From The Washington Times comes the story of a boy who enrolled in college at the age of 8 and earned the first of two Associate of Arts degrees at age 9, graduating from East Los Angeles Community College with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Today, Moshe Kai Cavalin is 14 years old and about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in math from the University of California, Los Angeles. He also happens to have just published an English version of his first book (originally published in Chinese) called “We Can Do.”

Cavalin is convinced he’s not a genius and that plenty of kids are capable of accomplishing similar academic feats:

“That’s always the question that bothers me,” Cavalin, who turned 14 onValentine’s Day, says when the G-word is raised. “People need to know you don’t really need to be a genius. You just have to work hard and you can accomplish anything.”

And maybe cut out some of the TV.

Although he’s a big fan of Jackie Chan movies, Cavalin says he limits his television time to four hours a week.

Not that he lacks for recreational activities or feels that his parents pressured him into studying constantly. He writes in “We Can Do” of learning to scuba dive, and he loves soccer and martial arts. He used to participate in the latter sport when he was younger, winning trophies for his age group, until his UCLA studies and his writing made things a little too hectic.

Indeed one of the key messages of his book is to stay focused and to not take on any endeavor half-heartedly.

Like Amy Chua’s controversial article about tiger motherhood in The Wall Street Journal, Cavalin’s story raises an important question: Might we be expecting too little from children academically? All people have a profound way of rising to expectations — and history demonstrates that children are capable of more than we give them credit for today. Cavalin’s experience teaches that children can achieve more while also still living childhood to the fullest; he doesn’t sound like the driven child of a tiger mother — just like an open and disciplined kid.

My firsthand experience also suggests public schools might expect too little from students. In middle school, when I was homeschooled, my curriculum made use of the once-standard McGuffey’s readers. In sixth grade, I was required to read Francis Bacon’s “Of Studies.” In high school, when I went to public school, I again encountered an excerpt from Bacon’s classic essay … in a senior-level English class on a practice test for the ACT. Unfortunately, schools have to work around any number of problems that are completely unrelated to education — bureaucratic red tape, for example, or out-of-control family problems that interfere with a child’s ability to concentrate. But the point is a hopeful one: More is possible.

Incidentally, it strikes me that children would be able to handle more mentally if we didn’t so saturate and overwhelm them with what they’re not prepared for emotionally. Intellectual advancement and preserved innocence can go hand-in-hand. Children, like all of us, are subject to the restraints of time and space; the time they spend learning about one subject is time they cannot spend learning about another. How much time do we really want to spend teaching kids about how to avoid obesity, manage their finances, or cope with their as-yet-undiscovered-sexuality when we could stick to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic?