Two Former Honors Students Discuss What’s Wrong With Gifted & Talented Education

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gifted and talentedFour-year-old Heidi Hankins was recently accepted into MENSA, after scoring a 159 on a standardized IQ test. While that might inspire a little bit of jealousy from other mothers whose kids are still mastering the alphabet at age four, our readers were more concerned with why a pre-schooler needed this type of recognition and publicity? Several commenters asked variations of “What’s the point in signing up your child for this type of organization at such an early age?”

The more I thought about the early identification of gifted and talented children, the more I thought back to my own experience in accelerated classes and honors programs. I am in no way comparable to the little girl whose IQ is only a point behind Albert Einstein. But I did go to school with some extremely intelligent individuals who probably could’ve given Heidi a run for her money in their early days.

So I caught up with one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging out with. In a school full of gifted and talented alumni, he was always one of the brightest crayons in the box, you could say. Tuck, who had a perfect 1600 on his SATs, back when 1600 was the highest possible score, is just a couple weeks away from finishing his Ph.D. at Stanford. He’s also the guy I bothered when my calculus got a little too intense. He seemed like the perfect guy to discuss gifted and talented education with, considering that he experienced most of what accelerated learning had to offer and has found success in his post-graduate studies.

LC: This weekend, I published a piece about a 4-year-old with a 159 IQ who just joined MENSA. Overall, the commenters on our website weren’t supportive of this move and thought that it was a push by the parents to gain publicity.

And while I have mixed feelings about extremely early G&T programs, like the pre-schools in Maryland recently started, I think that there’s a benefit to encouraging support and social interaction within the gifted community for kids who have a hard time socializing with their peers. Honestly, the whole thing makes me think about our days at the Academy. So I was kind of wondering if I might get your take on it, especially as someone who obviously excelled at testing from a young age.

Tuck: I am fairly strongly against early G&T programs for several reasons.

Kids who are identified as G&T tend to be categorized as socially awkward as well; however, being identified as “special” early on may lead to a stigma. It may be that other children not picked out as G&T may subconsciously or consciously socially exclude the G&T children in some cases, leading to stunted social skills and the perceived correlation we see in adults between intelligence and lack of common sense/social skills. That is just my opinion on the matter, I have no data to back that up.

Also, G&T programs are best at identifying children who are talented at measurable, quantifiable areas, i.e. math and science. Thus, these kids are separated and pushed more in these areas, leading to a higher degree of G&T children in these professions. This is not necessarily a big issue, except that intelligent children that are pushed down this path are not exploring all the potential areas that they may excel. From a personal perspective, there is also a giant glut of people in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The schools are training too many scientists and engineers, leading to high unemployment; perhaps our society would have been better served if these unemployed scientists/engineers had explored their interests on their own as children and found a niche in writing, business, politics, etc.

So, all in all, I think we should just let kids enjoy their childhood, we don’t have to force their accelerated learning, they will have many decades on their own to do that if they so choose.

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