The Prodigy Puzzle

Ann Hulbert:

It is the Davidsons’ other, related aim that calls forth a different kind of fervor. Authors (with Laura Vanderkam) of a book called “Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Minds” (2004), they are on a mission to remedy what they are convinced is a widespread neglect of exceptionally talented children. That means challenging the American myth that they are weirdos or Wunderkinder best left to their own devices or made to march with the crowd. “By denying our most intelligent students an education appropriate to their abilities,” Jan Davidson warns a nation in the midst of a No Child Left Behind crusade, “we may also be denying civilization a giant leap forward.” Precocious children are not only avid learners eager for more than ordinary schools often provide, the Davidsons emphasize; they are also a precious – and imperiled – resource for the future. The Davidsons, joined by many other advocates of the gifted, maintain that it is these precocious children who, if handled right, will be the creative adults propelling the nation ahead in an ever more competitive world. As things stand, the argument goes, the highly gifted child is an endangered species in need of outspoken champions like the Davidsons, who are role models for the “supportive, advocating parent” they endorse.

Jan Davidson recently visited Madison. View her presentation: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds.

One thought on “The Prodigy Puzzle”

  1. My own sense of the “peril” our country has placed itself in in this regard, includes the sense of “oddness” that many highly gifted learners are viewed to have. When you are more sensitive to your surroundings overall, you tend to also be more sensitive to learning situations – it seems to be a matter of how much filtering one can do of the stimuli important in a learning situation versus the distractions of other sensory stimuli. Many of the more gifted adults I know have also always been more sensitive to light, sound, physical (dis)comfort, personal space issues, and so on. My parents have eight children, and they swear that the ones most “hair trigger” as babies and toddlers are also the ones who spoke earliest, developed the strongest personal gifts (and likes and dislikes), and have gone the furthest in education in their respective fields. However, those same kids were more often than not considered troublesome as elementary and middle school students in standard school settings.
    Our own son is brilliant, and also has Asperger Syndrome, which leaves him both hyperfocused and more distractible, hypersensitive to some stimuli and therefore also more likely to try to block out sensory information others might think is important. For example, he is alternately hypersensitive and insensitive to pain, more sensitive to people mistreating other people but also incapable of reading many social signals and cues.
    By “treating” these hypersensitivities with medication and/or behavioral therapy, are we encouraging him to ignore them, and perhaps accidentally, also to lose some of the more positive effects of special attunement to his physical and emotional surroundings? How much is slowing some of our ‘hyperactive’ children down helping them to focus and do better in school, and how much is blunting their reactions and thoughts that make them so bright in the first place? I struggle with that a lot – especially being a licensed teacher myself and seeing so many kids with so many varying problems, some of which are being ignored when they shouldn’t be, and some of which are being overtreated to the point of a ‘normalization’ that does away with a measure of creativity and unique thought patterns (“thinking outside of the box”). Are some of our kids being ‘cured’ of their precociousness? That can’t bode well for future problem solving, whether in the sciences, business, arts or philosophy/ethics. Just thinking out loud, I suppose.

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