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Make Them Invulnerable


Last week’s column struck a nerve with me, a depressing if predictable nerve. Compared to those at the top, the people at the bottom of a double Hollingworth gap are not just relatively retarded. They are, in a relative sense, profoundly retarded. It’s akin to the mental difference between a person of ordinary intelligence and a house cat. This week, happily, I’m addressing those of us on the far right tail of the curve.

I never liked school – from kindergarten through graduate school. I especially detested my short-lived experience with the “enrichment” program in middle school. I only lasted a few weeks before I absolutely refused to participate. The pitiful government school I attended was bad enough. The special program was worse. At the time, someone should have foreseen the incompatibility. 

Just before I was subjected to that particular draining make-work project, a relevant paper was published: Vulnerabilities of Highly Gifted Children, Wendy Roedell, Roeper Review, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1984)(read it HERE). Roedell briefly outlined the difference between “gifted” and “extraordinarily gifted,” ever cognizant of the semi-subjective assessment and application of both labels. 

Her work is good, great even, and thus, it has been roundly ignored, especially her overly-optimistic conclusion: “As information about the needs of highly gifted children becomes more widespread, and society’s expectations become more closely attuned to the realities of gifted development, the degree of vulnerability of these children will diminish.” If only.

The ensuing period of nearly forty years has seen many things. America has degenerated into a ridiculously stupid third-world cesspool. The schools – almost all publics and most privates – have dropped even the pretense of Western educational standards. And, while the existence of the UHIQ is reluctantly acknowledged, society has adopted an almost universal bias against the cognitive elite. This is the phenomenon Tom Ironsides observed in THE SUBSTITUTE when he occasionally encountered a languishing child of true intelligence in the wild. It is the same treatment he received from a system blindly obsessed with meaningless credentials. Sadly, the experience is not limited to fiction.

No child deserves to be trapped in a failed modern Amerikan school. While some do much better than others, exceptional children are failed in exceptional fashion. Those children above 140 WAIS (or SB) are utterly tortured. In many cases, programs allegedly there to help, in fact, hinder.

As I’ve written previously, the only way to assist a truly intelligent child is for his parents to point him in what they think is the right direction and then step aside and see how far he can go. This isn’t necessarily easy. The parents may not know that correct direction. They may have communication difficulties with their son. And, as is usually the case, they may be plagued with a desire to control that which is not ultimately controllable. If the process is done properly or if it is even attempted, then it is best done within the loose framework of unschooling, self-directed homeschooling, or the Sudbury Valley model.

Back in 1984, Roedell saw the need to remove the bright child from the doldrums of the standard classroom: “Highly gifted children experience increased vulnerability when they spend large portions of their time in inappropriate educational settings. The more a gifted child’s abilities differ from the norm, the more inappropriate becomes the educational program offered in the regular classroom.” She nailed the problems with “enrichment” programs: 

Many programs for gifted children also constitute inappropriate environments for the extraordinarily gifted child … In some school districts, the content of the gifted enrichment class is not linked logically to the identification system. … Even when the child’s abilities and the content of the program are linked, the learning pace of the program may be geared to the level of the moderately gifted child.

The cat comparison is hyperbole, but it is accurate.

It is important to remember that a child with an IQ of 164 is as different intellectually from a child with an IQ of 132 as that child is different from the 100 IQ child. Forcing a child with an IQ of 164 to learn at the pace of the average child, or even the pace of the moderately gifted, is akin to placing an average child in a special education classroom and asking that his/her learning rate be slowed down to keep pace with the rest of the class. The frustration of highly gifted children forced to stifle their love of learning in inhospitable environments can result in withdrawal, behavior problems, or psychosomatic symptoms.

That was my experience in both the special program, specifically, and the schools in general. Then, and worse today, the problem is compounded by a number of factors. First, the schools are geared towards low-achievers; ultra and very high-ability students are seen as nonconforming nuisances. The programs, all of them, are designed to indoctrinate rather than to educate. The people who plan and organize curriculum, general and advanced, have ulterior motives. The “gifted and talented” courses are most appropriate to the all-rounders, and, these days, best suit the needs and proclivities of female students. That is great, though it is of no service to the young minds with the most to offer an ailing country and culture. Additionally, the instructors in charge of even the special programs, in most cases, simply cannot communicate at the appropriate mental level with the most advanced students in their care.

A child forced to endure such low-level foolishness will endure. He may very well continue to perform well, grade-wise, into college or even law school. But, by being denied a real start, he will always be behind his potential. And he will come to resent or even hate the system and those who operate it and those to whom it primarily caters. And, in the end, he will become adrift in a society that denigrates intelligence – more to its detriment than to that of the high-IQ pariahs. 

The sane alternative is relatively simple. Don’t expect smart children to succeed and do not “help” them. Rather, let them succeed. Give them the necessary tools and encouragement and then let them build. What is rightly seen as vulnerability, if properly channeled, can become great strength, beneficial both to the children and to the greater society. A system designed by and for 90 IQ simpletons cannot and will not help. This is up to us. They are our children, after all. Make them invulnerable.