2013-07-30 12:48 pm

Giftedness and Delinquency

One of the questions that arises along the way is "Are gifted children at risk?" Inevitably, the question brings the reply "At risk of what?"

Dropping out, depression, drugs, delinquency, and death (self-inflicted) are the answers. 4 of these five are pretty commonly discussed within the gifted lit - and often researchers seek to support or refute them. There are lots of stories and fewer statistics - and what stats there are may be misquoted, misremembered, or misremembered.

For the moment, I am going to focus on delinquency. I've been reading one of the studies that set out to disprove the notion that violent adolescents are any likelier to be gifted than the general population: High intelligence and severe delinquency: Evidence disputing the connection, by Dewey G. Cornell, in Roeper Review, May 92, Vol. 14, Issue 4.

Dr. Cornell had 157 violent offenders to examine and he did a pretty thorough job of illustrating his general point. Of the 157, "only 2 subjects obtaining scores greater than 130, and 2 more scoring greater than 120" on their full scale IQs (WISC-R or WAIS-R). He took it further, correctly observing that prison populations are known for higher performance scores than verbal.

"There were 13 subjects with Performance IQ's of at least 120. This included two subjects with IQ's greater than 140 and two more with IQ's greater than 130. In contrast, there were only 3 subjects with Verbal IQ's of 120 or higher, and all 3 had equivalent or higher Performance IQ's."

13 out of 157 is not overrepresented for 120+ (9% is the expected percentage.)

He talked a bit about race, and looks at the fact that the 'minority' members of the 13 above 120 performance IQ group were only 31% (4 of 13) vs. being 75% of the below 110 population. From there, he continued to explore his 2nd question, "Do highly intelligent delinquents differ from other delinquents in their social background and prior adjustment?"

And that is where I think Dr. Cornell made his mistake.

The white population of the total 157 group was 44, or 28% of the whole. The number of whites who scored 120 and above on the Performance Scale was 9, or more than 20% of the white population, when 9% would have been expected.

Cornell wrote, in conclusion: "The results of this study provide evidence that high intelligence is not associated with severe delinquency. In fact, the majority of delinquents are of below average intelligence, and only a few delinquents obtained scores above the high average range. While it is possible to identify delinquents with high intelligence, it is not reasonable to infer a connection between delinquency and high intelligence."

I think he missed a vital segment of his population.

This is hardly conclusive to prove risk, let alone to be as definitive in the opposite direction from Cornell. But it does at least raise an unanswered question: Might there be a greater risk for gifted (high performance scale) white adolescents to become seriously delinquent than for the norm?

(originally written Aug. 27th, 2010)

Postscript: In addition, there are factors to be considered, including size and location of population. There are also language issues deeply embedded in the prison population, perhaps tied to the number of dyslexics (or, as Ken Seeley would note, visual-spatial individuals).
2013-07-30 12:56 pm

Schools for the Gifted - Fictional Reflections on Real Life

The literature on giftedness, what it is, how to raise and/or teach and/or counsel these children, is fairly extensive. It goes back more than 100 years ago, and about 90 years ago, they had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't.

Doesn't mean that they did it at any point in the intervening years or that there are many places doing it now. Merely that the failure to do it well is from a failure to do one of a few things: 1) Research; 2) Believe what you read; 3) Learn from your mistakes.

This is the generous view of it...

On the fictional side of things, there are only so many plots that are out there.

The first breakout is that you have one gifted kid or you have a bunch of them. The Odd Johns of the world - both IRL and fiction - are plentiful. The groups are less common, excepting only the super hero genre of comic books and novelizations.

Wilmar Shiras wrote about Children of the Atom years before the X-Men (or the Tomorrow People) came into being. A brilliant boy doesn't quite fit in without calling attention to himself and gets found out by a psychologist. Together, they seek out more like him, find them, and pull them together, only to discover that society is not ready for these kids to be working together. But, they are good kids, and want to make the world a better place.

Stephanie Tolan's Welcome to the Ark tells a similar tale, though there is more to these children than just intelligence.

The X-Men are mutants and, originally, gifted youngsters who need to learn to use their powers. The bigotry against them, as mutants, is usually blind and without regard to circumstance. It doesn't help that not all mutants are altruistic. Some are 'merely' self-serving and/or opportunists. Some have the urge to dominate and control others. Some just want to tear things down.

This, then is the crux of the issue: How do we know that if we have kids with these powers, that they will use them for the good of humanity, or at least our nation?

John Brunner's Children of the Thunder asks that question and suggests that not only do we not know it, but that if there are some of these kids with noble objectives and others with more self-centered goals, that all other things being equal, the negative approach will win out.

There is another wringer to be tossed in here - perhaps the most common type of tale that explores this stuff even slightly seriously. What if the institution that is training the children is corrupt, regardless of the original plan? John Brunner addressed this before he looked at the other - an individual gifted person, escaped from his school where he felt he was mistreated. Much of the novel is spend following our protagonist as he eludes capture in a world made up of plug in employees. (Shockwave Rider - Editor)

Jarod, in The Pretender, a TC series, has a remarkably similar path - escaping from The Center and adopting a variety of guises and careers to find out about his background while being a do-gooder everywhere he goes.

James Patterson's Maximum Ride series takes the perfidy of mad scientists and the evil institution and combines them with kids who are not merely gifted in their thinking. They have wings - and they have escaped from The School, whose owners and directors do NOT have the kids' best interests at heart.

But in many ways, the questions asked, the puzzles shown, are consistent from book to book and show to show. How alone am I? How do I connect with others? If I run, where will I run too? What happens when my friends discover just how weird I really am?

Why am I so alone? And often, What is wrong with me?

(originally written Jan. 12th, 2008)

Postscript: This whole topic deserves a longer look. In addition to the titles/topics above, there is the counterpart to Xavier's School for Gifted Children, called Massachusetts Academy, where the Hellfire Club trained its future members (or cannon fodder). An interesting counter to the X-Men version of things is Aaron Williams' PS238, the School for Metaprodigy Children and its internal counter, Praetorian Academy. Also worth a look, at least briefly, is the movie Sky High.
2013-07-30 01:10 pm
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Educational Administration (Strayer and Thorndike)

1. Enrollment in Relation to Age and Grade

Two of the very easiest facts to observe and record about the pupils in any school are age and grade. If they are recorded as in Table 1 on the following page, even these simple items tell much about the working of the school in question. Thus, looking at each vertical column, one sees at once the enormous variability in age of those who reach the same grade or educational standard. In the third grade in Connecticut in 1903, children were reported as young as four years old and as old as seventeen. To include nine tenths of the children in this grade, a range of five years is required. Over three years are required to include even three fourths of them. In the fourth grade, only a quarter of the children are of the so-called "normal" age of ten; a fifth of them are twelve or over; in a class of forty there will usually be one child fourteen or more years old and four children eight or less. In the elementary school, even in the lower grades, there are many adolescents, beginning to be moved by the instincts of adult life. In the high school are many boys and girls under fifteen who, though intellectually gifted, are physically, emotionally, and in social instincts little children.

(from page 3, with emphasis and link added)
Educational Administration: Quantitative Studies (1913) By George Drayton Strayer, Edward Lee Thorndike

As I noted elsewhere (I think), "With all of its defects the country school of a quarter century ago was strongest in caring for the unusually gifted children. These were given great freedom in thought, in rate of accomplishment, and in the materials assigned. The graded system with all of its improvement has decidedly narrowed the range of opportunity of the gifted child."

Thorndike's work, both then and later, provides a lens through which one can examine educational practice today, not only of the gifted, and see some of the places in which we fall terribly terribly short.

(originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)
2013-07-30 01:23 pm

93 years later -- The Essentials of Good Teaching (1920)

Optional Work. - A wide variation in the abilities and attainments of children makes optional work an essential factor of effective teaching. Since all pupils cannot go the same pace, it is important that some special provision be made which will insure a maximum accomplishment for each. In well-regulated schools this condition is provided for by adjusting the assignment to the average ability of the class and then providing special aid for the weakest of the group, and optional work of a supplemental character for the unusually gifted children.

With all of its defects the country school of a quarter century ago was strongest in caring for the unusually gifted children. These were given great freedom in thought, in rate of accomplishment, and in the materials assigned. The graded system with all of its improvement has decidedly narrowed the range of opportunity of the gifted child. Supplemental provisions, such as optional work, must be introduced to restore these opportunities for maximum development.

To be effective, optional work should not be merely incidental or 'busy work.' It must be an organic part of the school program. It should feature in both the assignment and the recitation with as much prominence as does the regular work of the class.

(Leaving the discussion of gifted)

Constant acceptance of the utterances of textbook writers and teachers, by pupils, slowly but surely develops a servile dependence which negatives the underlying factors in responsibility.

Unfortunately the school has fostered an enormous amount of docility.

The Essentials of Good Teaching By Edwin Arthur Turner, Lotus Delta Coffman

(Originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007. Original title: 87 years later)
2013-07-30 01:29 pm
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On Race and Intelligence

Historical events appear to have been much more potent in leading races to civilisation than their faculty, and it follows that achievements of races do not warrant us to assume that one race is more highly gifted than the other.

Dr. Franz Boas, from:
Human Faculty as determined by Race, in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1894.

Isn't it amazing how far we have come from there?

(originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)

Postscript: More on this issue to follow in 2014, probably.
2013-07-30 01:33 pm
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Notes on Language (more dealing with labels)

From A Plea for the Queen's English: Stray Notes on Speaking and Spelling By Henry Alford

140. We seem rather unfortunate in our designations for our men of ability. For another term by which we describe them, "talented," is about as bad as possible. What is it? It looks like a participle. From what verb? Fancy such a verb as "to talent!" Coleridge somewhere cries out against this newspaper word, and says, Imagine other participles formed by this analogy, and men being said to be pennied, shillinged, or pounded. He perhaps forgot that, by an equal abuse, men are said to be "moneyed men, or as we sometimes see it spelt (as if the word itself were not bad enough without making it worse by false orthography), "monied."

141. Another formation of this kind, "gifted," is at present very much in vogue. Every man whose parts are to be praised is a gifted author, or speaker, or preacher. Nay, sometimes a very odd transfer is made, and the pen with which the author writes is said to be "gifted," instead of himself.


He wasn't all that pleased with "superior" or "inferior" as in, "He is a clearly inferior man," either.

(Originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)
2013-07-30 05:54 pm
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"The Happy Plight of the Gifted Child" - On giftedness, industriousness, and labels

From Raymond Harris' American Education: Facts, Fancies, and Folklore (1961)

Before you read this, it might be useful to know that Raymond Harris also disputed the notion of anti-intellectualism.

"Ability merely gives a child the potential for serious achievement. To realize the potential, ability must be combined with sufficient industry to complete difficult and extended learning tasks. Brightness alone, though noticed in the classroom, has little value unless it is accompanied by seriousness of purpose. The child with the high IQ, who will not work, is known to every teacher. Probably the number, if not the ability, of such children is somewhat exaggerated because they are mentioned so frequently, but they are present in every school. Industrious, but less bright, children, are also identified. They are welcomed in every classroom, because teachers admire their diligent attitudes, but they seldom become the top-ranking students. They perform reasonably well on most assignments, but only dimly glimpse the more abstract points of the subject materials. Ability and industriousness occur in every conceivable combination, and so contribute to the great range of achievement among individual children. No one can remain near the top of the range unless he possesses a high degree of both. It is quite probable, moreover, that ability unaccompanied by industry eventually deteriorates into mediocrity.

Many educators have learned to avoid the use of the word "gifted" when referring to the specially talented children. For one thing, it is an emotional term making objectivity difficult. Individuals have many different kinds of gifts, some of which have no relation to school work, though they may be of great value to the person and to his society. Hence the tendency to avoid the term and use more descriptive phrases such as "students with ability and industry." A number of such phrases are in use among educators, all of them improvements upon the single word "gifted."