The Wrong Way to Treat Child Geniuses

The Wall Street Journal:

When I was a child, I was a “genius”—the kind you sometimes see profiled on the local news. I started reading at 2. I could multiply two-digit numbers in my head when I was 5. One of my earliest memories is working out a way to generate Pythagorean triples. In third grade, I commuted to the local junior high to take geometry. Kids on the playground would sometimes test me by asking what a million times a million was—and were delighted when I knew the answer.

Many advocates for gifted education are similarly delighted by kids like me, seeing us as a kind of natural resource, one we risk squandering as surely as we do fossil fuels. Some educators rebrand child prodigies as “exceptional human capital” and hold us to be the drivers of global economic competitiveness. “These are the people who are going to figure out all the riddles,” the Vanderbilt University psychologist David Lubinski said in a recent interview. “Schizophrenia, cancer—they’re going to fight terrorism, they’re going to create patents and the scientific innovations that drive our economy. But they are not given a lot of opportunities in schools that are designed for typically developing kids.”

Hearing this sort of thing was pretty flattering when I was a child. But today, I don’t think we’re paying too little attention to our young geniuses. I think we’re paying too much.

Dr. Lubinski and coauthor Camilla Benbow direct the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, based at Vanderbilt, the most ambitious attempt yet to follow the life course of the prodigious child. Since 1983, the study has tracked a group of several hundred students who, before the age of 13, scored at least 700 on the math SAT or 630 on the verbal—scores that only 1 in 10,000 children that age attain. Those students, now in their early 40s, have filed regular reports on their intellectual and professional development for decades. They’re pretty developed: Some 44% of them have doctoral degrees (only 2% of the general population does); their median income was $80,000, about twice the U.S. average for people their age; and two ex-prodigies are Harvard professors. These kids don’t flame bright and burn out; they start strong and keep going.

Read the whole story: The Wall Street Journal

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