We'll be returning to our Q&As with various folks in gifted education soon (I have several requests out). But in the meantime, I wanted to share an interesting article from Time Magazine (Feb 13): Is Genius Born, or Can it be Learned?
Reporter John Cloud tackles the genius wars going on between people who say that genius is a divine gift, and those who say it's all a matter of nurture and practice (like Malcolm Gladwell, whose book, Outliers, we've discussed here at Gifted Exchange).
It should come as no surprise that more measured heads believe that high achievement is a mix of both, a position taken in Dean Keith Simonton's new book, Genius 101. Gladwell, for instance, took the rather contrarian view that IQ means nothing. After all, the "Termites" (children participating in Lewis Terman's longitudinal study of high IQ young people) did not achieve in a particularly out-sized way compared to what you'd expect from a group of generally well-to-do kids raised by generally-well-educated parents. Geoff Colvin's book, Talent is Overrated, elaborates on the theory with references to three sisters whose parents chose, quite randomly, to make them into chess champions through hours and hours of practice. The idea? Anyone can be a genius if he works hard enough.
According to Cloud, "Simonton rather dismissively calls this the 'drudge theory.' He thinks the real story is more complicated: deliberate practice, he says, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating genius. For one thing, you need to be smart enough for practice to teach you something. In a 2002 study, Simonton showed that the average IQ of 64 eminent scientists was around 150, fully 50 points higher than the average IQ for the general population. And most of the variation in IQs (about 80%, according to Simonton) is explained by genetics."
I think most of us here would agree with this nuanced view. Success in many cerebral occupations does require a lot of innate intelligence, just as success in basketball almost always requires some amount of height, and success in modeling requires physical attractiveness. None of these qualities, alas, is evenly distributed in the population. Of course, innate intelligence by itself (or height, or beauty) won't get you too far, something even Julian Stanley, founder of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, said later in his life. As he once told Johns Hopkins magazine, “I used to sort of worship I.Q., but you can't major in I.Q. A high I.Q. and 50 cents can buy you a 50-cent cup of coffee. There's a lot to the work ethic.”
He's onto something, if overstating the case. It's the intersection of intelligence and hard work -- plus some luck and opportunity -- that makes success possible.
So what does this mean for gifted education? The problem is that currently, children with high IQs are identified, but then very little is done to help them develop their talents. We don't give them the opportunity to work hard. We don't give bright young children a chance to spend many many hours in deliberate practice, challenging them to the extent of their abilities. Instead, we give them a little pull-out here, a little award ceremony there, and some chastising to be happy with this because, hey, you're acing the grade level tests. Clearly we can do better (also a subject Cloud wrote about in the past, highlighting the Davidson Academy of Reno in a piece called "Are We Failing Our Geniuses?").