Monday, March 05, 2007

Thoughts on child prodigies

The Gainesville Sun ran an interesting piece recently with quotes from some experts on child prodigies. You can read the piece here.

Leave aside the bizarre opening (if the child's novel is a best-seller, it doesn't do much good to withhold the father's name from the article...). I thought the quotes from Ellen Winner, author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, provided some real food for thought. For instance, she said that (with the exception of the child author in the lead anecdote), prodigies are often good at things that have already been mastered. Many of the child prodigies touted on TV have shown amazing memorization skills or technical skills -- they can cite facts about all the U.S. presidents, for instance, or have memorized dictionaries full of quotations, can play the violin beautifully, or can do arithmetic with amazing speed. But adult successes in many of these fields require a different set of skills. Mathematicians need to dream up new proofs. Composers need their own vision of the music they plan to create. Knowing facts about presidents and quotes doesn't get you anywhere in particular. Perhaps, she suggests, this is why the narrative of the prodigy who flames out is so compelling for many people.

This is no doubt why making the transition from childhood to adult success is so difficult. One of these days I hope to write a book about how gifted children have successfully made that transition! It also provides a rubric for thinking about questions we've looked at on this blog in the past (for instance, why there are so few literary prodigies, compared with math ones. The equivalent of a math prodigy in the literary field is someone who can read and comprehend incredibly quickly. Writing a novel is an entirely different concept).


The Princess Mom said...

If the father is so concerned about privacy, I'm sure "Nancy Yi Fan" is a nom de plume.

Anonymous said...

There's been some discussion recently about gifted children who are risk-averse. They get used to excelling, and then are less willing to try something that they may fail at. Maybe that relates to the idea of them excelling/mastering things that have already been mastered - they can follow a prescribed track. The challenge I see for teaching or working with a child who is gifted is to get them to try things that they may fail at. Not only does it provide a challenge, but it moves them out of their comfort level. Sometimes that can lead to failure, but it may also lead to a success "outside the box".

Anonymous said...

Please do write a book about gifted kids who have successfully made the transition. So much of what I've read as a parent of a gifted kid has been terribly discouraging to the point where sometimes it is hard to keep the big picture in mind that it does turn out great for many kids. A book like this would be a huge help to many parents.

silvermine said...

Most gifted kids successfully become adults. Some go on to do amazing things... some are just random people you work with, who have kids and some pets and like to go to the beach.