Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Davidson Fellows Award Ceremony and the Career Education of Gifted Children

Last night I had the privilege of attending a reception at the Library of Congress honoring the 2005 Davidson Fellows. These gifted young people received $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000 scholarships for their original works, courtesy of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (I co-wrote Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds with Jan and Bob Davidson, DITD’s founders).

The winners were a varied bunch. The Davidson Fellow Laureates (who received $50,000 scholarships) included Karsten Gimre, an 11-year-old who won for a musical composition, “Conversation Without Words,” and Tiffany Ko, a 16-year-old who did a technology project: “Designing a Capacitance-Based Security System Employing the MC33794 E-Field Sensor Chip.” A young man named Marc Yu (age 6) stole the show with his discussion about his “Performance Selections for Piano,” which won a $10,000 scholarship, and his thoughts on how societies should support their brightest young people.

I was mulling over the same topic last night, and it’s one I’d like to discuss with parents of gifted children. How we can help gifted children go from all this potential, and from these frighteningly precocious projects like I heard about last night, to solid, productive careers in their chosen professions? Even when you do great scientific research (such as Milana Zaurova’s “Gene Therapy Meets Chemotherapy: Exposure of Malignant Glioma Cells to Transgenic Embryonic Stem Cells and Temozolomide”) the path to becoming, say, a tenured science professor with the right equipment and grants at the best university for you isn’t straightforward. Few composers earn a living at their craft. How can we guide them into choosing work that supports their craft, or at least leaves them time to pursue it? As a writer, I can testify that I have seen many grown-up gifted children who were amazing writers struggle with the publishing industry and learning how to establish themselves in positions where they can write what the muses are telling them to write.

What should parents and schools (including colleges) do to help gifted children’s career development? Or is there much they can do? - Laura


Laura H. said...

Great subject - I think about this all the time. It's particularly tough for gifted people to transition from the utopia of learning to the real world. In school, the Gifteds are challenged to think critically on a broad range of subjects and are given substantial recognition for critical thought. In contrast, most careers require you to focus on following someone's protocol; putting in time; paying attention to detail; networking, etc. Some of the most successful people are just plain ol' hard workers, rather than gifted.
It's tough for any one career to stretch one's brain in as many directions as he needs. In school you can fairly easily triple major...not so easy in careers. Since any particular job can rarely satisfy a Gifted's intellectual needs, I think you hit the nail on the head with one of your statements: "choose work that allows them time to pursue [their craft]".
I guess the only thing we know for sure is that it's best to encourage Gifteds to aim high at whatever they do. Unfortunately, we all know recognition works, but it's pretty rare in the real world. How can we reinforce the notion of intrinsic rewards, since in the real world they'll often have to go without the recognition they're accustomed to from teachers, parents, and mentors?

Davina said...

One of the difficulties is when schools base their curriculum on age rather than ability, the brightest students are not given the opportunity to be appropriately challenged and LEARN in school. Everything is easy for them, and if they never have the challenge of mastering something difficult, they will never experience the joy of achieving academically. "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" and the practices of our public education system "wastes the minds" of our brightest students.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Davina- I think you're on to something. I do hear people saying that a work ethic will get you farther than being gifted (even the late Julian Stanley, gifted education pioneer said this). And it's true. But someone who is gifted, and has developed a work ethic because she's been challenged in school, will definitely get farther in life than she would with just one trait or the other!

JJ said...

I would agree that a solid work ethic is a strong ingredient in success.Back in the dark ages when my husband and I were in school, the post-Sputnik response of teachers was to encourage and nurture students who showed great potential.Thus, we who were never labeled as gifted but were gifted and treasured were challenged and consequently learned HOW to WORK HARD and shown the PROMISE of hard work. Skip 30+ years into the future. Early elementary school, proufoundly gifted son and every moment of his school day causes him to doubt his value as a thinker and as a contributer to the classroom. He tells his parents that he is just supposed to sit and be still in school and not to think or talk too much.He is told that he needs to wait until the rest of children catch up with him.He volunteers for an extra project (on top of the assigned project) and he is told that "you cannot always get away with doing more work...that is not good for the class". And he starts to say "I don't need to know that...the teacher says it won't be on the test". Yes, the comment that used to get my goat in graduate school and medical school came spontaneously from the mouth of my 8-year old.

If we deny the promise of a gifted child, and we fail to provide him with appropriate challenges, we will NEVER know what he might have produced were hard work encouraged. Sort of like that hokey Pocahantas high will the sycamore grow...if we cut it down, we will never know.

So many "cut down" sycamore trees among our precious youth!