A lot of people when confronted with the word "gifted" often think of amazingly talented, early developers - Mozart, Euler, Picasso, Tiger Woods and even Michael Jackson.
A prodigy (or possibly more correctly, child prodigy) is "someone who, at an early age, masters one or more skills far beyond their level of maturity". The media loves them - they are a curiosity and they especially love the stories of those who soar high in childhood, only to "level out" or dramatically "drop out" in adolescence or adulthood.
“The skill of being a child prodigy is the skill of mastering something already invented,” she says. “The skill of being a major creative adult requires innovation, rebelliousness, dissatisfaction with the status quo.”
No matter the field, the leap from child prodigy to adult genius is rare. While prodigies often become experts, they often fall short of developing into major innovators, explains Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities.
I think that quote raises the issue of whether "creativity" is an essential part of being gifted or is a requirement for talent development, which is probably another post in itself.
The media is also fascinated by the "nature" or "nuture" question - how much is innate genius and how much is the pushy parent?
As a parent of an two exceptionally gifted children, I often feel sandwiched between the literature suggesting that I need to allow my children to explore their areas of interest at their own level (no matter how advanced that is) and those well-meaning parents and teachers who suggest I let my children "be children" - and that by giving them challenging work in some way I am robbing them of their "childhood".
What if work that challenges them at age 10 is work usually undertaken by 16 year olds (or older?). How far could we go, right now? Could they handle college/university level work? And should we even be finding out?
I came across a couple of interesting things this week, which challenged my thinking (always a good thing!). The first is a documentary "Beautiful Young Minds". This documentary shows exceptionally gifted mathematics students competing in the Mathematics Olympiad, but also deals with their struggles to be accepted as "normal" and not bullied for their talents.
I felt that overwhelmingly, the kids enjoyed this opportunity not only to stretch their mental muscles but also to be with people who shared their interest in mathematics at a high level (which, let's face it, is not going to be that many kids their age!). Where they felt like outsiders at school, they felt "normal" at the mathematics camp.
It was also interesting that they were refreshingly upfront about the high proportion of mathematicians at that level who were on the autism spectrum.
The second was an article about a boy who started full-time university studies at 13, who has found appropriate challenge and acceptance at College level.
The simple fact of the matter is that if you are functioning at a really high cognitive level, you might be on the high end of the normal curve, but you are not "average". The number of true peers you have is by necessity going to be really small.
I guess that's why people stress about pulling my kids out of school to homeschool them. They are worried that they will become even less "normal" and eventually not be able to interact with "normal" people. That I will be creating "intellectual monsters".
I guess I would argue that I am able to provide a meaningful curriculum, and provide them with a range of peers, from range of backgrounds and gently and sensitively guide them in their social interactions, which I couldn't do if they were at school. Schools are not designed to cope with the exceptionally gifted - academically or socially. Instead of feeling "weird" all the time - they can feel "normal", and I think that has to be a good thing.