Child Prodigies: Nurturing the Young Genius

I heard the NYT Magazine was doing a cover on young prodigies, and sure enough this morning a long article titled The Prodigy Puzzle was published this morning. It’s OK.

First, hearing about what some of these kids my age or younger are doing makes you feel quite small. If you browse this year’s Davidson Scholars, you will find 15-year-olds on a path to curing cancer, 17-year-olds writing complex novels, and a 6 year-old winning music competitions.

The meat of the article is around a booming movement to cultivate the prodigy. There was a book published a year or two ago which caused a great stir, since it said that all of our groundbreaking leaders of tomorrow were being ruined by poor education, and that we should shepard them away.

But, are overeager parents pushing too hard?

Look at eminences in the past, and what stands out in their childhoods is an animus toward school, a tolerance for solitude and families with lots of books. What also stands out is families with "wobble" – which means stress and, often, risk-taking parents with strong opinions – rather than bastions of supportiveness where a child’s giftedness is ever in self-conscious focus.

I don’t know…the odds are stacking up pretty well for me to be preeminent in something! Animus toward school, tolerance for solitude, and a house full of books.  Oh – and I’m nowhere close to being a valedictorian, which is also a good sign. I certainly ain’t gifted – dust patterns on the ceiling don’t interest me, and I would bomb the IQ test – but who knows, maybe one day I’ll be the world’s foremost authority on ping-pong.

4 Responses to Child Prodigies: Nurturing the Young Genius

  1. Elena Butler says:

    Interesting how none of the Davidson Scholars are from major metropolitan areas (unless you count Sacramento, I guess).

  2. Chris Yeh says:

    I went to a gifted school when I was a child. All of us had to score at genius level or above on an IQ test to be admitted.

    There is no question that we learned more, and at an earlier age than students at a normal school.

    Some of my 5th grade classmates were already working on Calculus. When I returned to the public school system, I had to skip 2 grades just to keep from being bored to death.

    But there is a difference between having talent and having a calling. Masi Oka, who was our most brilliant mathematician, now works as a computer animator at ILM, and as an actor in LA. I, our most brilliant scientist, am now a boring old entrepreneur and Harvard MBA.

    Just because you’re great at something, doesn’t mean you want to pursue it for the rest of your life. And I think that many of else felt the (self-imposed) pressure of “being great.” No one is disappointed when a C student doesn’t win a Nobel Prize before the age of 30.

    Perusing the ranks of our alumni (link to doylegroup.harvard.edu), I see a lot of happy successful people, but not a Nobel Prize winner in the bunch.

    Early promise is certainly a great thing, but everyone has a right to live their own life the way they want to live it.

  3. Brad Feld says:

    “Gifted” is a complex label. Having spent time with you, I’d absolutely put you in the gifted category. Don’t let yourself fall victim to a one dimensional definition of “gifted.”

  4. nina says:

    8 year old prodigy writer Adora Svitak wrote her first book when she was seven, it’s a book of stories and writing tips for parents, educators and children. It’s called Flying Fingers, already translated into Chinese, will be in Korean. More on her website http://www.adorasvitak.com

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