Happened to the Quiz Kids?"
Perils and Profits of Growing Up Gifted
Ruth Duskin Feldman
Published by the Chicago Review Press, 1982
Remembrance of Things Past
In the 1940's, on one night each week, half an hour was generally reserved for the "Quiz Kids" radio program, when people tuned in to hear such children as Joel Kupperman, Gerard Darrow, Richard. Williams, Ruthie Duskin, and James Watson (of Crick and Watson fame) answer questions in childish voices but with professorial knowledge.
One night, when I was a teenager back in 1943, I was listening to "The Quiz Kids" on the radio when the announcer asked 6-year-old Joel Kupperman to calculate how many seconds there are in a year. There was a stretching silence for, perhaps, 30 or 40 seconds. Finally, Joel spoke up and, in a childish drawl, said, "31,536,000." The announcer started to say, "That's very good, Jo--", but Joel interrupted him, and they tripped over each other for a second. Finally, Joel managed to get the floor, and said, "31,536,360. I added in leap year."
That brought down the house.
Why We Might Be Interested in the Quiz Kids
Like Leta Hollingsworth's "Children above 180 IQ", and Louis Terman's "Termites", the Quiz Kids might hold special interest for us as a group of several hundred extremely bright children whose future histories are available for review.. Ruth Duskin Feldman was one of the first, one of the longest running, and one of the brightest Quiz Kids (with a childhood IQ above 200). Her book, "Whatever Happened to the Quiz Kids?", written in 1982, is a follow-up study of the later lives of a few of the several hundred Quiz Kids who participated with her in the Quiz Kids show between its beginnings, in 1940, and its termination, in 1952.
As I remember it, the children were drawn largely, if not entirely from the Chicago area, although there were occasional guest stars from other locales.
Ms. Feldman mentions that there were four Quiz Kids who tested above I. Q. 200 as children. The greater Chicago area would have had, probably, between 4,500,000 and 6,000,000 inhabitants in the 1940's. The show accepted children from age 4 to age 16 from 1940 to 1952. That would have afforded a total Chicago-based sampling cohort of, perhaps, 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 children (not including children from other cities who sometimes appeared on the show) over the program's tenure. One I. Q. of 200+ per 500,000 people would have agreed fairly well with the observed numbers. (All four of the children with 200+ IQ's, Lon Lunde, Richard Williams, Joel Kupperman, and Ruth Duskin, were from the greater Chicago area.)
The bottom line is that four children with childhood ratio-IQ's of 200+ is about what we would have expected to find in a population sample of this size, based upon the Terman study, Miraca Gross' "Exceptionally Gifted Children" study, and Vernon Sare's 1951 Master's thesis.
"Quiz Kids" was a household word in the 40's, equivalent to "rocket scientist" today. The Quiz Kids probably had greater visibility and better scholarship opportunities than would have been afforded the original ""Children above 180 IQ", and the "Termites". So let's see what did happen to them over the next 30 to 40 years.
Ms. Feldman began by devoting a chapter each to 1982 follow-ups of many of her fellow Quiz Kids, delineating what had happened to them over the intervening years. She then enters into a general discussion of their accomplishments.
"It is therefore noteworthy that very few of the most renowned Quiz Kids---with the striking exception of Joel, who totally spurned his "notorious" past---have followed academic careers. as several of those less prominently featured on the show have done. Some of the latter [who followed academic careers] say their Quiz Kid experience strengthened their commitment to high scholastic standards. Some of the regulars, though, when they got to college, did not strive for high grades, preferring to concentrate on learning for its own sake or to devote time to other activities; and a few such as Lon Lunde and Harvey Dytch, reacted against competitive intellectualism.
"What influenced our relative success in a world beyond "Quiz Kids" and academia was not so much intellect (a commodity we al have in sufficient supply) but the match between interest and ability, the judgment we brought to decisions, and the determination to carry them out... plus, of course, the proverbial bit of good luck.
"As Naomi Cooks Mann points out, the easiest way to succeed is to choose what you are good at. For Lon Lunde and Harvey Dytch, it took years of apparent floundering before they settled on music and science, their early strengths.
"An important study on the ingredients of success is under way at the University of Chicago. There were no child prodigies among the one hundred world-renowned mathematicians, concert pianists, Olympic swimmers and tennis players under age 35 whose histories have been dissected by Professor Benjamin S. Bloom's researchers. In fact, few of these topflight achievers stood out as unusually gifted at the age of 5 or even 10. Some did not show as much ability as siblings who started with similar parental encouragement and early training. One thing that made the difference was motivation; an all-consuming will to excel. Fired by recognition and fueled by expert coaching, these young people concentrated on developing their talents, often to the exclusion of social life and other activities. Similarly, among the Terman group, the top achievers were those who, from childhood on, evinced noticeable drive, ambition, initiative, independence and persistence. Those who chose a vocation rather than drifting into one.
"Of all the Quiz Kid stars, Harve Bennett showed that fiber. The product of achievement-oriented parents, it was he, not they, who insisted he try out for the show. It was he whom his perceptive colleagues singled out as "most unlikely to fail". And it is he who has come closest to the zenith in his chosen field.
"Fundamental to success is the ability to focus on and pursue a goal, as Harve did. Being well-rounded, as Quiz Kids were supposed to be, some of us have found it difficult to do that. Jack Lucal calls himself an 'intellectual wanderer.' Joan Bishop is 'honeycombed.' I never went to graduate school because I could not commit myself to a particular field.
"Multi-potentiality is a mixed blessing for many gifted youths.
"Darwin was no child wonder. He was uninterested in his studies and made false starts on two different careers before joining the voyage of the Beagle at twenty-one as a junior naturalist. As his autobiography reveals, he considered his abilities only moderate. He was not, he claimed, quick or clever; he had difficulty following an abstract train of thought; and his memory was so poor that he could not recall a date of a line of poetry for more than a few days(!) Certainly not Quiz Kid material!
"What he did have was a love of science, 'unbounding patience,' industriousness, and 'a fair share invention as well as common sense.' Above all, an open mind and 'the strongest desire to understand or explain' what he observed. Like other great thinkers, he had what has been called a 'divine discontent; urging him on...a combination of inspiration and self-discipline.
"In a Darwinian sense, the fittest were those of us whose talents were particularly adapted to success in the Quiz Kid environment; and those abilities, in turn, were sharpened in the process. That we were not necessarily fittest to be opera stars or Nobel prizewinners, Presidents or Popes, should disappoint only the naive.
"Yet some of us have a nagging feeling that we should have done more.
"Some of us, as often happens with gifted children, became semi-compulsive perfectionists, driven by the need to continue to be best or by the dread of failure.
"I, for one, found it difficult, after my childhood laurels and my parents' lavish praise, to accept life's inevitable disappointments and my own parental shortcomings. While my early success left me (as it did some of my Quiz Kid colleagues) with the buoying but rather irrational feeling that I can do anything, at the same time I felt inadequate to meet that impossible expectation. One reason is that the more deeply I went into something, the more distant horizons I could glimpse. In college, I would come out of each examination worried about how I had done--to my classmates' disbelief, since I rarely fell below an A.
"Of course, as Dick Williams points out, there has been a radical change in the way some Americans define success." "This, as Dick says if one asks the question 'Did the Quiz Kids fulfill their potential?', one must first define what is meant by potential.
"My story is probably typical of the middle-class woman of my generation who married young and fell into motherhood without having made a clear-cut career commitment. But, laboring under the Quiz-Kids-induced delusion that I would continue to be an exception, I assumed I would be able to pick where I had left off and arrive at a distinguished career some day. Two decades later, I found that catching up was not so easy."
Ms. Feldman continues:
"There are approximately 2,000,000 children in the United States with IQ's of 140 or more. Persons in that range (which would include most Quiz Kids) constitute, according to some estimates, one percent of the population: a potential genius for every hundred people walking the streets! Even Terman began to back off from such blanket characterizations when faced with the fact that not all his subjects had enjoyed brilliant careers. (interestingly, on the other side of the coin, Nobel prizewinners William Shockley and Luis Alvarez reportedly did not qualify for the Terman sample.)
"Lou Cowan, originator of the "Quiz Kids," understood as some of our public did not) that I. Q. alone does not a genius make, and that a child who can read at three, identify hundreds of birds, or memorize a long list of Biblical "begats" is not , ipso facto, a prodigy. True prodigies are rare, and are not, generally speaking, found on quiz shows. They are too busy pursuing the intensive training they need in order to advance in their fields---usually self-contained fields like music or math, which can be mastered rapidly without consummate life experience.
"'Quiz Kids' did number some musical prodigies among its roster, including Lonny Lunde and Joan Bishop. For numerical virtuosity, we might nominate Joel Kupperman and Richard Williams. But Joan and Lon chose not to pursue concert piano careers, and neither Joel nor Dick cared to devote himself to higher mathematics.
"As Professor David Feldman of Tufts University points out, interest and tenacious commitment are keys to a prodigy's progress. Further, it is not uncommon for a musical prodigy to peak early and drop from notice, nor for a math prodigy to end up in a different field--few, as they move along, show the inclination or capacity for deep mathematical analysis. And prodigious capability rarely transfers from one field to another."
Additional discussion of these findings may be found here.
the Quiz Kids were ambivalent, if not downright negative about their stints
on the Quiz Kids program. Like the "Termites", by and large, they ended
up prosperous and successful as adults. James Watson was the Nobel Prize-winner
of the group. It's important to realize that when their childhood ratio
I. Q.'s are converted to deviation I. Q.'s, they were very bright but of
course, not as extraordinary as those childhood ratio I. Q.'s would have
suggested. The average I. Q. Of the ~600 children who participated in the
original show over its 12-year history was about 160, corresponding to
a deviation I. Q. of 150, and an expected frequency of occurrence (for
an I. Q. of 150 and above) of about 1 in 1,100. Factoring in whatever regression
to the mean may have occurred as they grew into adulthood, and whatever
"digression from the mean" may have occurred with other "late-blooming"
children in the Chicago area who might have overtaken them in adulthood,
possibly their accomplishments were about what might be expected in such
a group. Still, that doesn't explain why the brightest among them failed
to do any better than, or as well as some of the lesser lights.