I'm trying to pull together a roadmap of ideas to help the hypergifted. What I'm setting forth here is intended strictly as a starting point for discussion. We have experts among us who are all too familiar with the problems faced by the severely gifted, and who, I know, are better qualified than I to spell out the problems and possible solutions. (Of course, the Mega Foundation has already taken steps to assist the severely gifted through the Ultranet, and the Telenet.)
What should we, and what could we, do as a society to aid and abet our four+ sigma children?
One problem must surely be the scarcity of such children. Many schools and most teachers may not see such a child in 30 years of teaching. The Internet may, for the first time, offer a vehicle to identify and communicate with such rare aves.
On the other hand, surely our four+ sigma children need special care and attention! For our Victor Lazarons, our Merrill Kenneth Wolfes and our Michael and Maeghan Kearneys, who begin reading before the age of one, and our Andrea Lobels who are conversant with Shakespeare at 5, the first grade is a grotesque absurdity. Stephanie Tolan has written a poignant discussion of this, called, "Is It a Cheetah?" The usual results of forcing such prodigiously gifted children to move at what, for them, is the speed of a snail are intense boredom, poor study habits, and often, behavioral problems. Kevin and Cassidy Kearney have spoken of Michael's and Maeghan's "rage to learn"--their near-addiction to the acquisition of knowledge. My sister, Barbara, the Advanced Placement American History teacher, has told Tommie and me that her brightest students aren't her best students. Barbara says that sometimes she can re-stoke the fire within them and sometimes not. Sometimes, they're so turned off by the time they reach high school that there's no way to rekindle their interest. And this is with students who are at a three-sigma level, and who live in a blue-stocking community. Somehow, we have to find a way to offer our help (which we're trying to do with the Telenet).
To add insult to injury, other children frequently torment and ostracize severely gifted children. (Children can be cruel to each other, and to any child who's different.)
It seems clear to me that children in the four+ sigma range need special attention and special educational arrangements. (We don't call them "severely gifted" for nothing.) And that costs money. Some frequently asked questions that I've encountered on the Internet are"
"How can I determine my child's IQ?"
"How can I generate didactic material fast enough to keep my child fed?"
"Are there any schools that can handle a child as precocious as mine?"
These might be questions to which we Ultranetters could help supply answers.
There probably isn't any ideal answer for children who are so transcendentally bright as some of the members of this list. Older children find them too young, Their support will probably necessitate compromises. The Kearneys' approach with Michael and Maeghan was to spoon-feed them knowledge in their ealy years. The Kearneys wanted to get them into kindergarten so that Kevin and Cassidy would have some time for household chores during the day. However, the Navy kindergartens for which the Kearneys were eligible at the time wouldn't admit children below the age of five. By the time Michael reached five, he was ready for high school, so they enrolled him in high school, with Cassidy attending class with him and taking notes. Michael finished high school within a year and started San Jacinto Junior College. Once again, Cassidy attended class with Michael and took notes. One of the reasons for following this "acceleration" route was that Kevin and Cassidy were desperate to keep Michael fed with the stream of knowledge that he craved. Kevin's philosophy was that Michael needed to learn all that he needed to know, following the usual curriculum, rather than pursuing enriched training that would leave him with gaps in his knowledge and in his formal credentials. Figuratively speaking, Michael and Maeghan had to eat their vegetables before they could eat their ice cream and their cheeseburgers.
An alternative approach is enrichment, in which a child explores the topic of the day. Of course, this could be a powerful motivational tool. At the same time, perhaps it doesn't require as much discipline, which is something Kevin and Cassidy wanted Michael and Maeghan to learn.
Michael and Maeghan have had their problems with the system. What can a 10-year-old college graduate do, other than go to graduate school? What would a graduating 14-year-old Ph. D. do next? (Maybe the Mega Foundation can help with this.)
Kevin and Cassidy got Michael involved in soccer, where for once, Michael wasn't top dog. Michael and Maeghan also had/have friends with similar, though lesser, mental capabilities.
All things considered, I'm personally prejudiced in favor of the Kearneys' approach. Mike, and I presume, Maeghan, feel that they've had very happy childhoods, and considering the childhoods experienced by some of the members of this list, I think that says a lot. They've also gotten through school early, which, to me, would seem to be a priceless opportunity. So many times, super-smart kids don't get through college at all, or at least not through graduate school. I think that's an unconscionable waste. Even though most of what we learn may not be relevant to our daily existence, those credentials are essential to making it in the world. But our university pretensions might lead on to career choices.
Michael and Maeghan have also been spared the slings and arrows of their peers. Gifted children are often held back for social reasons. However, in my experience, social adjustment doesn't occur very well in school, anyway, and the greater the intellectual disparity, the greater the difficulty in getting along with one's same-age peers. I was held back for social reasons. I was very lucky to fit as well as I did as long as I did, but by high school, I was pretty unhappy. Then later, when fiscal disaster caught up with us, I was lucky to get through college. As I've said in my autobiographical sketch, I crawled out of undergraduate school on my hands and knees. Of course, we never know what lies down the other fork in the road, but I think I would have been much better off had I skipped high school and gone directly into college. I also suspect that skipping a number of grades, preferably into high school or college, is better than skipping one or two grades. If you skip one or two grades, you're still among competitors, and you may now be the smallest one in class. On the other hand, among teenagers, you may be treated as a mascot rather than as a competitor.
Among the contributions we might make could be information for parents regarding educational resources and Internet support groups, educational and edutainment software, books, and resources, information regarding the few schools that cater to the supersmart, and wideband audio and, given wideband access, video communication.
Given a budget and funding to support children and their parents, we might be able to help such children more directly.
I intend the above only to start a discussion. What are your ideas?