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).