The Recent Time Article On Davidson

It’s making the rounds of gifted e-lists — check it out.

Here’s one interesting trail of snippets.

The author cites familiar researchers, like this one,

Leta Hollingworth noted that kids who score between 125 and 155 on IQ tests have the “socially optimal” level of intelligence; those with IQs over 160 are often socially isolated because they are so different from peers–more mini-adults than kids.

and this one,

Actually, research shows that gifted kids given appropriately challenging environments–even when that means being placed in classes of much older students–usually turn out fine. At the University of New South Wales, [Miraca] Gross conducted a longitudinal study of 60 Australians who scored at least 160 on IQ tests beginning in the late ’80s. Today most of the 33 students who were not allowed to skip grades have jaded views of education, and at least three are dropouts. “These young people find it very difficult to sustain friendships because, having been to a large extent socially isolated at school, they have had much less practice … in developing and maintaining social relationships,” Gross has written. “A number have had counseling. Two have been treated for severe depression.” By contrast, the 17 kids who were able to skip at least three grades have mostly received Ph.D.s, and all have good friends.

And then there’s this . . .

AS A CULTURE, WE FEEL DEEPLY ambiguous about genius. We venerate Einstein, but there is no more detested creature than the know-it-all. In one 1996 study from Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 3,514 high school students were asked whether they would rather be the best-looking, smartest or most athletic kids. A solid 54% wanted to be smartest (37% wanted to be most athletic, and 9% wanted to be best looking). But only 0.3% said the reason to be smartest was to gain popularity. We like athletic prodigies like Tiger Woods or young Academy Award winners like Anna Paquin. But the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd has been a trope of our culture, from Bartleby the Scrivener to the dorky PC guy in the Apple ads. Intellectual precocity fascinates but repels.

which seems to reproduce the anti-intellectual attitudes the rest of the article critiques. Maybe that section is just poorly written/edited, but it seems to be equating “intellectual precocity” with “the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd” pretty directly. (Plus, how does the fact that a majority of kids want to be the smartest support the preceding statment that there is no more “detested creature” than the smartest kid? Don’t those statistics just suggest that many kids would rather be smart than popular?)

Given all that, here’s what the author concludes:

But there is something to be said for being left to one’s own devices and learning to cope in difficult surroundings. . . . [Einstein] didn’t need a coddling academy to do O.K. later on.

[oh, well if it worked for Einstein no doubt it applies to gifted children everywhere . . .]

and finally prescribes

The best way to treat the Annalisee Brasils of the world is to let them grow up in their own communities–by allowing them to skip ahead at their own pace. [emphasis added]

The best way? There’s nothing in the article that gives any indication that the author would be able to make that determination better than the Davidsons, who’ve given piles of time, thought, and money to the issue of gifted education.

To be fair, what the author is advocating for, in his weird way, is better gifted education within the current system, especially allowing children to skip 3 or more grades. But how that leads to calling the Davidson Academy “coddling” (for those who favor cliques and fighting as part of the traditional “toughening up” experience of school, the article reports that kids still get that even when they are all in the top .1%) is beyond me.

I think the point was supposed to be that kids shouldn’t have to move to Nevada to get an appropriate education, but the author makes the bizarre choice to take a bunch of stories about families who found their salvation at Davidson and then insinuate that “the Davidsons simply created another kind of isolation for their students” and that “there is something to be said for being left to one’s own devices and learning to cope in difficult surroundings.” So the statistics about drop-outs and depression earlier in the article meant what?

[By the way, the title of the article: “Are We Failing our Geniuses?” Ah . . . nice word choice . . . that’s gonna win ’em over. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume a Time editor is to blame.]

If this is gifted advocacy, no wonder it’s going nowhere.



Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, In the News

6 responses to “The Recent Time Article On Davidson

  1. patience

    I read it, as carefully as possible considering the short lurker at my shoulder (with her dog led by a silver ribbon). Firstly, I will say that it doesn’t seem well-written, insofar as the author doesn’t seem to *truly* understand issues of very highly gifted children. They’re quoting a bunch of statistics and face-value impressions that don’t necessarily relate to the real experiences of these children. (Many HG+ kids I know are tremendously popular with other children, because of their intelligence and wit – although others do seem to find social life very hard.) I’d suspect that there were other reasons as well as her IQ that Annalisee Brasil might have had trouble making friends. For one thing, let’s admit that homeschooling can in some instances be socially isolating, especially it seems for children who are taken out of school at a later age, and whose mothers may not have had years building up social networks.

    On the other hand, I do agree that the Davidson school could be another form of isolation – having sit in on a gifted class, and watched the children in the playground, I saw immediately how isolated they were, and to be honest the whole impression that they were “weird” or certainly “different”. They were at least treated that way by their teacher and the other children, and seemed to have that idea of themselves too.

    BUT for any faults they may have, schools like Davidsons offer the best solutions at the moment. There are no other reasonable alternatives. Schools will not usually skip a child ahead two grades, let alone 3 or 4. The Davisons are doing the best they can. I got the impression the article’s author personally disliked them and that coloured the article.

    The article seemed very jumbled and self-contradictory as you pointed out.

    Sorry for such a long comment.

  2. I didn’t like much about that article. The author made some snarky comments about the kids and the Davidson’s that I didn’t appreciate. I am sure there were many quotes to be used and observations to make but he seemed to want to use the ones that continued negative myths about HG+ kids.

    Last year I visited the Academy and this year I met parents and students from it. Most of them said that the social aspect of the school was the best part. One girl said something like “I thought I had friends until I met these people and now I know what true friendship is.” And that totally makes sense.

    I spent a lot of my life feeling isolated even though I was popular and social. But there have been times in my life when I have had a small group of “like-minded” friends and it was soooo awesome. I could be myself and tell my jokes and say things the way I think them and they would GET IT instead of looking at me sideways.

    The Davidson Gatherings are like that for many people and the mother of a Davidson student told me that her daughter’s first year at the school was like being at the Gathering all year.

    As for double or triple grade skips… well they are could very well be the best option for many. I am pro-skipping when it works for the child. That is what worked for me socially when I was a kid. In junior high most of my friends were juniors and seniors in highschool and my bestfriend was HG and three years older than me.

    But Gifted kids don’t just think ahead, they also think more deeply and about different things. So being with older kids is not going to be the right fit if those kids are not also curious and sensitive and able to see the patterns of the world. You know what I mean…

    Z regularly hangs out with kids 8 – 10 year olds but the age difference isn’t enough. Her *best* friends are those that are also HG+, whether they be ten or six. That is something the Davidson school offers. I know it is not the right choice for everyone. But grade-skipping is also not the best option for everyone.

    But on a good note at least the article wasn’t anti-gradeskipping. That is a bonus!

  3. Cher, what excellent points you make about thinking deeper rather than ahead.

  4. Zach

    As a gifted child myself (I am fifteen by the way) i can tell you janedeau is most certainly right on the deep thinking part of her reply… Often i feel very isolated until i get together with my mothers friends (35+) I feel truly at home with these people because we can discuss things like polotics, science, and interesting topics rather than who won american idol, or drab things like that… I have a few close friends who are my age, but they are also highly gifted, when i speak with those who are my age who have a normal intelligence i can hardly refrain from bludgeoning them with a thesaurus… I can hardly believe how closed minded most my age are… Well just putting my two cents in…. Thought you might want to have a modenr childs perspective

  5. shaun

    Hang in there my friend. As you get older (college, grad school, beyond) it will get easier to find your people.

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