Ask A Genius 344 – Exceptional Giftedness
January 1, 2018
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Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How do exceptionally gifted (IQ170+) children get support or other gifted children for that matter?
Rick Rosner: There’s an industry devoted to serving or several related industries devoted to serving kids identified as exceptional, but the private schools are designed to appeal to parents who want concierge education for their exceptional kids.
Growing up in the ‘70s and for most of the 20th century, people thought that regular public education served almost everybody and this idea almost begins with the beginning of the country whereas the US expanded westward.
One square mile out of every 36 square mile plot of land or whatever you want to call it, a section of land profits from the sale of that 1/36th; one mile out of 36 square miles of land was supposed to go to building schools.
So, schooling for everyone was a big deal. Then there was further development in the US. Throughout the 19th century established state schools, most states in the US have one or two big public colleges that are supposed to be cheaper than private colleges.
So, there’s been a long-term emphasis on having an educated population and with that education being supported by the government. The government is democratic. There are been democratic ideas that have infused ideas of education.
That it should be firm; that there should be a place in the educational system for everyone. And a hundred years ago, the idea of the comprehensive high school, which spread across the United States, supported the idea that the teenage education for grades 9 or 10 through 12 should take place in public high schools.
That was for everyone regardless of interest or ability levels, but there would be within these schools communities that could support schools of this size. These schools would run from 1,200 to 3,000 students.
There would be educational paths for everyone and that everyone would go to school together and learn to function in a little-abridged version of society together, which was unlike schools in other countries like Britain where people in their early teen years are divided between schools on vocational tracks and on academic and professional tracks.
But in America, everybody was supposed to go to the same stereotypical high school with cheerleaders and football players and nerds and student council leaders and everybody mixed with everybody else.
The way that everybody was supposed to mix with everybody else in a democratic society. People were then with perhaps the unstated idea that they’re going to learn academically as much as you’re going to learn socially.
You’re going to learn how to get along in this abridged version of society, which didn’t work. So, for decades and decades, maybe even now, there are plenty of movies that over the past 50 years or more present high school as a jungle.
But middle school or junior high school are the jungle, where the people are at their worst; where the hormones start kicking in, people start caring about their place in the social pecking order and haven’t learned any restraint yet.
So, it’s the sixth through eighth or seventh through ninth where kids are at their most asshole-ish. Then high school kids have started to learn to acquire some sophistication and restraint and are starting to learn how to behave in a version of society.
And I spent many years in high school; many more years than most people because high school was interesting and I kept going back. And I disagree with the idea of high school presented in the movies as a vicious, murderous sometimes, place, where the high school can be a place where people haven’t had their ethics eroded yet because they haven’t had to confront corrosive, competitive aspects of adult life.
Most high school kids, though by no means all, are taken care of to some extent; they have food, clothing, and shelter provided by their families. I say at least 80% of high school kids have basic necessities provided by family members.
And kids in the traditional stereotypical high schools. They’re the kids who maybe don’t have those things provided or are not under the scope of consideration. They are in the stereotypical comprehensive high school of the 20th century.
Impoverished kids who don’t have a family structure are virtually invisible and if they do show up they’re a special problem that the community can address. So, under that system, people can afford to be nice; they’re being taken care of.
There is competition in some areas: sports, academics, getting boyfriends and girlfriends, but stuff isn’t life or death and people can afford to and often do behave as and think of themselves as good people.
They try to behave ethically and have the resources to do so. And I find that it’s later in adult life when push comes to shove in life situations that people become more vicious.
So, anyways, the thought beyond that this comprehensive system was supposed to be for about everyone, whether the kid is going to be a mechanic taking short classes in high school or whether the kid is going to be a professor taking calculus in high school; both those kids could see each other in the cafeteria and play on the same teams, go to the same dances.
It was a one-size-fits-all system that didn’t necessarily serve everybody, especially in periods of relative decadence including the period I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was a teenager from 1973 to 1980.
During the last period, we ended/lost a war that had gone on for a dozen years and more. We lost Vietnam. We lost a president to corruption to Watergate. People who were disillusioned with institutions. At the same time, the pill entered the market; the birth control pill in 1960 or so.
So, you had such a growing sexual revolution and women’s liberation and sexual liberation coupled with disillusionment and hedonistic singles culture. Everything combined to create certain laziness in education in the 70s.
There’s this movie coming out called My Friend Dahmer, which I read when it was a graphic novel. One of the themes of the graphic novel was that Dahmer is clearly disturbed; this is a kid who several years after graduating would become a serial killer and a cannibal.
During his high school years, he was turning into the severely disturbed person that would later become the Dahmer we know and that all the kids knew about it, but none of the educators could be bothered to pay any attention to this drunk, bust-up kid walking the halls every day.
Based on my IQ scores and doing ell n school when I tried, I was considered a gifted kid. There wasn’t much in the way of gifted services for me. Sometimes, the teacher would spot me as somebody who deserved or needed special attention and would give me advanced work to do advanced projects.
But mostly it was assumed that I would get along with everybody else, but my grades might be better than most people’s because I had the ability to do it. But people didn’t worry too much about singling me out, getting me special stuff, I desperately wanted to be normal.
My family, my mom wanted me to be normal. I wanted to have a cool kid’s high school life being popular, having girlfriends. I didn’t give much of a shit about the academic excellence that I would sometimes achieve, but only because maybe it would set me apart from other kids and some girl would like me for that.
I was desperately looking for me to get to something that would make girls not think I was gross. Within a couple decades after I left high school, a set of related industries popped up, which are designed to identify and service gifted students.
Partly, this is because the people my age, the software and hardware geniuses, maybe didn’t care as much about being normal, but cared more about learning how to program and make computers. Those guys grew up to completely change society to a computer and technology-based society and being a nerd went from social death to barely acceptable.
The whole world has become more technical. I can mention the Flynn Effect that in the 50 Years after World War II the average IQ of the entire planet went up by 15 points because our technology and pop culture saturated the entire planet.
So, it’s the entire planet smartened up and in the US that smartening became an exploitable market. Where if you parents want to identify their kids as gifted and once identified, parents will spend 30-40 thousand dollars a year to send an identified gifted kid to a private school.
Parents will spend eight or ten or twelve thousand dollars on tutoring for the SAT or the ACT, obviously, parents who have this money. When I was in school, the average kid who took an AP class took an average of one and a third AP classes, whereas the average AP kid of my daughter’s generation took takes an average of seven AP classes.
The competition to get into elite schools is much more heated with either the Ivies having admission rates of about 5% compared to 20% when I was in high school. There’s more of what leads to an idea of a zero-sum situation, where there are a limited number of viciously competed for spots for elites.
That means that the 21st-century system of gifted with students who are identified early and nurtured and pushed and self-propelled along demanding academic paths with applying, on the average as a super competitive kid, to twelve or fourteen colleges now.
Probably, many of my daughter’s friends took a dozen or more AP classes. A lot of private school education. There is a lot of hustling to get into limited gifted education schools within financially strapped public school systems like the LA Public Schools.
So, education for the gifted now is viciously competitive, has a little bit of zero-sum about it, feels more Republican where the 20th century felt more democratic: that we’ll all learn together; we’ll all do everything together.
Things will turn out all right as we’re plugged into our communities. The stereotypical comprehensive high school of the mid-twentieth century can be pictured as being part of a nice little town.
There’s a movie, Pleasantville, that takes place in a pleasant little town in the mid-50s, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver; all these shows that had high school and smaller kids as important characters were set either in small towns or in suburbs and presented their families as being plugged into the community.
They function like the successors to it; it is a wonderful life. Everything works better when everybody watches out for everybody else, which leads to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful slogan ‘It takes a village’.
But in the 21st century, we shifted to something that feels more like Social Darwinism, where there are a limited number of up spots and elite colleges for gifted people in public schools and you have to compete for them, often brutally.
So, you need to identify your kid early; you need to see what you can do to make sure your kid is gifted early; you need to work with the kid to develop his or her talents. My kid didn’t know any better about working her ass off.
From kindergarten on, she took it for granted that she should be spending two or three or four or more hours a day on homework, which would have been unheard of in the 70s; where maybe a half an hour a day of homework, then most people had jobs, but they didn’t lead any place.
Jobs in an ice cream parlor or hostessing in a restaurant. Regular teen jobs that you worked at to get spending money. You interned at some lab or something too because it was part of your career path and because it added another notch to your college admissions packet.
So, anyway that’s enough of that, that was plenty.
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American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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