The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

December 9, 2013

Freedom is more likely to stimulate potential geniuses than gifted programs

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 — 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
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • Doug Creamer Friends and contentment

    Last week I made my annual trip up the mountain to Sparta. My friends have a secluded home near a babbling brook. Their home and property are a haven for peace. It’s a two-plus hour ride to their home that doesn’t feel that long because I look so forward to my time with this great couple. When I arrive, the conversation seems to pick up right where we left it the last time we saw each other.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thanks for the honest deed

    I would like to thank the person that found my wallet in the parking lot of Harris Teeter on July 23 and turned it in to the Albemarle Police.

    July 29, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • We need your help

    Hurray for the Albemarle City Council. Council plans to battle N.C. Department of Transportation’s ranking of all 13 projects in Stanly County to the bottom of their priority list. Council is setting up petitions in various city buildings for citizens to sign.

    July 28, 2014

  • Council asks veterans to seek office

    The terms of office for the leaders of the Stanly County Veterans Council ended June 30. A call is being sent to veterans council members requesting candidates for the four elective offices of the council. A meeting has been set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the DAV building. All council members are urged to attend.

    July 28, 2014

  • Mike Walden The gains and gaps in our economy

    Twice a year, I pull out my cloudy crystal ball and attempt to make some predictions about the direction and pace of the North Carolina economy. I just finished my latest effort and, as usual, the results are a combination of pluses and minuses.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd Yellow journalism takes on new form, people are dumber for it

    Time to get on the soapbox for a few minutes.
    Let me clear my throat. Eh ... hem!
    People are dumb.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Special election adds to the mix

    RALEIGH – A busy slate of judicial elections this November got even busier recently when Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals announced his retirement.
    A special statewide election to fill Martin’s seat will be added to the general election ballot, joining the four N.C. Supreme Court seats and three N.C. Court of Appeals races already slated for this fall.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon Fake news or sign of some more trouble?

    RALEIGH – Of the three situations I can recall where agencies receiving large sums of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t divulge employees’ salaries, two of them ended badly. The third – involving a group of charter schools in Southeastern North Carolina – is playing out right now.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    WASHINGTON - The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

House Ads
Seasonal Content