Six-Year-Old Masters ‘Language of Science’

Monday, November 2, 2015
The Cook Center

When Louise Toppin first met Romanieo, Jr. he was barely age 2 and had just memorized the flags of the world.

Toppin, chair of the music department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, briefly introduced 6 year-old Romanieo, Jr. and his parents Romanieo Golphin, Sr. and Cheri Philip, at a brown bag luncheon in West Duke on Friday, Oct. 30.  

The parents, both concert pianists and co-founders of The Robeson Group, decided to home school their son, introducing him to advanced STEM concepts, teaching to his ability rather than his age.

“I could have taught him Russian but I decided to teach him the language of science,” Golphin said.

Golphin and Philip shared their teaching methods and success (young Romanieo has a Morehouse College Scholarship waiting for him). 

“For example, he knows he needs to eat bananas for energy,” Golphin said, turning to his son. “And what’s in bananas?”

“Potassium!” said Romanieo, Jr. who later identified benzoic acid and expertly pronounced other chemical compounds configured on a white board.

Golphin said that by breaking down everyday tasks such as eating and washing hands he is able to make science meaningful to Romanieo, Jr.

“I can talk to him about what is happening in his body on a cellular level,” Golphin said. “That’s not far from talking about the atom.”

In that sense, Romanieo, Jr. can go from middle school concepts to advanced college level concepts in a matter of minutes. He is now conversant in science, identifying chemical compounds as well as music, calling out notes as he hears chords played on a keyboard.

Golphin and Philip balance their son’s insatiable curiosity about the world with “purposeful quiet” or meditation, allowing him to synthesize new ideas and decompress. They’d like to encourage parents and educators to create a new benchmark for children, by taking their lessons a step further.

“Results will vary undoubtedly,” Golphin said. “But in the end, we’ll have a set of students who have grown up scientifically literate.”

This could have major impacts on business as well as school systems. The Robeson Group is beginning to have partnerships with Google, the Gates Foundation and colleges and universities like UNC and Duke. They are interested in early education curriculum, and creating digital toys and applications.

Former UNC chancellor James Moeser attended the talk and said that teacher training is the next step.

“What incredible parents you are,” he said. “ There never could have been a Wolfgang Mozart without a Leopold Mozart.”

“As adults we put limitations on ourselves,” Philip said, paraphrasing one of Romanieo Jr.’s fans, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. “He said let children explore, touch things, break things. Let them be scientists.”

The event was sponsored by the Educational Policy Working Group of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the Duke Program in Education. To see photos, click here.