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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.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.