Excerpt: The Prodigy Puzzle - New York Times: "Nobody, of course, expects to handpick the next Einstein. Still, it is worth remembering that the solicitously individualized 'scaffolding' for the highly gifted that experts currently recommend, and the pre-professional alacrity that programs like the Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and the Davidson Fellowships often reward, are themselves experiments in progress. Look at eminences in the past, and what stands out in their childhoods is an animus toward school, a tolerance for solitude and families with lots of books. What also stands out is families with 'wobble' - which means stress and, often, risk-taking parents with strong opinions - rather than bastions of supportiveness where a child's giftedness is ever in self-conscious focus. Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics and himself a prodigy who went to Tufts at 11 and Harvard at 15, wrote that prodigious children need to develop a 'reasonably thick skin' - to feel they aren't demonized and will find a niche, but not to expect the world to supply a spotlight. Simonton speaks of the importance of being able to be 'on the failure track for a while, take time off, take a real risk.' Creativity and innovation, he says he is convinced, depend on 'exposure to the unusual, to the diverse, to heterogeneity,' which inspires a 'recognition that there are a lot of different ways of looking at different things.' There are also all kinds of ways that this 'awareness that there's more than one possible world' can dawn. (The fact that it is built into the immigrant experience is one reason, on top of an ethos of incredibly hard work, that Simonton says he believes kids of recently arrived families so often dominate the ranks of the spectacularly talented.)"
Hopefully, this NYTimes piece won't detract from the the accomplishments of these young people. The commentary does raise some worthwhile issues, what are the best ways to foster the strengths in children, how are resources and money best directed, what are the burdens of prodigies, and what different routes do people take in order to be come creative innovators.