Friday, October 13, 2006

The Myth of Prodigy and Why it Matters by Eric Wargo, discussing a speech by Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell cited a mid-1980s study (Genius Revisited) of adults who had attended New York City’s prestigious Hunter College Elementary School, which only admits children with an IQ of 155 or above. Hunter College was founded in the 1920s to be a training ground for the country’s future intellectual elite. Yet the fate of its child-geniuses was, well, “simply okay.” Thirty years down the road, the Hunter alums in the study were all doing pretty well, were reasonably well adjusted and happy, and most had good jobs and many had graduate degrees. But Gladwell was struck by what he called the “disappointed tone of the book”: None of the Hunter alums were superstars or Nobel- or Pulitzer-prize winners; there were no people who were nationally known in their fields. “These were genius kids but they were not genius adults.”

1 comment:

Valentine Cawley said...

Malcolm Gladwell is a famous man. Therefore his opinions are commented on far and wide. This is unfortunate since he is in error on the matter of the precocious.

Let us look at the Hunter study. In conventional terms the Hunter grads were successful. They went on to have good, solid careers. They didn't become famous...but since when has fame been an indicator of mental merit? Many famous people have only rudimentary intelligence, but have had good fortune or other factors on their side. None won Nobel Prizes etc. That again is no surprise. Many geniuses don't win Nobel prizes. Why? Because there are many more geniuses than there are Nobel prizes awarded - a whole lot of them just get left out.

Also, IQ was the means by which selection was made of these children at Hunter. IQ is not genius: it is one component. There are many others - so, again it is not a surprise that they did not become adult geniuses. Why? Because they weren't child geniuses either.

I am the father of a scientific child prodigy and he is very unlike Gladwell's distorted portrait of such kids. Clearly, Gladwell has never met one. My son is a gifted doer (the category Gladwell reserves for adult geniuses): he writes science books, invents experiments, theorizes about the world and the material he reads. He shows all the essential characteristics of an adult genius - he is just younger, that's all.

My blog gives a full refutation of Gladwell's arguments - and discusses child prodigy and giftedness in general.

I hope to lessen the misunderstanding of prodigy that exists.

Kind regards