Note: This article is adapted from talks I’ve given in churches in four states. I have declined to give this talk on public school property, mostly because public schools don’t need anyone complaining about their invited speakers.
My rational, scientific husband has had difficulty dealing with my fascination with certain mysteries. When I first told him my topic for this talk, he asked whether he would be able to handle it.
I reminded him that I enjoy reading the Skeptical Inquirer, and I am grateful for the work of “bad science” critic Ben Goldacre in England. We both recognize that science itself is sometimes an iffy proposition: What is considered scientific truth today may change after new discoveries in the future.
For avid researchers who want to delve deeply into the philosophy of scientific change, I recommend reading Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), or, for lighter fare, this excellent 50th anniversary article about Kuhn in The Guardian: Thomas Kuhn: The Man Who Changed the Way the World Looked at Science.
Science is not static; scientists seek to solve mysteries, and the solving of mysteries can change our view of the world. The non-rational and non-scientific mysteries of today may be considered scientific truth in the future.
I don’t usually speak or write about my favorite mysteries. Why? Because it’s risky to speak of non-rational, non-scientifically explainable phenomenon in the rational circles of our society. When we profess belief in mysteries outside other people’s comfort zones, we risk being dismissed or ostracized. Today I feel compelled to speak, nonetheless, because children deserve adults who will respect them and their experiences, however mysterious.
The Mysteries of High Intelligence
The main mysteries I’ve encountered in my life come from my work with profoundly intelligent children. By “profoundly intelligent,” I mean those rare children with intelligence off the charts. Assuming current IQ tests could measure high enough, I mean children with IQs over 160, and some with IQs up over 200. (The outdated WISC IV had extended norms; I have not yet seen extended norms for the WISC V (2014) or any other current IQ test.)
Over the years, I’ve encountered three types of mysteries surrounding profoundly intelligent children:
(1) The mystery of their high intelligence.
(2) The mysteries they experience.
(3) The mysteries they explore during their lives.
In sections that follow, I will discuss each of those three types of mysteries. First, though, I need to say a few words about the nature of profoundly intelligent children.
The Nature of Profoundly Intelligent Children
By “profoundly intelligent children,” I do not mean children who perform well in school. Some do, of course, but intelligence is not solely about verbal and math ability. The same brain biology that makes a person quick in verbal and math realms can make the person quick in emotions, in the senses, and in the physical realm. For more information, see The Gifted Brain (2016) by the team at the nonprofit organization Gifted Research and Outreach, see Developmental and Cognitive Characteristics of “High-Level Potentialities” (Highly Gifted) Children (2011) published in the International Journal of Pediatrics, see Annemarie Roeper’s chapter titled “Giftedness is Heart and Soul” in High IQ Kids (2007), and see Overexcitability and the Highly Gifted Child (2000) by Sharon Lind.
The brain appears to work best as a unified whole. The best mathematicians use many areas of their brains when solving problems. In mathematically gifted adolescents, the entire brain is involved in the “fast, well-insulated, efficient” biological stuff of high intelligence. See Interhemispheric Interaction During Global-Local Processing in Mathematically Gifted Adolescents, Average-Ability Youth, and College Students (2004) available through the National Institutes of Health. Popular media have perpetrated right-brain, left-brain nonsense, but cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman upends that misconception with this excellent rant: The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.
Profound levels of intelligence affect all parts of the brain and all aspects of a child including academics, emotions, body, and more. The “more” includes many mysteries.
(1) The Mysteries of High Intelligence
In my work with profoundly intelligent children, I’ve heard babies speak full sentences, I’ve met seven year olds successfully taking college courses, and I’ve taught preteens who surpassed doctoral students after just one game theory lesson. I’ve seen five-year-olds read 250-page books. I’ve seen a shocked math teacher remark to himself after an introductory calculus lesson to curious children ages seven to eleven, “I just taught four weeks of math in one hour.” I’ve seen preteens who appear to have been born knowing math; they can pass an end-of-year high school math test without taking the course or looking at a textbook for more than a few hours. I’ve known students who mastered musical instruments so fast that music contest organizers challenged their answers to “how many years have you played?”
The abilities of profoundly intelligent children are mysteries to me. Why and how do extreme levels of intelligence exist in humankind? I do not know. If I had not seen and heard those displays of intelligence mentioned above, I might not have believed them possible.
Because envy pervades our society, bravery is required in order to talk about the seemingly mysterious abilities of profoundly intelligent children. Parents of such children quickly learn to keep their mouths shut, as Juliet Thomas wrote eloquently in Hard Won Truths. For an excellent scholarly article on the topic of envy, see Envy and Giftedness: Are We Underestimating the Effects of Envy? by Catharine Alvarez. I wholeheartedly agree with Alvarez that, “The problem of dealing with other people’s envy is one of the central problems of gifted development.”
Envy isn’t the only problem facing profoundly intelligent children. In his 1869 essay On Liberty, 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill recognized that individuals with high levels of intelligence have a tendency to exhibit originality in thought and action, and that originality often exceeds the comfort zone of others:
People think genius is a fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do very well without it.
Mill explained in his next paragraph, “In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.”
Fortunately, not all is gloom and doom. Whenever I meet children with high levels of intelligence, I encourage their parents to find other families with children of similar abilities. All children benefit from feeling a sense of belonging, and all parents benefit from having safe places to talk with other parents.
For many profoundly intelligent children, finding true peers is life changing, and possibly life-saving. For more information about the necessity of finding true peers, see Bright Star — Black Sky: A Phenomenological Study of Depression as a Window Into the Psyche of the Gifted Adolescent by P. Susan Jackson, founder of the Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted. Luckily, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and similar organizations provide financial and other support to many highly intelligent children who need help accessing specialized summer camps, conferences, and other events.
(2) The Mysteries That Profoundly Intelligent Children Experience
Profound intelligence, by itself, is mysterious, and the experiences that some profoundly intelligent children have reported to their parents and others intensify the mystery. In Nature’s Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential (1986), psychologist David Henry Feldman wrote about mysterious experiences of some of the child prodigies he studied:
During the years I have conducted my study, several of my subjects have reported incidents that have made me reflect on a possible connection between prodigies and unknown forces or influences. This chapter presents some examples of occurrences that suggest that there does remain an element of mystery and uncanniness to the prodigy. Perhaps this element helps account for why prodigies and prophecy have been linked throughout history. (From page 187, Chapter 9, titled “Beyond Coincidence.”)
During the summer of 2001, I led a summer institute workshop for parents of gifted children. I felt comfortable enough with the seven participants to mention unusual experiences associated with gifted children. Surprise, surprise–three of the seven families told me that their children had experiences that cannot be explained by science. The experiences recounted by those families included visits from recently deceased relatives, knowledge of what would happen in the future, and feelings of tragic emotions before the tragedy happened.
After that workshop, my ever-scientific husband reminded me that coincidences exist; I reminded him that mysteries exist, too. Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years include what I call “truth markers”–those little bits of information that a child could not possibly know unless the unbelievable–or at least an exceptionally unbelievable coincidence–had happened.
The tragedies of September 11, 2001, occurred shortly after that summer workshop. In the days and hours before those tragedies, more than a few profoundly intelligent children shared uncanny premonitions of the tragedies with their parents.
I was as mystified by those reports of premonitions as I was horrified by the tragedies themselves. I desperately wanted to understand the premonitions. I wondered whether time itself has “bow waves” like those waves that precede the bow of a ship on the water. I wondered whether profoundly intelligent children, with their extra sensitivities, might have the ability to detect bow waves of time. I questioned my sanity for allowing my wonderings to wander beyond reason.
Fortunately, the unusual experiences that profoundly intelligent children have reported are not limited to tragedies. Some children and teens have reported knowing the minds of others so well that their minds feel connected. Newbery Honor Book winner Stephanie S. Tolan based part of her novel Welcome to the Ark on an experience she had with a group of six profoundly intelligent children whose minds appeared to communicate together in silence during a workshop she offered at one of the early gatherings of families with such children. In an interview available on her website, Tolan recalls: “They didn’t realize they hadn’t talked it out. Their ‘telepathic’ interaction had felt so natural to them that they didn’t even realize they were doing it until I pointed out that not one of them had said a word aloud. I’d been in the room with them the whole time. There was no talking. The process had somehow taken place only in their minds.”
As I’ve searched for explanations, I’ve wondered whether profoundly intelligent children have enhanced senses of intuition. Perhaps an extra strong dose of intuition can mimic what some call “mind reading” and “premonition”? Might information about intuition somehow connect the mysteries with science?
I am a firm believer in intuition. In every field I’ve entered, I’ve run into top professionals who write or speak about the importance of intuition in that field. When I volunteered at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center in the early 1970s, when I went to law school and practiced law, when I taught in the Ohio University College of Business, when I learned about politics and political science, when I learned about public administration, when I taught high school and middle school students. Everywhere I’ve been, without exception, experts in the field have recognized the importance of intuition.
Even if an extra strong dose of intuition can mimic what some call mind reading and premonitions, might I be able to connect the mysteries with science? Doubtful. Why? Because science knows precious little about intuition.
(3) The Mysteries That Profoundly Intelligent Children Explore
John Stuart Mill, quoted above, wrote that genius, in its true sense, is originality in thought and action. That originality in thought and action extends to explorations of the mysterious.
The history of science has shown that many great discoveries have come from those who were shunned during the discovery process. Galileo was held under house arrest until his death. Darwin was attacked by the churches of his time. Orville and Wilbur Wright felt great skepticism. More than a few Nobel Laureates have suffered forms of ostracism during the initial years of their great work.
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) once quoted another astute scientist as follows, “Every triumphant theory passes through three stages: first it is dismissed as untrue; then it is rejected as contrary to religion; finally, it is accepted as dogma and every scientist claims that he had long appreciated its truth.”
We must support children when they buck the system with new ideas and later when they are threatened with loss of tenure or loss of funding for exploring mysteries that others think are hocus pocus or even the work of the devil. We must teach children about the history of science and the importance of bravery in the face of skepticism. All children deserve adults who believe in them, and adults who help them navigate a world that may be unready to welcome their experiences and ideas.
Two Bits of Feedback: All Children & Other Cultures
When I’ve given this talk to audiences that did not necessarily include parents of profoundly intelligent children, I’ve used my favorite mysteries as illustrations to encourage people to embrace whatever mysteries they have experienced in their own lives. Embracing mysteries involves a combination of belief, acceptance, awe, and integration into one’s own religious beliefs. Two audience responses merit sharing here.
One woman, a deeply spiritual person with a long teaching career, commented that all children, not only profoundly intelligent children, are capable of experiencing the mysterious until we beat it out of them in our public schools. I wonder whether we hear more reports of mysterious experiences from profoundly intelligence children simply because they learn to talk at earlier ages? Regardless of whether all children experience the mysterious, I sense that the mysterious affects profoundly intelligent children more than it affects other children.
Another women, a Native American living on tribal lands, came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes. She explained that my stories touched on a large part of her culture that other people simply do not understand. Her tears seemed to be a combination of joy that I was accepting the mysterious, and sadness that so many people do not understand her culture.
Embracing Your Own Mysteries
Maybe you have your own secret bits of non-rational beliefs. Maybe you have experienced having a dream that later happens, or receiving a message via dream or otherwise from a dearly departed loved one, or feeling an animal read your mind, or knowing who is calling before the telephone rings. You might chalk all that up to coincidence, or you might hide that little bit of weird feeling in a quarantined section of your mind, hidden from your rational mind, and hidden from those people would might ridicule you if they knew your truth.
I believe that we should embrace mysteries. By “embracing mysteries” I mean we should not hide them in the far corners of our minds, and trot them out only in hushed tones to close friends. We can and must simultaneously enjoy and question the mysteries we experience. We must also support those who share their mysterious experiences with us.
Let’s embrace the mysterious. Let’s support others who embrace mysteries. Let’s advocate acceptance of one another as part of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Lastly, let’s remember that today’s mysteries might result in tomorrow’s ground breaking scientific discoveries.
Acknowledgements and Credits
I thank Stephanie S. Tolan for her bravery in being one of the first advocates for gifted children to speak openly about the mysterious. For a large collection of her essays about gifted children, I highly recommend her latest non-fiction book, Out of Sync: Essays on Giftedness (2016). Although I’d read many of her essays in the past, when this book arrived in my mailbox, I couldn’t stop reading. The book includes essays I’ve long loved, along with some I missed meeting over the years. The book differs from other books about the gifted experience because Stephanie not only provides us with thought-provoking knowledge; she also poignantly shares how that knowledge has affected her personally. Stephanie provides us with information, but more importantly, she provides us with a model of how we might integrate evolving knowledge about giftedness into our own belief systems. I love the respectful, inclusive, and clear nature of her writing. The book is a true gem!
Many thanks to Kiesa Kay and Jennifer Engle Rix for helping me with a draft of this article. I greatly appreciate all their excellent feedback.
The photos are my own, from various locations in Southern California in January and February of this year.
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page June 2016 Blog Hop. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration and support leading up to this Blog Hop.
Please click on the following graphic created by Pamela S Ryan to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.
If you would like me to give this talk for your congregation or organization, please fill out this form. You may also use this form to send me a private message. Thank you.
In this article, I offer comics illustrating what some smart kids feel during kindergarten and later school years. You’re welcome to use the comics to start dialogues with your children. Perhaps ask if the situations depicted in the comics have ever happened to them. Perhaps ask how the characters in the comics could have handled the situations differently.
I hope you learn as much from discussing these comics with your children as I learned recently while discussing the comics with my favorite kindergartner.
Kindergartners everywhere begin school with high expectations for learning. Unfortunately, some who burst at the seams with curiosity and knowledge soon feel that good behavior counts more than good learning in kindergarten.
When I showed this comic to my favorite kindergartner, the sarcasm and irony of the comic escaped her. Instead, we discussed how the teacher and the student could have handled the situation differently. We also discussed how teachers try to give all students equal time, and how if a child ever feels left out, the child should share those feelings with the teacher and with the child’s parents.
I believe my favorite kindergartner benefitted from our discussion. It’s good for children to know it’s ok to talk to teachers and parents about feelings. It’s also good for children to understand classroom dynamics not just from their own points of view, but also from the teacher’s point of view.
The Homework Conscience
I was surprised to learn that my favorite kindergartner occasionally has homework. Yes, paper and pencil homework, complete with due dates.
That’s not the kindergarten of my youth, nor the kindergarten of my children’s youth, but what can I do? Nothing much, except create this comic for sparking discussion:
When I showed this comic to my favorite kindergartner, we first had to discuss the concept of conscience. Thanks to Jiminy Cricket of Pinocchio, we mastered that concept sufficiently to move on.
Next, we discussed the purpose of education–learning! When and if any homework feels like an unnecessary burden to my favorite kindergartner, she now knows to politely and respectfully discuss the matter with her teacher and parents.
I’ll leave it to those adults to figure how to respond to a polite and reasonable young voice trying to buck an entrenched feature of educational institutions worldwide. Yes, that’s a tall order.
Hopefully the adults in question will encourage the child’s advocacy efforts, will release her from doing truly unnecessary homework, and, at the same time, will teach her that in life it is sometimes easier to “just do it” rather than argue the merits of orders handed down from above.
The Jumping Donkey
A long time ago, a teacher told me that my then six-year-old child hurt said teacher’s feelings by enthusiastically finding a flaw in a math problem that the teacher created for enrichment purposes.
I explained to the teacher that my child meant no harm, but was overjoyed that she knew enough to find the flaw in the problem. I complimented the teacher for giving my child the challenge. At the same time, I agreed to talk to my child about the teacher’s feelings. Crisis averted.
I created the following comic to give parents and children a chance to discuss what can happen when a child’s display of learning disappoints a teacher.
As an added bonus, the comic gave me a chance to discuss the word “jackass” and its double meaning with my favorite kindergartner. She not only enjoyed the vocabulary lesson, but also enjoyed knowing that she’s not the only kindergartner who is sitting through a year of learning letters and letter sounds that she learned years ago.
Notice that the teacher in the comic interrupted the child’s wandering mind? If you share this comic with your own child, be sure to read Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming published in Frontiers of Psychology. The lead author, Rebecca McMillan, is a wise friend of mine who realizes the value of mind wandering. Bottom line: mind wandering time is not wasted time.
Please let me know if the comics spark discussions in your household. I love to hear from readers about how my work might have helped others.
If you and your children want to explore options for accelerating their learning, you might enjoy reading a major report released last spring. The report, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, “informs educators, parents, and policy makers of current research on acceleration, how that information has been applied to educational policy throughout the nation, and how educators can use the findings to make decisions for their brightest students.” I highly recommend the report and its predecessor, A Nation Deceived.
Deleted “Scenes”: Bedsheet Math
I deleted this comic from the main part of article for two reasons. First, the comic is about older children, not kindergartners. Second, a friend of mine who previewed the comic suggested that not many people would understand it.
But here’s the thing—it really happened!
The cartoon recounts a conversation that occurred while I sat with one of my children in the headmaster’s office of a private high school. Although my child was cool as a cucumber during the headmaster’s absurdity, I vowed to make sure my child would have the opportunity to learn calculus, with or without a hands-on calculus curriculum. (Mission accomplished.)
I created the comic because I want to warn parents that sometimes educators who tout hands-on-learning fail to understand that once kids grasp concepts, the hands-on-learning of those same concepts becomes unnecessary. Please, please, do not let educators convince you that educational methods can substitute for academic content. Both method and content are important, but substituting bedsheets and sledding hills for calculus? No way.
Acknowledgements and Credits
I created the comics via the Comic-O-Matic website of Nina Paley and Margo Burns. (Thanks!)
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page November 2015 Blog Hop on Ages and Stages of Giftedness. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.
What happens when a neuroscientist, a psychotherapist, an aerospace manager, an organizational behaviorist, and a public policy specialist get together? They raise money and begin an ambitious research effort to examine the sensory, cognitive, metabolic, physiological, neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and genetic characteristics of individuals with high intelligence.
Gifted Research & Outreach (GRO), a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in California, has begun research and outreach on a multidisciplinary level not seen since 1925 when Louis Terman and others published Mental and Physical Traits of a Thousand Gifted Children. In the preface of that volume, Terman wrote:
Our positive knowledge of the physical, mental, and personality traits of such children has been extremely limited, and until this knowledge is available there can be no basis for intelligent educational procedure.
When Terman and colleagues examined 1,000 gifted children nearly a century ago, scientists lacked fancy computerized tools for looking inside brains. Examinations of metabolism, hormones, enzymes, gut bacteria, the endocrine system, and the central nervous system were similarly limited. Today, with medical technology unimaginable a century ago, scientists can better examine the mental and physical traits of gifted children, and can link physiology to psychophysiological reactions and behavior in all children.
Despite the existence of new medical technology, our knowledge of the physical, mental, and personality traits of children with high intelligence is still limited. Although Terman craved that knowledge primarily for purposes of “intelligent education procedure,” today we crave that knowledge not just for educational purposes, but also for social, emotional, and medical purposes.
GRO’s Multidisciplinary Efforts
GRO plans a multidisciplinary effort to research the depth and breadth of intelligence. GRO will then share its research results through open access articles, through outreach efforts targeting parents and professionals, and through writings easily accessible to the general public. The two prongs of the GRO mission–research and outreach–are equally important, according to those involved with the new organization.
The founders of GRO share Terman’s belief that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary for studying children of high intelligence. Psychotherapist Dr. Joanna Haase, who has 28 years of experience working with gifted individuals and their families, explained, “Many psychological theories touch on the physiological, but with our current trend to medicate children as a first response, we need to be very careful to understand what is ‘normal’ in the physiological and psychological make up of gifted children. It is only by having a full and integrated understanding of the ways the brains and bodies of these children differ or do not differ from the norm that we can offer effective support and interventions for gifted children and their families.”
The GRO founders believe that understanding all aspects of highly intelligent individuals will help us understand neurodiversity. Organizational behaviorist Sharon Duncan emphasized, “The fact is that much research has been done on the physiology and psychology of individuals with developmental delays, but not enough research has been done on individuals on the other end of intelligence spectrum. The study of outliers helps us increase our knowledge of all humans. As a society aspiring to an unbiased body of research, we should not allow charges of elitism to dissuade us from studying highly intelligent individuals.”
Dr. Haase agreed that by learning more about the brains and bodies of people with high intelligence, we’ll learn more about everybody. Dr. Haase explained that AIDS research taught us not only about AIDS, but also taught us about medicine in general and about social behavior. She notes that we grew as a society as a result of insights gained during the AIDS research effort.
Barmazel noted: “Many children have experienced problems in school because their behavior was brought into question rather than understanding that their physiological needs were not being met. For example, a child may be labeled with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) when he or she holds their hands over their ears. It may be perceived that the child doesn’t want to listen when if fact they are protecting themselves from the pain of noise. When a child is repeatedly punished for self-protection, he or she can become confused and resentful and turn into a behavioral problem. Arming parents, educators and psychological professionals with knowledge and tools to address such behaviors would contribute to a better academic experience.”
GRO’s Research Efforts
Neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Tetreault, GRO’s Director of Research, specializes in neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative disorders. Her prior research efforts include studies in autism, the sensory impairments in Parkinson’s disease, and the development of the visual system. Her experience examining sensory and other physiological correlates of neurological conditions matches GRO’s efforts to find correlations and possible causal links between the brain and other aspects of human physiology.
Dr. Tetreault is close to completing Phase 1 of GRO’s research work. For Phase 1, Dr. Tetreault used her neuroscience background to conduct an extensive literature review of research on the brain and on the genetics of highly intelligent individuals compared to those of general intelligence. The results of the Phase 1 literature review will be posted on the GRO website in the near future.
Phase 2 will involve an in-depth review of literature of the potential associations between high intelligence and allergies, metabolism, hormones, social anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Those results will be posted on the GRO website after Phase 2 is complete.
GRO decided to perform its literature review of the brain and genetics first for two reasons. One reason is that brain and genetics research articles are plentiful and well validated. Another reason is that the brain is the source of human cognition.
As part of her Phase 1 research efforts, Dr. Tetreault met with leaders of intelligence research from around the world including Richard Haier, Robert Colom, Timothy Bates, and David Lubinski. She also recently attended a talk by Robert Plomin. She plans to communicate with other scientists as GRO’s research efforts proceed.
When interviewing GRO members for this article, I was happy to learn that GRO, for its outreach purposes, currently uses the Columbus Group’s 1991 asynchronous development definition of giftedness. As I expected, most of the studies that Dr. Tetreault reviewed during Phase 1 of GRO’s research used traditional measures of intelligence such as the WISC, WAIS, and Ravens tests. Using the traditional measures will allow GRO to integrate data across multiple studies and disciplines. Because many factors beyond intelligence can contribute to an individual’s achievement, Dr. Tetreault was careful not to use studies that relied on measures of achievement to determine intelligence.
GRO’s Outreach Efforts
The five people involved with GRO bring an impressive variety of credentials and experience to the organization. Dr. Haase and Dr. Tetreault bring their experience in the fields of psychotherapy and neuroscience, respectively. Marc Montgomery, GRO’s Board Chair, brings 35 years of aerospace leadership to GRO. Michelle Barmazel, GRO’s Director of Development, brings an understanding of public policy, business administration, and nonprofits. Sharon Duncan, GRO’s organization behaviorist, worked for 26 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in project and line management positions.
GRO intends to communicate complex technical and scientific ideas to general audiences. As GRO moves forward, research results will dictate the direction of GRO’s outreach efforts. Dr. Haase hopes to share GRO results not only with educators, but also with doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, allergists, and other practitioners. She explained, “GRO wants to take conversations about giftedness to practitioners who run across gifted individuals.”
In the spring, members of GRO, working with a southern California university, are planning to conduct a continuing education conference for psychologists, school psychologists, and other professionals about misdiagnoses and other issues affecting gifted individuals. At the event, Dr. Haase will explain how gifted children sometimes experience intense emotions and existential depressions at early ages. According to Dr. Haase, “Because those emotions don’t disappear with age, practitioners need to help children understand that those emotions are part of who they are, and help them learn how to manage their intensity across their lifespan. Medication is not always a bad intervention, but it should not be the first and only one.”
Duncan acknowledged that although we have anecdotal and case study evidence of the emotional, sensory, imaginational, intellectual, and physical intensities of gifted children, the scientific evidence has not been fully developed, integrated, and disseminated. Duncan believes that GRO’s future research will shed light on what those who work with gifted children have observed. She explained, “Parents often report that their gifted children behave and react differently than their age mates, yet there is little physiological research to support why this is. On a practical level this information will help parents obtain effective social, emotional, and educational assistance for their children.”
Dr. Tetreault hopes that GRO’s research and outreach efforts will provide a map for parents who have precocious children, and help parents learn how to keep their children growing and how to be within their rights to do whatever their little bodies need to be doing while learning. Dr. Tetreault aspires to provide parents and educators with the support they need to give children opportunities to succeed. She notes that in light of the current trend toward standardization in education, “it’s very important for every child’s healthy development that we be able to identify and satisfy their needs.”
Through her research into autism and other neurobiological disorders, Dr. Tetreault has learned that physiological differences often accompany neurobiological disorders. For example, some individuals with autism experience gut issues, some individuals with dyslexia experience nausea, and a subset of individuals with Parkinson’s experience olfactory impairments. In the same vein, GRO hopes that its research on the physiological differences that accompany high intelligence will help us learn more about all people.
Bring GRO to Your Neighborhood
On December 13, 2015, GRO members will travel to Santa Monica, California for a dinner to raise funds for Phase 2 of GRO’s research plans If you are interested in attending the dinner and hearing the results of GRO’s Phase 1 research, contact GRO as soon as possible for a reservation. If you would like host a GRO fundraising dinner in your community, please let GRO know. GRO members, including neuroscientist Dr. Tetreault, are willing to travel. The GRO website includes this contact form.
A Personal Note
As gifted advocate with over three decades of experience, I recall a watershed moment at the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented conference about 15 years ago. One session title in particular drew me to Houston: The Neurobiological Correlates of Intelligence. At the time, I was hungry to hear scientific evidence of what others insisted was a mere “social construct.” I went to Houston remembering the near blackout of anger I experienced a few years earlier at a general education conference in Ohio as I sat in shock while listening to a presenter tear apart the very existence of gifted children.
The presentation room in Houston overflowed with people hungry for scientific evidence that gifted children exist. People sat on chairs, sat on the floor, and leaned against the walls. Still other people packed themselves tightly far into the hallway, straining to listen. The presenter spoke for noticeably longer than her allotted time, but few moved a muscle. We were thrilled to learn that researchers had started to find correlations between high intelligence and certain brain characteristics.
I believe that GRO’s scientific research and outreach missions will go a long way towards improving public and political opinion about the unique needs of children with high intelligence, as well as about the links between the brain and physiological conditions. Please join me in supporting GRO’s efforts.
I thank photographer Steve Duncan of Avian Resources for granting permission to use the photograph he took of the Milky Way. For more of Steve’s stunning images, see http://avian-resources.artistwebsites.com/
I could not have written this article without the generosity of the GRO Board of Directors. They granted me interviews, reviewed drafts of this article, answered all my questions about their research efforts, and provided me with a photograph of the five of them to include in this blog. Thank you!
Lastly, I thank my friends at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for their inspiration and support, both online and in person. Although my children are all grown, I’ve written this article as part of the October 2015 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop. Clicking on the graphic by Tara Hernandez (Thank you, Tara!) below will lead you to the titles, blog names, and links of other Blog Hop participants. Thank you for supporting my fellow blog hoppers by visiting their blogs.
Once upon a time, my child gazed happily into my eyes, and we sat hour after hour, breastfeeding contently. Giftedness was the furthest thing from my mind. All I saw was a baby, full of joy, uniqueness, and growth. I fretted about sniffles and rash bumps, not about schools and teachers.
My child’s toddler years, spent happily at the Ohio University Child Development Center under the care of experts, went swimmingly well. My child was free to choose activities, ask for stories, and select playmates. Kindergarten under the guidance of an expert teacher was a breeze. The teacher excellently cared for the needs of each student. Lessons weren’t obviously lessons; what was obvious was the teacher’s love for her students. That’s what really matters to children: above all, they want to be loved.
Stormy Clouds and Deep Water
In first grade my child’s tiny life changed from sunshine and smiles to stormy clouds and deep water. The school’s curriculum, when viewed next to my child’s accomplishments to date, looked remarkably like a recipe for distress. Imagine already knowing how to read, and being forced to spend a whole year pretending to learn how to read.
Do we expect adults to spend year after year of their lives pretending to learn? Of course not! Do we expect adults to bury their real thoughts and needs in order to conform to what a school district prescribes are the needs of every other adult born within the same twelve-month period? Of course not!
By October, my child’s life looked bleak. Stomach aches and refusals to go to school started happening. Other parents couldn’t understand why my child couldn’t just sit respectfully and wait for their children to catch up. In apparent efforts to drag me and my child back to a level playing field, some parents and some teachers spouted now-disproven yuck about multiple intelligences, a mere theory now disproven by cognitive neuroscientists, but still taught in some teacher education colleges and conferences.
Time to Find Kindred Spirits
When you see your child suffering at school, and when you feel others trying to drag you back to their ideas of level playing fields, it’s time to find kindred spirits on Home Planet—an affectionate term for all the places we parents of gifted children feel safe to speak honestly about our children, their needs, and their challenges. It’s time to learn all you can from the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page place for newcomers, from the Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted resource library, from various Facebook Groups, and from real people, too. It’s time to drink from the grail of giftedness.
When you drink from the grail of giftedness, you’ll find compassion, understanding, and downright love among other parents facing similar journeys through today’s educational systems. If you become active as a leader in the gifted community, you’ll see parents cry at presentations, have epiphanies about their own childhoods, and relax when they realize they’re not alone. You’ll find Home Planet; you’ll find your tribe among a mix of people from various religions, races, ethnicities, political persuasions, and sexual orientations. A broad swath of humanity, all with children too different from the norm to fit well into today’s education system. Parents driven by love, who believe that their children’s love and happiness are more important than their children’s seat time in school.
You’ll also learn that giftedness isn’t only about education. Giftedness is about whole lives that are different from the norm, including brains that are different from the norm, and experiences and reactions that are different from the norm. In response to what you’ll learn, you’ll probably change your parenting to the point where your parenting, too, will be different from the norm.
You might hesitate to join us. You might think: Do I really want to enter the world of giftedness, with its perceived tints of inequity and inequality? Do I really want to become an advocate for gifted children, and thus risk the ire of 95% of the other parents in my children’s schools?
Years or decades later, in retrospect, you might ask yourself: Did I really want to explain until I’m blue in the face that gifted education is not elitism, but rather about meeting the unique needs of individual children, needs which include not just academic needs, but also social and emotional needs? Did I really want to spend thousands of dollars on dues, conference registrations, and books over the course of several decades?
I admit that I would have preferred a life without accusations of inequality, without risks of ire from 95% of the other parents, without advocating until I’m blue in the face, and without added expenses. Wouldn’t you?
The Good News
The good news is that my children are grown and happy. More good news is that along the gifted path, I’ve met hundreds of kindred spirits, many of whom have become good friends. We still travel long distances to see each other, and to marvel that somehow we managed to raise our unique children to the point where many of them, oblivious to our sometimes Herculean efforts along the way, see no reason for our interest in giftedness…
…until they themselves have children facing school. Then they call us for advice, and we help them navigate through stormy clouds and deep water to find their own kindred spirits.
Acknowledgements and Credits
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page August 2015 Blog Hop on “Gifted 101.” I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
The “my child” in the article is an amalgamation of all my children. I didn’t want to pick on any one of them in particular.
The photographs are my own, taken in 2015 in Athens County, Ohio and in Polk County, Wisconsin.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants, or cut and paste this URL into your browser: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_101.htm
I rarely write about my now-grown children in blog entries, but this month, it’s SO tempting! But alas, because all three of their accelerated hearts adore privacy, I’ll remain mum.
Suffice it to say I’ve witnessed accelerations not only as a parent, but also as a teacher, advocate, and friend. All of the accelerations I’ve witnessed have supported, not stunted, the individual’s social and emotional growth. The accelerated children I’ve followed into adulthood all are scoring high on the life happiness rubric. Many are scoring high on the financial security rubric as well.
In this article, I offer tips for slaying the stay-put beast. He’s an ugly, awful monster. Society throws him willy-nilly at unsuspecting children who dare to object to spending hours upon hours of their childhoods pretending to learn content they mastered years earlier.
A Nation Deceived
If anecdotes about acceleration aren’t your thing, check out A Nation Deceived. That 2004 report, funded by the Templeton Foundation and written by experts in the United States and Australia, debunks the ugly myths about acceleration that jealous schoolteachers have spouted for generations. For those who dislike judgmental adjectives like “ugly” and “jealous,” here’s a more palatable description of the report: “A Nation Deceived highlights disparities between the research on acceleration and the educational beliefs and practices that often run contrary to the research.”
When A Nation Deceived first came out, I shouted for joy. No longer did I have to fight acceleration myths empty handed. I had a boat-load of research, complete with an eye-popping title promising truth to conquer deception. And rather than being behind a paywall, the report was and is free. The international version is available for download in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish.
The best news? This spring a companion report, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students will “inform educators, parents, and policy makers of current research on acceleration, how that information has been applied to educational policy throughout the nation, and how educators can use the findings to make decisions for their brightest students.”
Making Acceleration Decisions
Whenever a parent or teacher talks to me about acceleration, I ask, “Is the child happy?” Although I’m an advocate for acceleration, I believe that accelerations should never disturb happy children. If a child is happy with a particular education situation, keep that situation! Academic accelerations should be child-driven and about happiness, not about productivity. Children are not widgets to be mass produced at warp speed.
Speaking of happiness, if a child is unhappy in school because the child years earlier mastered the curricular content, one grade skip isn’t going to be worth a hill of beans. To be as happy as most of the child’s classmates are in their current grade, the child might need several grade skips, plus increased curricular speed (curricular compacting or otherwise), plus additional complexity.
A child’s happiness in a certain grade level might depend on how willing the teacher is to deviate from the curricula, whether the teacher believes in giving students large choices and project-based learning experiences, and whether the teacher has a chip on the shoulder about intellectual prowess in pint-sized packages. A child’s happiness might also depend on whether the child has good friends in the current grade, which extracurricular activities are available for students in each grade level, and other factors.
The purpose of acceleration should be to increase happiness, not to race ahead on an academic treadmill. The child’s needs, not the school district’s policies, should govern whether accelerate takes place and whether the acceleration is in the form of a full grade skip, a one-subject advancement, a curricular compaction, or otherwise.
The Best Story Ever
I once spoke with a mother who called for advice about her son. The problem? The nearby state university wouldn’t let him into its undergraduate program unless he had a high school English credit.
Trust me, this story gets FAR more interesting:
- Q. How old is your son?
- A. He’s 12 years old.
- Q. Why is he applying to the undergraduate program?
- A. Because the university won’t give him credit for his two graduate classes (science and math) unless he is first enrolled as an undergraduate.
- Q. What does he do with the rest of his time?
- A. He’s attending a public middle school for drama and art classes.
Imagine that….FOUR education levels happening simultaneously in that child’s life–middle school, high school, undergraduate school, and graduate school. Can anyone spell “asynchrony” at warp speed?
I offer this extreme example to illustrate two points. First, happiness can reign in an asynchronous child’s life. The parents granted their son’s wish to enjoy graduate level math and science, and his wish to enjoy art and drama experiences with students his own age. Second, inflexible institutional rules can threaten a child’s happiness. Even though the math and science departments in question wanted to give the child credit for the graduate courses he was taking, the undergraduate admissions office was locked into a myopic view of education governed by factory-model rules.
How did I help the child’s mother? Easy. I suggested she contact an organization well experienced with granting high school credits by examination. Although I haven’t heard back from the mother, I’m guessing that the child is now a happy adult. He was lucky to have parents who fed his passions and battled the stay-put beast.
Two weeks ago, my friend Juliet Thomas submitted a comment to my article, On Dropping the G-Bomb: Twelve Confessions from a Gifted Advocate. Juliet is the kind of person whose every utterance, even a mere blog comment, is brilliant. But this comment went beyond brilliant.
For the first time in my blog-writing, comment-approving career, I couldn’t bring myself to push the “approve” button. To memorialize those words as a mere blog comment, buried in cyberspace, simply would not be right. Thank goodness Juliet gave me permission to share her words in this article. Watch how she weaves a multitude of educational issues into one cohesive wish for the future:
Maybe one of the fundamental problems with the nomenclature question [the word “gifted”] is the entire underlying issue. We are trying to illuminate the ways that “these” students are different from the “other” ones – in order to provide “these” students what they need, since they pretty clearly do not have their needs met when simply grouped with all the rest.
My fairly radical view is that virtually NONE of the students’ needs are met when they are all just lumped together by birthdate and set on an increasingly uniform educational path. Combine the deeply ingrained concept that the most salient data point about a student is their chronological age together with the malignant drive to codify THE single best curriculum as measured by the high-stakes-test-of-your-choosing. You have a 19th century assembly line widget factory. (Where the managers and the workers are at each other’s throats, to boot.)
We are well into the 21st century. We need far more creativity, synergistic thinking, collaboration and individualistic viewpoints. We have far surpassed the time where anyone can know most things about everything. This is an era where knowing what to do with all the facts at hand is far more important than holding the individual facts in your head. This time requires that we teach Johnny and Jane to exploit THEIR particular mix of strengths, weaknesses, talents and interests, not to match some exogenous ideal set of knowledge acquisition.
The next century requires ARTISANS, not uniform machine cogs. In science, math, art, literature, philosophy, philanthropy, diplomacy, process design – everywhere. All automation is well on its way to being the domain of machines. We do not need identical humans anymore, and the longer we continue to insist on trying to crank them out, the worse off we will all be.
(And NO, the current approach is not cheaper, fairer or safer. It simply suits the needs of the people in control, and those are not the students.)
As the mom of two PG [profoundly gifted] boys, it was quickly obvious to me that my boys needed a different sort of education. As a sentient human, it’s becoming obvious that ALL students do. The educational system is horribly outdated; if EVERY student were seen as having their own set of needs and potential, there would be no need to name the roughly similar group that is now clustered under the “gifted” banner.
We don’t (just) need a different name. We need a whole different mindset.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Juliet. Once education changes sufficiently to respond to every student’s unique set of needs and potential, words like “gifted” and “acceleration” will no longer be fodder for debate. Students will no longer fall through the cracks, their bodies sitting in classrooms waiting for recess while their minds struggle hard to pretend to learn. Let’s slay the stay-put beast as soon as possible.
Acknowledgements and Credits
I created the comics via the Comic-O-Matic website of Nina Paley and Margo Burns. (Thanks!)
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page March 2015 Blog Hop on Acceleration. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies Blog Hop participants.
I’m uncomfortable using the g-word in public. Why? Because many people outside of gifted education circles react to the word in a negative fashion. In his 1869 essay, “On Liberty,” philosopher John Stuart Mill noted a similar reaction to the concept of genius:
People think genius a fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do very well without it.
Although I can’t control the reactions of other people to the word “gifted,” I can and do carefully decide when and where to use the word. More and more, I use the g-word only with others who understand the nature of individuals with high intelligence.
I have two versions of my resume—one freely sprinkled with the g-word, and one scrubbed clean. I was happy years ago when job-hunting gurus started saying resumes should be limited to one or two pages—that limitation made g-scrubbing even easier.
I have no set method for determining who is gifted and who is not. In Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote about hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
I feel that I know giftedness when I see it. Sometimes my recognition of another’s giftedness comes simply by noticing the quickness of a reply, the leadership of others, the novelty of a solution, the “getting” of a joke.
I accept that a negative result does not always equal “non-gifted.” Giftedness is not always as apparent as the color of a flower. I respect my psychologist friends who use careful, validated, and respected methods for making g-word determinations.
I feel anger whenever someone thinks it is fine to have a child sit through a lesson that the child already knows. Sometimes my vision narrows and my pulse pounds when I see children forced to sit in inappropriate education environments. Which leads to my next confession.
My caring for individual students is sometimes excessive. By “individual students,” I mean all students.
My work with g-word kids has spurred me to revere the uniqueness of all children. But sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of differentiating lessons, assignments, and assessments to meet the needs of all students. I feel the heavy burden that weighs on teachers who care.
I feel conflicted whenever asked to advocate for money for gifted children rather than for money for all children.
Yes, I do advocate for gifted programs, but in some public education spheres where money is limited, I prefer education finance plans free from labels. I prefer plans targeted at moving education forward to a future that will include individualized education experiences for all children and easy ways for teachers to facilitate those experiences.
Sometimes I turn gifted causes down. A few times, I have purposely decided to forgo advocating for funds for gifted children. Take for instance when we lived in one of the poorest Ohio school districts—a district where some children had to ride the school bus for two hours each morning, where teachers sometimes had to buy paper and pencils for children, and where my husband, a science teacher, collected roadkill and other specimens for his biology classes.
In extreme poverty situations, the mere thought of advocating for diverting general school district funds to gifted pull-out programs feels immoral. When I first felt those feelings of immorality, I moved from local level advocacy to state-level advocacy on behalf of not only the gifted children in that district, but all children in that district. No child deserves a deficiently funded education. Ever.
I never want to tell a child “you’re not gifted.” Full stop.
I realized that public education systems require some sorting of children in order to come close to meeting their individual needs. I admire those in the trenches who make the hard decisions of which children fit the criteria for admission into a gifted program and which children do not fit the criteria. But I count my lucky stars that I have never had to tell a child, “you’re not gifted.” There is no version of that sentence that does not sound wrong.
I enjoy the irony of people wishing their kids were among the most g-word kids in the classroom, but the same time disliking the idea of anyone recognizing that intelligence levels differ from person to person. You cannot both want the cake and dislike the existence of the cake.
I love it when small, scrawny, g-word kids grow up, become valedictorians of their medical school or law school classes, and watch those who despise the g-word flock to their waiting rooms and pay big dollars for their services. The old saying “success is the best revenge” comes to mind.
As a board member of the former National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in the United Kingdom, I fully supported its decision to drop the g-word and change its name to Potential Plus UK. The vote was unanimous. I am proud of our decision.
Although I am 100% happy with the name change here in England, I suspect that not all of my g-word connections in the United States are proud of my vote. Which brings me to my final confession.
I wonder whether it’s time to drop the g-word.
I recognize that the g-word has a positive connotation among gifted education professionals and among families served by the gifted education programs in the United States. Decades of research, literature, and conferences attest to the power and poignancy of the g-word among people of high intelligence. The g-word has positively affected my life and the lives of thousands of people I’ve met during my years of gifted advocacy.
Advocacy, however, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Advocacy for additional funds to serve the unique needs of children with high intelligence requires interaction with people for whom the g-word lacks a positive connotation. I’m beginning to sense that among the general population, the g-word now carries a negative connotation.
I recognize that politically sensitive words and phrases that label people pass through phases of “ok,” to “questionable,” to “banned.” Negative connotations invariably attach themselves to innocent words, dragging them down into the realms of non-political correctness. I sense that the g-word has become politically incorrect.
A New Word?
But what new word should we adopt, if any? My preference would be for a word relating to what brain researchers see when they examine brains of highly intelligent people. Or perhaps a word that psychologists use when describing the psyche of those of high intelligence. Or perhaps simply the phrase, “people with high intelligence.”
If we drop the g-word, we remove several bug-a-boos from conversations with the general public. First, we avoid any idea that high intelligence is a gift bestowed by one’s chosen deity.¹ Second, we change the conversation from “gift or no gift” to a conversation about levels of intelligence that might change throughout an individual’s lifetime. Finally, we buy ourselves time; we give ourselves a few decades before negative connotations attach themselves to the new word or phrase and inevitably drag it, too, into the realms of non-political correctness.
Think about it. Do we want to avoid speaking of high intelligence as an immutable characteristic bestowed by a deity? Do we want to change the conversation to better match recent discoveries by brain scientists? Do we want to use words not yet dragged down into the realms of non-political correctness?
I’ll let you decide.
Notes & Credits:
¹I first read and loved the wording “[any]one’s chosen deity” in young Madison Kimrey’s excellent blog article, “Being Gifted is a Beautiful Mess,” where she wrote,“We don’t need anyone’s chosen deity to suddenly miraculously help unwrap us like presents. We need real solutions both inside and outside the classroom to help us reach our individual potential, better understand ourselves, and find our place in the world around us.”
I took all the photos on April 26, 2014 on the grounds of the Polesden Lacey UK National Trust property in Surrey, England.
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_the_g_word.htm
I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions. Please click on the graphic above (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies Blog Hop participants. Please click on the graphic below (created by Tara Hernandez–thanks!) to see the titles, blog names, and links of other Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop participants.