Why Do Child Prodigies Fizzle Out?
Kids might be immensely great at something, but they’re never performing at a great adult level.
David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including "The Forgetting," "Data Smog," and "The Immortal Game." He is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS. His new book, "The Genius in All of Us," will be published by Doubleday in March 2010.
It's very important to realize that when kids are immensely great at something, such as playing the violin or they are particularly good at a sport, they’re never performing at a great adult level. They’re only sticking out for what other kids can do. The reason that’s really important to point out is that they’re great at a technical skill - and I’m not trying to take away from what they do because obviously it is amazing to watch - but it’s important to realize that for example when you look at Mozart, yes, he was performing for kings and queens when he was 5, 6 years-old, but his performances could not be compared to a great violinist of 25 or 30 years-old.
It couldn’t be then and it certainly couldn’t be now. Another point to make is that with the Suzuki method and other methods now there are many, many, many performers now who are performing at that age, 5 and 6 years-old, 7 years-old as good or better than what Mozart did when he was a kid. We tend to hold Mozart up on this pedestal as having this God-given gift and being one in a zillion in terms of his early musicality, but in actuality it’s fairly easy if you look at his life to explain where he got the skills that he got and to identify them as skills, not as some sort of supernatural power. Our culture has actually learned a lot of the trade secrets that at the time maybe only Leopold and Mozart knew and we’re applying them left and right to very young kids.
We could have a discussion about whether that’s good or not, but that’s certainly what is going on.
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