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ust as Dr Ericsson took people with no discernible talent and >turned them into champions, so, in a fashion, did a Hungarian, >Laszlo Polgar. When he began training his daughters, it was widely >believed that women could not play serious tournament chess. But >through a deliberate (and still continuing) psychological >experiment, Dr Polgar and his wife created a trio of world-class >chess champions out of their own daughters, overturning this >prejudice. > >By 1992, all three had reached the women's top ten worldwide. The >third, who presumably received the most refined training regimen, >became the youngest grandmaster in the history of the game and is >reckoned by her peers to have a good chance of becoming world >champion one day. With remarkable, if not hubristic, prescience, Dr >Polgar had written a detailed book on the subject of child rearing, >entitled "Bring Up Genius!" before beginning the coaching of his >children. But would any child reared by such a parent have become a >chess prodigy? > >Ellen Winner, a psychologist at Boston College who has been studying >the relationship between exposure to the arts and subsequent >academic achievement, believes not. She argues that only children >with the "rage to master" a skill could make it through the >gruelling years of training needed to achieve expert ability. The >rage to master may be the point at which nature unequivocally makes >its constraints felt. Even Dr Ericsson concedes that there might be >a genetic component separating the child willing to persevere with a >rigorous schedule from the child who would rather play videogames.

From the Devniad, Bob Devney:

> BC psychologist Ellen Winner and her book Gifted Children:: Myths >and Realities (Basic Books, 1996). > >Here's a paragraph from the article that's sure to disappoint as >many as 99.9% of us, not-quite-Leonardos all. > >"Gifted children have three telltale characteristics, Winner says. >First, they begin to master an area of knowledge, or domain, such as >math, drawing or chess, at an extremely early age, before starting >school. Second, they need little help from adults in that domain, >solving problems in often-novel ways, with each discovery fueling >the next step. And third, they have what she describes as a rage to >master their domain, working at it intensively and obsessively, >often isolating themselves from others in order to pursue it. These >children push themselves, achieve "flow states" in their work, and >beg their parents for the books, musical instruments or art supplies >they need to feed their passion. They need stimulating environments >to develop their talents, Winner says of these children, but the >demand comes from them, not the parents." > >Her examples include Michael Kearney, who read signs and labels out >loud at the supermarket aged 10 months. (He's now the country's only >12-year-old graduate student in anthropology.) Or KyLee, who divined >the existence of prime numbers on his own at age 5. > >Sorry, friend. She's not talking here about when you begged Mom for >books on horses or Tom Swift when you were eight. > >Or, sad to say, even about me. >As Ellen Winner argues in Gifted Children (Basic Books, 1996), >prodigies can be distinguished from an early age from their peers. >Prodigies show a fascination (bordering on obsession) with a certain >content (e.g., numbers, visual patterns, auditory musical patterns) >and they have a rage to master the domains that deal with such >specific content. While they may have parental support, this support >is reactive rather than initiating. Moreover, prodigies - unlike the >rest of us - do not simply follow the conventional educational >pattern. They pose new questions, and they often solve domain issues >wholly or largely on their own. Philosopher Saul Kripke conjectures >that if algebra had not existed when he was in elementary school, he >would have invented it; and this kind of comment (whatever its truth >value in the specific case) captures quite accurately the mental >attitudes and powers of prodigies. > >No one understands the origins of prodigies. We simply have to >generate satisfying ways of thinking about them. I find it useful to >think of prodigies as having the same strategies and parameters with >reference to their chosen content domain that all normal individuals >have with respect to the mastery of one natural language. (In other >words, we are all linguistic prodigies, while prodigies in other >domains are rare). The prodigy seems "pretuned" to discover patterns >in the domain, including ones that have eluded others. Perhaps, if >it is to result in achievements that are valued by the adult >society, this gift has eventually to be wedded to strong motivation >(to succeed, to master) and to be creative (to step out in new >directions); and, if it is to be distinguished from the mechanistic >ability of the savant, it has eventually to be linked to wider >problems, including issues from other domains. Dean Keith Simonton >has written interestingly about the possibility that genius involves >the very occasional concatenation of these disparate human >proclivities and talents. > >I think that one is far more likely to understand Mozart, Bobby >Fischer, or Ramanujun if one assumes that they differ in fundamental >ways from the rest of the population than if one has to gerrymander >an explanation that simply builds on the general abilities of the >general public. Whether Ramanujun may have recalled an earlier feat >of calculation, and whether the rest of us could also recognize the >special features of the number 1729 is beside the point. Ramanujun >is honored because he covered several hundred years of mathematics >on his own in India and then made original contributions to number >theory after he joined G. H. Hardy in Cambridge.

Dr. Winner's Nine Myths About the Gifted. Myth #1: Giftedness, when it occurs, is generally global. The Reality: More often than not, children are unevenly gifted,often being especially gifted in one area. It's not uncommon to find them quite gifted in a specific area, but average or learning-disabled in another. (She gives the example of adult inventors with verbal IQ's of 60.)

Myth 2: Talented children face different problems than gifted children. The Reality: Specially talented children face the same problems as the globally gifted.

Myth 3: An exceptionally high IQ is required for giftedness. The Reality: Once the IQ exceeds 90, a high IQ is irrelevant in the fields of music and art.

Myth 4: "Genius will out". The Reality: Families play a far more important role in the development of gifts than do schools, and are essential to the development of the gifted or talents child. Genius must be nurtured.

Myth 5: Genius is entirely environmental. The Reality: The brains of the gifted are atypical. Their heads tend to be larger, their reflexes are faster, and their brains show atypical brain scan patterns. Brain structure, brain size, brain speed, brain efficiency, bilateral representation of language, language-related problems, non-right-handedness, immune system disorders. Programs such as the Japanese Suzuki Method of training students to play the violin can elicit remarkable results in children, but they don't produce musically gifted children. (Driven from within, prodigies are their own taskmasters. If anything, these programs testify to the biological basis of precocity.). Chinese drawing instruction produces the same kinds of dramatic juvenile output, but doesn't lead to true artistry, or to spontaneous learning of artistic principles.

Myth 6: Prodigies are the result of parents that push their children. The Reality: Prodigies usually push their parents.

Myth 7: Gifted children are glowing with psychological health. The Reality: As with a disability, giftedness can lead to unhappiness and social isolation. With adult minds in children's bodies, profoundly gifted children tend to be persecuted by other children. They tend to find little commonality with their age peers, relating to older children or adults.

Myth 8: All children are gifted. The Reality: Nobody doubts that some children are musical or athletic prodigies. Nobody expects a small kid to become a tight end, or a short child to become a Harlem Globetrotter. Gifted children are biologically different. If you doubt it, try to raise someone's 90 IQ to 150. Dr. Winner cites the intriguing case of Charles, versus Eitan and Peter. All three boys were obsessed with drawing. However, Eitan and Peter were far ahead of their years, whereas Charles, in spite of all the drawing he did, never exceeded the norms for his age group.

Myth 9: Gifted children become eminent adults. The Reality: Personality attributes more reliably predict what will happen in adulthood than does the child's degree of giftedness.

Child prodigies are characterized by:

  • Precocity
  • Marching to their own drummers
  • A rage to master
    Dr. Winner cites two examples of global prodigies, "David" and

Michael Kearney. David began to speak at eight months, and by fifteen months, knew 200 words. David learned to read at three, pushing his mother to show him what the words meant. Then he began to read voraciously, several books at a time. At five, he had reached a fifth grade reading level. At fifteen months, he could count to ten. At four, he could do simple two-digit additions in his head.

    One way to describe David and other super-bright children with a

"rage to learn" is that they manipulate their environments in order to render them intellectually stimulating.

    Michael and Maeghan Kearney exemplify these characteristics.

(Please see also the Book Review "Accidental Genius" in the Premier Issue of Ubiquity.) Michael began to talk at 4 months and to read at 10 months. He began high school at 5, and graduated from high school at 6, promptly entering San Joaquin Junior College. At 10, he graduated from the University of South Alabama with a 3.6 average in anthropology, and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University at 14 with a degree in chemistry. (He holds four academic records in the Guinness Book of World Records.) Maeghan is equally intelligent, although not as far advanced scholastically as Michael. Both Michael and Maeghan are globally gifted, and presumably, at the upper limit of the human register. Both of them exhibited a "rage to learn" and a need to stimulate their minds that was almost like a "magnificent addiction". Both of them pushed their parents. Their parents devoted all their resources to supporting their unique children, moving around the country and making the sacrifices necessary to nurture their children's gifts. The parents have gone all-out to ensure that Michael and Maeghan are as well-rounded and emotionally healthy as possible, and that they have had childhoods that are as normal as children this precocious can have.

The Gifted Child:

  • Is very alert
  • Recognizes people at an early age
  • Has a preference for novelty
  • Is precocious in raising head, sitting up, walking, etc.
  • Talks early and well
  • Tends to be verreactive to noise, pain, frustration
  • Learns with minimal instruction
  • Is highly curious
  • Exhibits persistence and concentration
  • Possesses high energy
  • Has a metacognitive awareness. Induces rules if reading and

math the way normal children induce the rules of syntax

  • Has obsessive interests
  • Tends to begin reading early and voraciously. Reading at

6th-grade level at 5 isn't unusual.

  • Is adept with numbers. Mathematically giftedness: numerical,

spatial, and working memory tend to go tegether.

  • Has a good memory
  • Is proficient at abstract logical reasoning
  • Tends to have poor handwriting
  • Engages in solitary play (by default)
  • Prefers to associate with older children or adults
  • Exhibits philosophical and moral concerns
  • Possesses a good sense of humor
  • Experiences of awe

The highly gifted child:

  • Occupies a special position within the family: often

first-born or only children.

  • Grows up in "enriched" environments. Adam Konantovich.
  • Typically has child-centered parents. Yehudi Menuhin
  • Parents are driven.
  • Has parents who grant considerable independence.
  • Flourishes in an envrionment of high expectations and

stimulation, combined with nurturance and support.

When parents push too hard, the child may rebel or "burn out" Examples of this phenomenon are John Stuart Mill and William Sidis.

Social and emotional problems

  • Is characterized by autonomy, independence of thought and

values, will, and nonconformity.

  • Engages in advanced moral reasoning.
  • Tends toward introversion.
  • Has heightened sensitivity.
  • Loneliness
  • Lowered social self-Confidence
  • Does the label "Gifted" cause problems?
  • May underperform because they are underchallenged, and/or

because they want social acceptance.

  • Enjoys a challenge
  • Sets high standards
  • Generally has academic self-esteem

Gender differences:

    Boys with SAT math scores above 700 were 13 times as prevalent as

girls. (However, the ratio is only 4:1 among Asian-Americans taking the SAT.).

Terman Study

    The Terman-Cox Longitudinal (Lifetime) Study of Gifted Children

began in 1921-22 with a screening of ~250,000 schoolchildren in California. Nominally, the top 1% were to be accepted into the study, but in reality, only 1,526, or (0.6%) were accepted. To compound the problem, the initial screening for the Terman Study was performed by teachers. We know today what they didn't know in 1921: that the brightest-seeming, best-behaved children may not be the brightest. The brightest may be bored troublemakers or argumentative with the teacher. In reality, the Terman Study selected much less than half--perhaps, 20%- of the children who would later become gifted adults. In particular, it missed the two children who would later become Nobel Laureates in physics--Dr. William Shockley and Dr. Luis Alvarez.

    Dr. Terman laid by the heels the adage, "Early to ripen, early to

rot". For the most part, his "Termites" went on to become successful professionals. However, in his zeal to counter the pejorative notions about prodigies that pervaded the public mind, Dr. Terman went a little overboard. His data actually showed that the brighter the child, the less well-adjusted he/she. was. There was a "sweet spot" ranging from IQ 120 to, perhaps, IQ 150 where the individual is smarter than the average bear, but not so smart that they have problems adjusting to a lesser world--like the plight of a 6' 4" man versus that of his 7' counterpart.

Gifted Programs Special Problems for Gifted Children

  • Because of their high energy levels and boredom with trivial

busywork, gifted children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD.

  • Difficult to distinguish between boredom, disturbed, or

learning disabled.

  • 30% show a discrepency between MA and reading achievement.

Types of Gifted Programs

  • Egalitarianism.
  • Ability grouping
  • Acceleration
  • Home schooling is last resort. Can't be with their peers.
    Dr. Winner has this to say about our current offerings for gifted students:
  • American schools have low standards
  • Low standards lead to underachievement
  • School plays litle or no role in the nurturing of their gifts
  • Gifted chidren from disadvantaged backgrounds suffer most.


  • Private schools
  • Magnet schools
  • Gifted programs
  • CTY

In 1972, the Marland Report concluded that:

  • Only 4% of gifted students were getting any kind of special services
  • Half the superintendents said they had no gifted children in

their schools.

  • Gifted are the most "retarded" in their schools because of

discrepency between abilities and what schools could offer them.

  • Only disabled children have a law mandating that they get

special educational treatment. Only about a fifth of our states include the gifted as special education students covered by the law for the handicapped.

The Riley Report, a Follow-Up Study to the Marland Report:

  • Again deplored the state of gifted education in our country.
  • Observed that we offer far more services to retarded children

than to gifted children.

  • IQ's 2 s. d. below the mean (68) are given special help.
  • IQ's 3 s. d. below the mean (52) are enrolled in partial or

full-day programs

  • IQ's 4 s. d. below the mean (36) are given special

supervision and are in institutions.

Dr. Winner Concludes that:

  • We should pull up all school standards.
  • We are wasting what few gifted resources we have.

The Gifted Child Grows Up Benjamin Bloom: Not one world-class performer in a variety of fields, including math, art, music, and athletics ever achieved expertise without a supportive and encouraging environment, including a long and intensive period of training, first from loving and warm teachers, and then from demanding and rigorous master teachers. Anders Ericsson: Levels of achievement reached in piano, violin, chess, bridge, and athletics correlate highly with hours of deliberate practice. (Shows necessity but not sufficiency.)

Childhood: 30% hereditary, 30% family environment, 40% other environmental. Adolesence: 50% hereditary, 10% familial, with 40% environmental. Adulthood: 75% heredity, 5% childhood background, 15% environmental, 15% error.

Eitan lost his passion for art. Out of 70 musical prodigies in San Francisco in the 20's and 30's, only 6 (including Yehudi Menuhin and Leon Fischer) went on to become well-known soloists. Norbert Wiener, Jean Piaget, and Pablo Picasso went on to become highly successful adults. There are four classes of outcomes:

  • Gifted children who drop out. Wiener made it; Sidis didn't.
  • Gifted children who become experts, but not creative geniuses.
  • Gifted children who become adult geniuses. Not only early

ability but a rebellious disposition.

  • Late bloomers. Bill Gates, Edwin Land, Buckminster Fuller

Terman subjects were too well-adjusted. Adult geniuses stand out far more clearly in personality and motivational factors. Above an IQ of 120, there is no relationshiip between IQ and genius. Some inventors have verbal IQ's as low as 60. Shockley and Alvarez. Marilyn vos Savant. IQ tests tell nothing about social skills, intrapersonal skills, "practical" intelligence, and resilience. (Quotation about high-IQ societies.)

Greatest classical composers tended to have been child prodigies. Prodigies take about three fewer years to achieve greatness, and they tend to achieve greater adult eminence. However, the majority are not child prodigies. Writing and the visual arts, and law and medicine don't lend themselves to prodigies. Of Feldman's and Goldsmith's six prodigies, only one chose a career directly related to his or her field of precocity. Violin prodigy became a world-class violinist. Writing prodigy became a writer for a music magazine. Adam Konantovich attended an ordinary college and had a spotty record. The math prodigy who entered college at 13 went to work at Goddard. The two chess prodigies quit by 10 or 11. One did poorly in school; the other went to law school. Adult creativity requires more than mechanical knowledge. Adolescebnt identity crisis when prodigy realizes that it takes more than mere know-how. Geniuses are hard-driving, focussed, dominant, independent risk-takers. Drive and energy. Attention, interest, and flow. Dominance, confidence, and tolerance of competition. Independence and introversion. Risk taking and a desire to shake things up. Gender. Luck.

     The news that I find perhaps the most disturbing is that most

child prodigies don't mature into adult leaders in their fields. Once the IQ reaches or exceeds a level of 120, there is no correlation between adult intellectual output and IQ(!).On the other hand, (1) There is a tremendous change in capability going from IQ 80 to IQ 120, (2) The average IQ of Ph. D.'s is 130; (3) The average IQ of Ph. D. physicists is 140.

    Obviously, you have a better chance of becoming a Ph. D.

physicist if your IQ is 160 than you do if it's 120.

    This conclusion of flat performance once the IQ exceeds 120 flies

in the face of common sense. If this is true, what are we doing wrong?

Says only 2 or 3 in 100 have IQ's of 130 or above. Only one in a hundred has an IQ of 140 or above. 1 in 10,000-to-30,000 will score 160 or higher, only 1 in a 1,000,000 will exceed 180. Highest Termite score was 196; average was 150. Average Ph. D. is 130; average Ph. D. physicist is 140.

Ellen Winner

Gifted Children: Myths and Realities

The term "gifted" is emotionally loaded. Throughout history, genius has often been seen as one aspect of insanity. Aristotle's observation "There was never a great genius without a tincture of madness" continues to be believed as common folklore.

People also tend to believe that intellectualism and practicality are incompatible. It is expressed in such sayings as "He (or she) is too smart for his (her) own good" or "It's not smart to be too smart." High intelligence is often assumed to be incompatible with happiness.

Gifted children too have inspired fascination and awe, as well as intimidation and envy. They have been rejected as nerds. Their parents have been derided as zealots who live through their children and deprive them of their childhood.

Our schools have often been criticized for refusing to modify the curriculum for the gifted, or for pulling the smart kids in from other schools in order to fill a gifted program. Despite lip service paid to the gifted our society ignores the problem of how to identify and nurture children with exceptional abilities.

In her new book "Gifted Children: Myths and Realities," Boston College psychologist Ellen Winner examines the issues associated with gifted children. In the book Winner explores the myths about giftedness and shows us what these children are really like. 97.html+%22rage+to+master%22+ellen+winner+boston+&hl=en&client=googlet

Tischler: How did you become interested in the topic of gifted children?

Winner: I am a developmental psychologist, so I am interested in normal development. I also have been particularly interested in artistic development, and as soon as you are interested in artistic and musical children you are exposed to issues of extreme ability and talent.

I also became interested in this topic because psychologists seem to know a good deal more about the negative aspects of development than the positive. We know a lot more about retardation than we do about giftedness. So I felt there was much research that needed to be done.

Tischler: I have often noticed a level of hostility and resentment toward programs for the gifted. Why is that the case?

Winner: I think that they are threatening. I think people feel envious also. There is also an anti-elitism strain and an anti--intellectualism strain. It's interesting, because I don't think that we feel as hostile towards children who are artistically or musically gifted or athletically talented. We are perfectly willing to accept that there are children at the high end in those areas. We know that these children get extra and special lessons after school. The academically gifted, however, seem to bother people. If there are certain children who are the academic elite, it means there are others who are not, and people do not want to think that.

Tischler: In your book you mention several traits that are associated with gifted children. What are these traits?

Winner: I talk about three traits. The first is precocity. These children are extremely precocious. They do things years ahead of their peers. For example, in the academic area they may start to read at age two or three. They will talk early. One gifted child started to talk before he was six months old. He was reading before he was twelve months old. That was the most extreme case, a child named Michael Carney, who has been in the news often. He was the youngest college graduate ever, graduating at age ten.

A second characteristic is what I call a rage to master. Gifted children are internally driven. They are driven to master their area of talent. You don't need to push these children. They are pushing themselves.

The third characteristic is that these children march to their own drummer. They are not just faster, they are also different. One way that they are different is that they are extremely independent. They need almost no adult support in order to master their domain. In fact, they are often resistant to adult interference. They are also different in that they seem to solve problems in unusual ways. They don't just solve problems faster, but they come up with intuitive and creative solutions.

Tischler: Is there a difference between the academically gifted and the aesthetically gifted?

Winner: In my book I talk about academic, musical, and artistic giftedness. In the academic area I distinguish between math and linguistic abilities. I think each of these areas has its own developmental history, its own early signs, and needs to be considered separately. The art and music children have all three of the criteria for giftedness that I just mentioned.

I think it is a mistake to differentiate too strongly between the aesthetically gifted and the academically gifted. We tend to call academically gifted children "gifted," and musically and artistically gifted "talented." We imply that there is some qualitative difference between these two classes of children. I don't think they are qualitatively different except for the domain in which they have their talent. The musically and artistically talented are also extremely precocious, they have this rage to master and they also march to their own drummer.

Tischler: You also take issue with the statement that many teachers make that all children are gifted and they all have talents that just need to be nurtured and developed.

Winner: About twenty years the view was that no children were gifted. Today the politically correct thing to say is that all children are gifted. It also means that we do not need to do anything for these children, because there are no special children and every child has a gift. Of course every child has relative strengths and weaknesses, but that is not the same as saying that every child has an extreme area of ability. In my book I am talking about children who are extremely gifted. It is certainly not the case that all children are extremely gifted.

Tischler: How extensive are the programs for the gifted?

Winner: We really don't do that much, and it is particularly a problem during the elementary school years. The most common form of program for the gifted is an enrichment or pull-out program. That means that the child is taken out of the classroom once or twice a week for a forty minute session of a class that, it might involve field trips, creative problem solving, projects, and just about anything. These programs are not geared to any particular area of giftedness and the way to get into these programs is to score 130 on an IQ test or by a teacher recommendation. This means that these programs are mostly populated by what I call moderately gifted children, and they are in there with the extremely gifted. These are minimal solutions to big problems. These kids then go back to the regular classroom and are asked to spend the rest of the week learning at a level for which they are much too advanced.

Parents of extremely gifted children need to find a school that is specially set up for these children. If that is not possible, I would recommend some moderate grade skipping, possibly one or two years. I would also recommend a school that allows the child to advance at his or her own pace. That might be the only solution parents can find today.