Want to raise a child genius? A study running for 45 years has suggestions.
Genius kids are caught in the Goldilocks oatmeal paradox – if there's too much heat on extracting their ability they suffer, but keep too cool a distance and they'll be wasted.
In 1971, professor Julian Stanley founded the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) program. SMPY is “the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children," Nature reports. For the last 45 years it's tracked the accomplishments of over 5,000 gifted children – and they've shaped our world.
“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society," Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, said to Nature. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires."
That's no exaggeration:
Children who excel at the math portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are few and far between. They aren't just good at math; they have outstanding analytical reasoning skills, meaning they know how to identify, breakdown, and solve problems – not just do math. Psychologist Daniel Keating of Johns Hopkins University explains the results to Nature: “The first big surprise was how many adolescents could figure out math problems that they hadn't encountered in their course work. The second surprise was how many of these young kids scored well above the admissions cut-off for many elite universities."
One other thing gifted children excel at is spatial ability, or pattern thinking. Spatial ability is a litmus test for creativity and innovation, as Stanley's next SMPY cohort would go on to prove. “I think it may be the largest known untapped source of human potential," psychologist David Lubinski of Vanderbilt told Nature. “Students who are only marginally impressive in mathematics or verbal ability but high in spatial ability often make exceptional engineers, architects and surgeons. And yet, no admissions directors I know of are looking at this, and it's generally overlooked in school-based assessments."
So how do we encourage all these future world leaders? Truthfully, most gifted children are left to fend for themselves within the confines of the American educational system. With programs like No Child Left Behind and the Common Core curriculum, the focus of American education for the last few decades has been on helping struggling students catch up. The students who aren't struggling are overlooked within that system, and that leaves any hope of acceleration to their parents.
To their credit, parents often recognize this. To their detriment, most parents see signs of genius and try to mold their child into one without stopping to realize whether or not their child actually is one. That attitude is detrimental – to all children, not just gifted ones. Psychologist Alison Gopnik explains:
As an alternative, SMPY recommends that children who show advanced aptitude in analytical reasoning and spatial skills be allowed to take Advanced Placement courses, college courses, and even skip grades, according to Nature. As Lubinksi put it, “these kids don't need anything special… they just need earlier access to what's already available to older kids." Here are some other tips he offered, quoted from Nature:
Basically, gifted children march to the beat of their own drums. Let them. They'll be okay.
- The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
- Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
- Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
- Bad outcomes get criticized as evidence of bad decisions, but that's not necessarily so.
- Here, poker pro Annie Duke desribes a simple thought experiment that separates decisions from outcomes.
- It is quite possible to make a very good decision that, due to external factors, results in a bad outcome.
Decide to Play Great Poker: A Strategy Guide to No-Limit Texas Hold '’Em
Lauren Miranda sent a nude selfie to a boyfriend years ago. Somehow one of her students discovered it.
- Math teacher Lauren Miranda was fired from her Long Island school when a topless selfie surfaced.
- Miranda had only shared the photo with her ex-boyfriend, who is also a teacher in the school district.
- She's suing the school for $3 million as well as getting her job back, citing gender discrimination.
If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.