Sunday, November 20, 2005

"The Prodigy Puzzle" puzzles me...

Sunday's New York Times magazine featured a cover story on The Prodigy Puzzle or "Can Genius Really Be Cultivated? The Rise of the Gifted-Child Industry." (Requires registration).

The piece was thought-provoking and, while quite long, eventually made a point we've discussed here. Intellectual potential, and even early prodigious works, do not guarantee that a child will grow up to advance human knowledge or shape the culture. You need more than IQ. You need discipline, creativity, endurance. And luck.

But calling what's going on in gifted education these days an "industry" is pushing it. A handful of groups give scholarships, and attempt to make rock stars for a few days out of kids whose works place them at the national or international vanguard of achievement. These children then return to schools where principals will throw pep rallies because the football team won a few games against local competition. I wish gifted education advocates had enough clout in the culture to create an "industry."

13 comments:

Victoria said...

You don't need to register I just skimmed it without having to read it. Link to it

Anonymous said...

I'm 40, but I'm still so traumatized by the years I spent sitting in a corner trying to hide books in my notebooks in school that I find myself struggling against my better judgment to post some really long, pompous, pretend-calm, actually really angry post here.

I think the big thing that I object to in the Hulbert article is that she and the people she quotes talk about gifted education in terms of producing geniuses or regular scientists who get lots of patents.

At least for the bookworms who get really high verbal scores because they, um, read books (or, gasp, The New York Times), why not let them have special programs of some kind because that's a way for them to *find someone to talk to*?

I spent my whole childhood dreaming of talking about the books I was reading with other people. Even in college, when I was an English major at school, doing that was hard because we were all pressed for time and most people weren't really all that interested in reading books or anything else.

Now, plenty of people around me want to talk about what they've read, but (even though I write for a living) all I have the time to read is some Web stuff. Worse, I spent so many years in semi-isolation that I have a hard time holding an intelligent literary conversation.

-Disgusted in Maryland said...

Who is this woman? Where are the facts? What gives her the authority to make unfounded assumptions and speculations? Shame on the editors of the New York Time Magazine!

Anthony said...

Ann Hulbert can pontificate about what these exceptional young people should or should not do, but the truth is that they need to learn…some experts describe it as a “rage to learn.” Yet our nation’s brightest students are the largest group of underachievers in our public schools. They spend most of their time in school "relearning" material they already know or doing busy work while others catch up. Left un-served, gifted students learn that curiosity only makes you miserable in school. Denying their ability and squandering these bright young minds results in personal tragedy and national waste. Hulbert completely missed the real story.

Angry in New Jersey said...

The President and Trustees of the New Jersey Gifted Children's Association are writing a letter to the editor about the incorrect fact and assumptions that were made in the "The Prodigy Puzzle Piece." We can’t believe that such sloppy, inaccurate journalism came from the New York Time Magazine. What can they be thinking?

Young Scholar parent said...

The editors' poor choice of photos to accompany the article detracted from a remarkably well-researched free-lance author's piece about the history of gifted education in the United States. It is regrettable that the author has not spent more time overseas in non-Western countries, where the importance of conscious talent development is better recognized.

On my part, I think the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, which was written about a lot in the article, is playing a positive role by helping high-IQ young people meet and communicate with one another while still young, before lousy school experiences (like the experiences I had) complicate their pursuit of learning. I am a parent of children who are happier and more confident as a result of social interaction with other Young Scholar children, and for that I am grateful.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Anthony...are you quoting from Genius Denied? :)

Laura Vanderkam said...

YS parent: I'm inclined to agree with you, that the photos sensationalized a piece that was pretty interesting, if very long. But that's the whole issue -- the magazine has to sensationalize a 10,000 word piece because otherwise no one reads through it! I'm glad Genius Denied was mentioned on about the second page, not the 20th...

I hope we can keep the debate going on this. I plan a post in the near future about the differences between early verbal talent and early mathematical talent. Hulbert's mention that Heidi (one of the Davidson fellow laureates) did not plan to publish her work any time soon because she had a lot of room left to improve is actually pretty telling about this issue. You see mathematically precocious youth doing new proofs at times, but it is the rare young novelist who can actually get published. "Prodigies" in literature tend to be like Carson McCullough, publishing The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at 23. But anyway, look for that post soon!

Anonymous said...

Appropriate education is not a lot to ask. Whether a child is developmentally delayed, gifted, or highly gifted. It is unfortunate that there is such a bias against innocent children who have advanced abilities. They really get no breaks. On the playground they don't fit in, in the classroom, in practically any arena are unwelcome. The one exception seems to be the Davidson Institute. The DI provides such positivism about accomplishments and genuine concern for appropriate educational opportunities. The NY Times article does highly gifted children such a disservice by labeling their few advocates part of an "industry". Perhaps not all highly gifted children will grow up to make amazing contributions to mankind (especially if they have been treated so judgementally), but does that mean they should be denied appropriate education? The author sounds almost bitter about her own experiences.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you are right -- I have always tried very hard to describe the education my PG son needs as "appropriate" and not "advanced." Being asked to work 4 grades below your tested individual achievement level is an insult to the whole notion of education. It seems ironic to me that my 11-year-old is having more academic needs met in our local community college than he ever did in a K-12 setting.

That said: All PG children are different. The statement "On the playground they don't fit in ..." is simply not true of all PG kids and stereotypes as much as those ridiculous photographs in the New York Times. One thing I really respect about the Davidson Institute (my son is a Young Scholar) is that they recognize this diversity in high-IQ individuals.

chessdad64 said...

I also found the Prodigy Puzzle article of interest. It led me to "Genius Denied" as well as to this blog.

I have a particular interest in the youth chess scene as the father to a 6th grader who plays in many tournaments.

I also write my own blog at http://chessdad64.journalspace.com where I have made reference to this site. I think many in the youth chess community will find the issues discussed here interesting and relevant.

All the best...

A. said...

Two things:

First, I can't get behind this idea that smart kids (I really must object to the word "gifted") lead uniquely difficult lives as compared to their peers. Childhood is full of trials and tribulations for children of all intelligence levels. Countless children all across the academic spectrum are bored in school and/or have trouble making friends.

And about the NYT piece: while eager to criticize the author for "missing the real story," it seems that some members of this discussion missed what I considered to be the real story, which was that exceptional people will do just fine for themselves. They will learn and excel with or without "appropriate" education. Consider the two men rejected from the Terman study group who went on to win Nobel Prizes. That kind of "learning rage" speaks for itself, *will* speak for itself -- loudly -- whether or not you give it a pulpit and a microphone.

elizabeth said...

I'm surprised at some of the anger this article, which I thought was thoughtful and well-written, aroused in parents of highly gifted children. I thought the main point was that by ushering such children along a defined academic track so that they pass signposts quickly and accumulate rewards, we may be narrowing their experience and setting them up for feelings of disappointment and emptiness later in life.

Many of us who were very bright and did well in school have found the adjustment to adulthood, where the path to praise is not so clear and nobody gives you A's all the time, to be difficult. And many very bright individuals have found their own way to pursue their passions by exercising their own creativity (perhaps because they were bored) not by accelerating down a prescribed path.

What's interesting to me is tht many gifted children, sons and daughters of accomplished, professional parents, are accelerated and enriched and become... accomplished professional adults--much like similar kids who weren't accelerated so avidly. What's the end game here? Yes, we should try to meet these kids' needs for stimulation, but we better make damn sure it's their needs, not our need to bask in the reflected glory of how unusual they are.