Monday, November 21, 2005

The Prodigy Puzzle - New York Times

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.

1 comment:

  1. I am the father of a six year old scientific child prodigy, Ainan Celeste Cawley, living in Singapore, a country which appears to have no experience of the kind of child he is. It is good to see that the U.S has programmes for such people and that support is growing there. I wish it were so worldwide: recently here, they have decided to scrap the Gifted Education Program, that they had had. That is not a move in the right direction. Its replacement takes a broader range of students and risks, therefore, dilution.

    I was a very precocious child in a time when giftedness, in the UK, where I was, was not something that was discussed often. I received no support, therefore. I led the childhood described: one of solitude and books in a family with, most definitely, plenty of "wobble". I fit, therefore the pattern described. I have among other things written two books, that I am preparing for publication.

    However, I would wish upon my son, the prodigy, and his gifted brothers, something else. I would wish for them all the support and opportunities in the world. Just because the geniuses of the past were cut off from the world, does not mean that it is best if the geniuses of the future are, too.

    Let them be welcomed, instead.

    Carry on the interesting work on your blog. I have one, too: on my prodigy son. Maybe it would interest you.