Mt. Vernon Register-News

Features

December 3, 2013

Freedom is more likely to stimulate potential geniuses than gifted programs

The father of one of my high school friends was part of Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman's famous Genetic Studies of Genius project. This dad had been one of 1,528 California children with very high IQs who were followed for decades to see if they were as successful in life as they were smart on tests.

He was a nice man. He did well at his job. But he made no great discoveries as far as I know. There were more successful people with bigger salaries despite lower IQs in our town. Most of Terman's other geniuses were much the same. After decades of data gathering, Terman concluded that "intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated."

 If high IQ scores are not reliable indicators of genius, what are? Advocates of gifted children hope schools can be designed to turn intellectual promise into world-changing creativity. Many of those experts admit that a lot of our gifted programs at the moment don't add much. What those children get in an occasional pullout class is likely to be less interesting to them than their own research in their parents' bookcases, kitchens, the local library and the Internet.

Talking to the experts leads me to think we should not be putting our faith in public schools to meet this need. Our schools have more than they can handle in helping other students become fully functioning adults. There may be something to the view that socially awkward geniuses need a safe place to be weird, but the better approach is to focus on stopping bullying of all kids. Public schools are mostly successful at finding people who know how to teach English, math, history and science, but we don't know how to encourage creativity very well and might find it better to let the gifted do their own exploring.

Like any journalist, I have interviewed many bona fide geniuses, because they tend to make news. Their life stories suggest that such people are best left alone to educate themselves, as long as we make sure that they can get to all the riches of our culture and science and that we don't require them to take grade-level courses that hold them back. Most geniuses, such as megabillionaire Warren Buffett (Wilson High School in Washington) or Beach Boy Brian Wilson (Hawthorne High School in California), appear to have gone to fairly ordinary schools like the rest of us.

There are exceptions. In her 1977 book, "Turning On Bright Minds: A Parent Looks at Gifted Education in Texas," Julie Ray profiled a Houston sixth-grader she called Tim. He was in an ambitious public school's gifted-education program that would later be called Vanguard. Tim was reading dozens of books and had several science projects underway. He was surveying classmates in order to rate all the school's teachers. He loved the school's small group discussions, where he was free to share his wildest ideas. I read about Ray and her subject, Tim, in Brad Stone's new book, "The Everything Store." Tim's real name was Jeffrey Bezos.

The future founder of Amazon.com and owner of this newspaper later graduated from a typical big American high school, Miami Palmetto. He found lots to do there without the help of a gifted program. That suggests that potential geniuses are getting as much useful stimulation in, say, regular high schools in Fairfax County (Va.) as they are getting in Fairfax's famous magnet, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

I pray for a 21st-century Terman to do another genius study on kids like that. Take a sample of very bright Fairfax teens at Jefferson and similarly smart students at other Fairfax schools, then follow both groups for a few decades. Will they turn out differently? I don't think so. Geniuses are made mostly by themselves. All schools can do is give them what they ask for and get out of the way.

 

1
Text Only
Features
  • American sunscreens need an upgrade

    The last time a new sunscreen ingredient came on the U.S. market, the Y2K bug was threatening to destroy our way of life. Intel had just introduced the Pentium III processor, featuring an amazing 500 MHz of computing power.

    April 24, 2014

  • The waffle taco's biggest enemy isn't McDonald's. It's consumer habits.

    Gesturing to Taco Bell, Thompson said McDonald's had "not seen an impact relative to the most recent competitor that entered the [breakfast] space," and that new competition would only make McDonald's pursue breakfast more aggressively.

    April 23, 2014

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 21, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Millions of Android phones, tablets vulnerable to Heartbleed bug

    Millions of smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system have the Heartbleed software bug, in a sign of how broadly the flaw extends beyond the Web and into consumer devices.

    April 11, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks