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Maximizing Our Potential: What Do We Owe the 98%?. Nancy Alvarado 2012 Mensa Annual Gathering. Where we stand. Gifted programs are being cut nationwide. Including programs for arts & athletics The rationale for education is: All children deserve to be educated to their maximum potential…

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maximizing our potential what do we owe the 98

Maximizing Our Potential: What Do We Owe the 98%?

Nancy Alvarado

2012 Mensa Annual Gathering

where we stand
Where we stand
  • Gifted programs are being cut nationwide.
    • Including programs for arts & athletics
  • The rationale for education is:
    • All children deserve to be educated to their maximum potential…
    • Unless they are working at grade level…
    • Beyond that, their education depends on what their parents can afford.
national association for gifted children
National Association for Gifted Children
  • State of the Nation – a report on the status of gifted education nationwide.
  • Of 36 states reporting:
    • 10 provided $0 for gifted education 2010-11
    • 4 more spent less than $1 million
    • 15 spent $10 million or more
    • 14 have reduced state funding since the last report
times are tough
Times are Tough
  • Gifted education has never been a priority.
  • No Child Left Behind has made funding contingent on performance in ways that divert resources from gifted education.
  • Education for ALL children has increasingly focused on job skills training not other traditional goals of education.
psychology examines giftedness
Psychology examines giftedness

Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius & Worrell (2011). Rethinking giftedness and gifted education: A proposed direction forward based on psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12, 3-54.

Rita Subotnik

goals of gifted education
Goals of Gifted Education
  • Self-actualization versus Eminence
  • Views of the gifted as qualitatively different stress developing the psyche.
  • Subotnik, Kassan et al, 1993 asked:

“Can gifted children grown up claim to be gifted adults without displaying markers of distinction associated with their abilities?”

  • To be labeled “gifted”, adults must display eminence – society has a right to expect this return on their investment.
eminence should be the goal
Eminence should be the goal
  • Subotnik et al. state:

“Increasing the number of individuals who make pathbreaking, field-altering discoveries and creative contributions by their products, innovations, and performance is the aim of…gifted education.”

  • “The world needs more of such individuals...”
  • “Aspiring to fulfillment…will lead to… personal satisfaction… and unimaginable benefits to society.”
what is eminence
What is Eminence?
  • Contributing in a transcendent way to making societal life better and more beautiful.
  • Maximizing one’s lifetime contributions to society.
  • Outstanding accomplishment in the domain of talent is part of the self-actualization of gifted adults.
  • Gifted education should remove barriers to eminence.
easier said than done ask the underpants gnomes
Easier said than done…ask the underpants gnomes


crucial factors
Crucial Factors
  • Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)
    • Little “C” – creativity in class or office that does not create novel products or new info.
    • Big “C” – groundbreaking, field and culture altering products or knowledge in broad contexts resulting in eminent productivity.
  • Motivation
    • Little “M” – small achievement related tasks and decisions that accumulate over time.
    • Big “M” – desire for fame, fortune, power.
  • Psychosocial Factors
    • Low motivation
    • Unproductive mindsets
    • Low level of psychological strength
    • Poor social skills
  • External and Chance Factors
    • Late entry into domain
    • Poor match between interests and opportunities
  • Psychosocial Factors
    • Optimal motivation (big and little “M”)
    • Opportunities taken
    • Productive mindsets
    • Developed psychological strength
    • Developed social skills
  • External and Chance Factors
    • Opportunities offered in/out of school
    • Financial resources & social/cultural capital
questions for mensans
Questions for Mensans
  • Is eminence our Goal for ourselves and/or our kids?
    • Subotnik argues eminence leads to positive self-actualization and individual satisfaction.
  • What does failure to achieve eminence lead to? Do some find the contemplated cost-benefit tradeoffs unacceptable?
  • Does eminence require a buy-in to social values of a competitive culture?
identity as a gifted adult
Identity as a Gifted Adult
  • Does the Big-M motivation require an identity as a gifted or talented person?
  • When that identity is in conflict with other aspects of identity can eminence be achieved?
  • Is that identity fragile?
    • Dweck’s “fixed mindset” found in stereotype threat may apply to the gifted.
    • Is there a need to protect that identity.
personal and social identities
Personal and Social Identities
  • Subotnik mentions BFLPE – big-fish little-pond effect. Does it hold in later life?
  • Cultural ecological theory (Ogbu, 2003) may apply to any group that defines academic achievement as “not for us.”
    • Family may be the basis for exclusion, not simply income, race or ethnicity.
eminent people are not nice
Eminent People are Not Nice

Single-minded control freak, would not let go of a problem, detail-minded, shouted down colleagues, changed his mind, brutal to others.

No sloppy emotions or analog fuzziness, strong-willed, few friends, socially awkward.

social difficulties in highly gifted
Social Difficulties in Highly Gifted
  • Young gifted children may seem quirky or awkward compared with their age peers.
  • Have encompassing interests that are different from age peers.
  • Have sensory issues due to Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities, similar to autistic children.
  • Have unusual vocabulary and mature sentence structures for their age.
  • Resent or even resist transitioning from an area of interest.
  • Enjoy exploring learning topics in more detail than their age peers.
the autism oddity
The Autism Oddity
  • Increased diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome may mistakenly include gifted adults and children.
    • Some gifted adults self-diagnose.
  • Several of the descriptive symptoms of giftedness/autism overlap – obsessive interests, social problems, perseverance.
  • Focus needs to be on differentiating the two, not on the similarities.
how to tell autism from giftedness
How to Tell Autism from Giftedness
  • Asperger's kids have difficulty with social reciprocity whereas gifted kids enjoy sharing information.
  • A gifted child will link his or her multiple topics of interest to other areas of knowledge.
  • Gifted children are often more emotionally sensitive than same-age peers and will respond intensely to the emotions of others.
  • Gifted children have social difficulties with age peers but not those of similar intellectual ability.
mensa s social context
Mensa’s Social Context
  • When gifted adults become socially normal in the context of Mensa, they do not fit diagnostic criteria for autism.
  • Mensa reinforces a social identity that accepts giftedness without compromise.
    • Focus on identity instead of productivity goals undermines eminence.
  • While Mensa does support Big “C” goals, it does not support Big “M” goals.