in the Italian Tyrol, not too far from Verona. She moved there just before I was born, and they lived in a small chalet. I was born actually in Verona and I lived in Bolzano, I think, for about 3 and one-half years. But, meanwhile, because of her writing, she anticipated that she would be picked up [by the Gestapo]. Meanwhile both her parents died. She sold part of her possessions and gave the money to a farming family in the Tyrol to take care of me, in case she would be picked up by the Gestapo. That happened in the spring of 1941. I was then about 3 and one-half years old. She was taken to Dachau. Then I went to live with this Tyrolean farming family.

What was your first direct experience with war?
M.C.: This was in 1942. I think it was because there was a railroad line not too far from the farm, which served for the transportation of munitions. And so the American planes strafed them. They also strafed the population of farmers that were in the fields, and then everybody ran. I did get hit in the right leg by a bullet. It was fortunate that I did not have very much bone damage, but I have a scar.

How long did you stay with the Tyrolean peasant family? M.C.: After a year, the money that my mother had given the family disappeared for some reason, I am not sure why, and they could not afford to take care of me. They had also their own kids. Then I was put out on the street at the age of 4 and one-half years old. I travelled to the south. I was picked up and put into an orphanage; there, things were even worse and so I ran away to live in the streets again.

Were you picked up by the Balilla, Mussolini's youth army?
M.C.: Well, I belonged with the Balilla for I think at most about a month, and that didn't go very well. So for a very short period of time. Enough to get a uniform and learn a little bit about shooting guns. It was just training with them. Then I ran away and continued living on my own. So I lived pretty much on my own until around the age of 8. Then I was put into a hospital, mainly because of malnutrition and typhoid.

How did you manage to survive?
M.C.: The food was mostly by stealing from open markets. All the shops always had things in the front. Either alone or in combination with other kids, somebody distracted somebody, and then another one picked up some fruits and ran off. I also used to go into the countryside and see what I could find there. Then, once the Americans came, a good source of food was their garbage cans, because they threw out a lot of food!

You have probably seen terrible things as a kid on your own in the streets during war, maybe even atrocities: M.C.: Well, yes. I found shelter either in houses that were bombed out or in houses that were given up by other people. One of the places that we stayed was actually a house that the Germans were using for torturing people. When you went in there, all the body parts were just left there on the floor. So I saw all sorts of body parts that were just cut off: fingers, noses, ears, and so on. This would be between the ages of 5 and 8.

What happened to your mother?
M.C.: On my ninth birthday a woman that I did not know was my mother went to the hospital where I was confined because I suffered from malnutrition. In this hospital, they had very little food. The same thing was actually true at the orphanages -- they also had no food. A normal meal was a little bowl of chicory coffee and a small piece of bread that must have been several weeks old. It was hard as a rock. You could hardly chew it. I used to be naked on my bed because they did not want you to run away.

So your mother took you on a boat to America and you arrived at Ellis Island:
M.C.: Yes, we lived with her brother in Pennsylvania. He sent the money to Italy for the trip. He actually had to send it twice because the first time the money never arrived. So he sent money again for the boat tickets, and then I think in a period of a week and a half, I was on the boat.

Where did you live?
M.C.: Not far from Philadelphia, in a Quaker area full of Chinese, Blacks, and Jewish people. What they set up was a commune, a series of families that bought a large farm together. My uncle belonged to that commune and we went to live there with him.

Like any other kid, you went to school, but without knowing a word of English:
M.C.: I did go to school the very next day after I arrived in America. I could not calculate or read. I had had no schooling up to that. The pupils were actually studying about Holland. The teacher gave me enormous rolls of paper and asked me to make a mural. So I painted large murals about Holland. That is what I spent the first month doing, as well as learning the language.

Did you lose all of your Italian?
M.C.: Pretty much, yes. I can go to a movie and follow it, but I cannot speak it, really, and I have not spent any long periods of time in Italy. I think if I did I might be able to recapture some of the language, at least.

Did you manage at school and were you social? M.C.: I was a bit physically aggressive. I was streetwise at that point, so I became essentially the champion to beat up other kids that were in other classes. In high school, I was actually very good in wrestling

The time finally arrived to go to college, and you chose Antioch College, in Ohio. Why did you choose that college, and how does your interest in biology begin?
M.C.: It is a fairly old college, a small liberal arts college. What they did was unique. There was a period of study of about 10 weeks and then after that you worked for a quarter. It continued that way for the whole year. The jobs were all over the country; I worked in California, Chicago, New York, Boston, and so on. Initially you started working in different areas just to get a feeling, and once you settled into what you thought you wanted to work in, then the job was related to that. I worked at the Sloan-Kettering Foundation and the Kettering Foundation and then Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- all essentially in laboratory jobs. I really learned how to do science as an undergraduate. At Antioch, I was a physics and chemistry student, but through the jobs I got exposed to molecular biology.

One day, you had an interview with Jim Watson, who discovered the structure of DNA. During this interview at Harvard University, you decided to stay in his laboratory:
M.C.: That's right. One of the questions that I asked him was, "Where should I go?" I had the choice between Caltech, Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard, and Jim said: "You would be f---ing crazy to go anywhere else!" That seemed fairly persuasive, and so I ended up in his lab. It was 1961. We worked out one of the first systems that synthesized proteins in a cell-free system.

How long did you stay at Harvard before going to the University of Utah, and why did you choose to move there?
M.C.:From 1961 to 1967, I was in Jim Watson's lab. After that I got a job at Harvard Medical School in the department of biochemistry. So that was until 1973, and then I decided to go to Utah.
Mario Capecchi, this Italian-born scientist who began life as street kid during World War II, who is now professor of human genetics and biology at the University of Utah's Eccles Institute of Human Genetics and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was awarded

the 2007 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Capecchi, 70, shares the prize with Oliver Smithies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and with Sir Martin Evans of Cardiff University in Wales. The three scientists have shared information but worked independently to develop a "gene targeting" technique that makes it possible to "knock out" specific genes in mice, which reveals the gene's function and its role in disease.

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