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Many gifted children fail academically (umontreal.ca)
100 points by tokenadult on May 9, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 117 comments

That seems right. I think that a lot of the educational curriculum is just targeted to the average, so if you are smarter, it can just all seem incredibly boring.

One example which really pissed me off when i was a student is how so many math classes in college base a huge portion of your final grade on tons of mind numbing homework. This of course is targeted to the average idiot: the university has figured out that most students have trouble with math and in order to avoid high failing grades they create homework which is a way for people to get points toward their grade by solving the same simple problem over and over and over again. And of course you do not need to understand the material to do the homework, because if there is a problem you cannot do you can just ask the TA, etc. Thus, they replace true understanding with memorisation and dull grinding work. Of course most smart people I knew would more or less blow off the homework and just ace the tests, and thus they would often end up getting a B- even though they probably understood the material better than anyone else.

I hate "me too" posts, but when I saw what you wrote I really did want to give you more than one "upvote". I'm a mathematics (and computer science) major at a large, middle of the road university and I can say my experience has been exactly this. I gave my full rant in another comment ( http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1312043 ). Basically, real mathematics takes a lot of mental resources, so in order to appeal to the masses universities have to make the material mind-numbingly stupid. Remember: it would be unacceptable to large corporations if only 1% of the current engineering graduates were graduating, regardless of how much smarter that smaller group would be.

> Of course most smart people I knew would more or less blow off the homework and just ace the tests, and thus they would often end up getting a B- even though they probably understood the material better than anyone else.

My Calculus II class graded mostly on the stupid homework (from James Stewart's book, no less) and attendance!

Unless you care enough to work hard in highschool and have enough money to go to a school like MIT, "higher" education is a huge joke.

MIT is free if your parents make less than $75k/year.

If I had known that, I would have actually tried in highschool.

That's why I'm trying to spread the word. :-)

and if you like to compete in something that lets less than 10% win (prize = admission).

Right, because if you happen to not get into MIT, all of your high school preparatory effort was entirely wasted. (MIT alum here, but there's nothing all that singularly unique about MIT in my book. I'm glad I was able to go, but I also realize (claim?) that most people who would be successful at MIT will be successful wherever they go, and that MIT is likely a rounding error in their success. MIT doesn't turn lead applicants into gold graduates.)

How rapidly can you place upward into more advanced classes (presumably only for math majors) at your university?

It's not about placing more rapidly. If you don't know the material then you need to learn it somehow, but if the course goes at a snail's pace then who the hell wants to waste their time showing up?

You need not just proper placement, but proper speed.

Placing out of a boringly paced class into a different boringly paced class doesn't help.

Placing out of a boringly paced class into a different boringly paced class doesn't help.

True, as I discovered after my grade skip from fifth grade to seventh grade. That's why my involvement in nonprofit organizations is all about finding better curricula for gifted learners, even if I have to write the curricula myself.

It depends on the classes, actually. They do "clepping out" on a per-professor basis. But trust me, I'm looking into that.

EDIT: I even sat in on an upper-level programming languages course, and the most advanced thing you learned (from what I gathered) was a bit of Common Lisp. I hate to sound like an arrogant ass, but for the entire lecture I was thinking "Is there something wrong with me? I learned this in highschool!"

You mentioned getting a scholarship in the other post about your college. What dictated your college choice?

Short answer: money.

Long answer: I had an ACT in the 30s and a GPA of 3.9 upon graduation from highschool, and I took a few AP courses (my school only offered 3, and in addition I took AP Physics over the internet (terrible idea)), got a 5 in the AP Calc test, etc. but past that I hadn't taken the SAT subject tests or anything, so I wasn't really competitive. My family and I don't have a lot of excess money just lying around, and basically my options were thus: get admitted to a couple upper-tier-but-not-Ivy-League schools and pay with money I didn't have, or go to a crappy state school with scholarships.

I've had a job since 7th grade (but there are not a lot of tech companies in my area, so they haven't really been 'tech' jobs), but all of that was saved for buying my own vehicle, insurance, 'spare' money for college, etc. I remember getting excited when I received a ~$20K a year scholarship to a "Blah Blah Institute of Technology", only to find that it cost $50K a year to attend.

Overall, I'm burnt on the education system. My goal now is to get out with a stupid degree before I completely crash, but I'm already coming dangerously close...

EDIT: I was also in Duke's TIP program, which got me mail from Columbia and the like, but once again I couldn't really afford to go through with any of that.

EDIT 2: Before this sounds like just a bunch of whining, a huge chunk of this was my fault. I could have had higher scores and grades and whatnot, but I really just didn't give a shit. I hated school, and wanted to do as little as possible. I've always loved learning though.

You pretty much sound exactly like me. You're not alone at all.

I know it sounds corny, but it does feel good to hear someone say that. (-:

Good. That's why I said it. :)

I had a 4.7 GPA in high school. (Yay honors classes and my school being more interested in making themselves look good than math.) By my sophomore year of college, I was completely burned out. If I love learning so much, why did I hate college? It was supposed to be different...

I ended up not finishing my degree to get into the startup game. I feel much, much better now. I don't think I'm going back, even though I only need one or two classes to be done. Yeah, a piece of paper might be nice in the general sense... but I don't want to give those bastards another dime. I had to take out loans to pay for all of school, so I'm a solid 70k in the hole. Fun times.

>I had a 4.7 GPA in high school.

Funny story: my school wouldn't allow you to score over a 4.0 on anything. This meant that if, for example, you blew off a stupid humanities class and got a 'B', you could never have a 4.0. This is great in theory, as most schools should ask for a "GPA out of a 4.0" number, and all would be grand. In practice, they didn't, so my official transcript from the school would always read '3.9', without giving any clue that the GPA's were capped!

Craaazy. My school gave you + .125 for honors, and + .25 for AP courses. This would be added after the division... a 4.0 for an A and a 3.0 for a B, both AP, ends up as ((4 + 3) / 2) + (.25 + .25) = 4.0.

Oh, and everyone over a 4.0 gets reported as valedictorian.

Oh, mine was pretty neat too. We didn't have a 4.0 scale. It wasn't a 5.0 scale either.. it was just kind of arbitrary. The AP and honors courses had a higher "weight" (1.1 or 1.2 instead of the normal 1.0). So it was possible to get i.e. 4.8 if you took four AP courses. But here's the kicker: if you took other 1-weighted courses, they'd bring your GPA _down_. So it was possible to take 12 courses, ace them all, and get a LOWER GPA than someone who took the bare minimum number of courses. This happened to me.

The math can't possibly work out that way (or your school isn't attempting to report anything remotely useful as a GPA).

Get straight Bs and take 4 AP classes or 8 honors classes over your 4-year career and get a 4.0? I call BS.

> (or your school isn't attempting to report anything remotely useful as a GPA)

That is correct.

> Get straight Bs and take 4 AP classes or 8 honors classes over your 4-year career and get a 4.0? I call BS.

This is exactly what I did. I took all honors courses and did well in all of them.

Oh, so I found my school handbook, if you'd like to see. Apparently they changed the addition to 0.06 and .12. It's on page 27:


Wow. You are correct, and I apologize for calling BS on you. That system is appalling. I call BS on your school system... :)

No big deal. It _is_ incredibly ridiculous. Also, see the post by jfbillingsley above. he's a friend of mine. At least I got good things because of my school's terrible grading...

Speaking of high school grade systems, my school had grades out of 100. Talk about unnecessary competitiveness (both with yourself and others). I obsessed over getting 97s and 98s rather than 94s and 95s. While we weren't officially ranked, it was well known that out of 700-800 students in your class, a 98 average put you in the top 5, and a 94 put you somewhere in the top 100-200. Because the school released college admissions statistics (in the format of GPA | SAT | accepted/rejected/waitlist), you could see that you have empirically little chance of getting into Harvard with that 94, but a very very good chance with that 98.

That said, most people were generally very smart, passionate and inspiring people to be around. They actually cared about at least some subset of what they were learning. But a lot of the work was pure grind, and to impose that on a bunch of smart creative people is a shame.

Oh man, really? That's been my experience in high school, but I was really looking forward to college, where I heard that many professors make homework totally optional and the vast majority of one's grade comes from tests.

I was really looking forward to college, where I heard that many professors make homework totally optional and the vast majority of one's grade comes from tests.

You would probably like majoring in math at the University of Minnesota then. The reason to do (self-chosen) homework between the tests is just to be ready for the tests. (Well, really the reason to learn anything should be to learn it, irrespective of grades, but you know what I mean.)

That's what they told me too.

It depends on the college. I would imagine that Stanford would be a bit better quality than my school.

In a Stanford CS project-heavy class, the projects are usually 50% or more of your final grade, and those are pretty tough to do without some understanding of the material. In a problem set class, the exams are typically 50% or more. For example, in CS103 (learning the basics like proofs, induction, graph theory, set theory, a little complexity, etc.) your grade is 45% psets and 55% exams; in 154 (in-depth complexity), it's 40/60. In 248 (3d graphics) it's 90% projects, 10% exam. So even if you get a TA who helps a little too much on psets, you won't get better than a B without understanding the material.

From CS-106X, Programming Abstractions (intro course)


Your final grade will be computed as follows:

    Programs   25 % 
    Midterm    25 % 
    Final      50 %

From 51 H, Multivariable Calculus (freshman course)



    Mid-term 1:  20% 
    Mid-term 2:  20% 
    Homework:    20% 
    Final Examination:  40%

I tested very highly in grade school and was invited to take part in a gifted student program. I didn't have a chance to enroll however, as my family moved that summer. After that I started doing very poorly in school, mostly because I just stopped doing any of the work which I considered pointless busy work. I was both bored and lazy.

In high school I started skipping classes and found refuge in the back of the school library. Later I became bold enough to leave campus all together. I would take the bus to the local university where I would pretend to be a student. I mostly hung out in an isolated area of the 'terminal room' where I would log in to my various hacked student accounts and work on programming projects. I dropped out of high school my sophomore year. I spent some time at same university studying computer science as a non-matriculated student before leaving to join the tech industry where I've been ever since.

While I feel I've been reasonably successful in life, I am an academic failure. My high school GPA was I believe 0.62. I have never bothered to earn a GED.

Wow. I imagine I could have ended up very much in the same situation as you had things gone somewhat differently.

I would highly recommend earning a GED, by the way. Also, I think you might be capable of being more than merely "reasonably" successful if you put in the effort.

A lot of this resonated with me.

There is a hidden assumption, however, that somehow a gifted child is failing if they do not get some post-grad education. Lots of gifted people become autodidacts. I would be more interested in gifted people who gave up on learning than I would be gifted people who didn't complete some formal education system.

The title is correct. The value system underlying the study is debatable.

> "The title is correct."

Perhaps a modification would be appropriate:

Many gifted children fail at the commonly accepted academic standards.

The value of the commonly accepted academic standards is debatable.

Given my IQ, I could be considered a failure because I stopped with a Masters instead of finishing a PhD. I might be considered a huge failure because I've devoted myself to raising my son (and learning lots of interesting things along the way) rather than to a technical career. But I'm not a failure, I'm simply succeeding on a different path from the expected one.

I might be considered a huge failure because I've devoted myself to raising my son (and learning lots of interesting things along the way) rather than to a technical career.

Not by me. I've been following much the same path. Learning more about my children's interests has helped prepare me for a more challenging career now that my children are growing up.

>I might be considered a huge failure because I've devoted myself to raising my son (and learning lots of interesting things along the way) rather than to a technical career.

The system in place would consider you a failure because you haven't lived up to the expectations of what the system wanted you to do. No one can claim that as an absolute, no matter how hard they try. (;

Yeah I was just thinking that maybe gifted people are more likely to perceive how the social contract of higher education is breaking down even as tuition shoots through the roof with no slowdown in sight.

I mean sure, some careers require a certain level of formal education, and Ivy League still gets you into the good ol' boys club, but in many many cases the cost/benefit of even an undergrad degree is questionable; especially if you are above average.

I hate to say it, but after spending some time at an average college that I got a scholarship to, it became rather apparent that a lot of the regular people who go to college do so because they don't know any better. That's why things like "Undergraduate Studies" and "General Business" degrees exist. The college is ultimately a business, and that business can only sustain itself if is has a sizable source of revenue; telling unmotivated slobs that they should be questioning the value of taking 15 hours a semester of "general education" credits isn't high up on the list of priorities.

Most schools are geared toward normal people. Gifted people don't learn at a normal pace. Attending a normal school is forcing yourself to learn more slowly, or feel like school is pointless because you already know what you're being taught.

I don't think I qualify as 'gifted' by any stretch of the imagination, but I did teach myself electronics, how to program and a bunch of other skills, it is more a matter of persistence than talent in my case.

I do find that it helps though once you've reached a basic understanding of a subject to search out other people to help broaden your perspective, it also helps tremendously when you get stuck.

Learning by doing stuff at your own pace is quite satisfying, but it is not good to be doing this 'on your own' forever. You run the risk of getting stuck on a dead end road.

I think plenty of the crank scientists out there are 'autodidacts' that never learned to communicate with others. That's a fairly easy trap to fall in to, if you are your own teacher then there is nobody to tell you that you are dead wrong before you've dug yourself in too far to back out.

Gifted students fail because the system is setup for hard work, not intelligence (or results).

I went to a special high school (Illinois Math & Science Academy). It was very difficult and very engaging; I learned a lot and enjoyed every day.

Taking hard classes, though, is not good for college -- I was mostly a B student (but in things like number theory, linear algebra, electricity & magnetism), and was being compared against the A students from average high schools when it came to college admissions. The result was that I didn't get in anywhere really great, went to an average school, and was so bored that I basically failed out. (Technically, I withdrew without credit after the second semester. The first semester was great, because I took classes that I wanted to take instead of "required classes", including DJB's UNIX security course. If every class was like that, I would have never wanted to leave college. But sadly, most classes involved little more than showing up and reading 1000 pages of boring books.)

If the college classes had been more interesting than kindergarten, I would have gone... but the reality was that the professors didn't speak English, the students didn't speak English, and I already knew everything they were teaching me anyway. It wasn't going to work. It depressed me, so I had to leave.

The good news is that once you get out of academia and into the real world, the odds shift very greatly in favor of the gifted. Nobody cares how hard you work, they care that you solve their problems. Seems like every year, a new job offer comes around that wants to double my salary -- not exactly what the academic establishment would say about long-haired hippies that get up at noon and dropped out of college.

But the programming world is an odd one :)

I see you attended UIC. Did UIUC reject you, or did you choose not to go there? My experience at the U of I was quite different from your description of the academic world. Sure, most students -- even those in the College of Engineering -- were quite bad, but every single professor in the CS department I met was nothing short of stellar.

Yeah, I chose not to go there. I probably would have liked it a lot better.

Does UIUC have much higher tuition or something? It's a much, much better school.

If the college classes had been more interesting than kindergarten, I would have gone... but the reality was that the professors didn't speak English, the students didn't speak English, and I already knew everything they were teaching me anyway. It wasn't going to work. It depressed me, so I had to leave.

There is being gifted, and being arrogant (and young?). It's hard to tell them apart when reading comments on HN. How do we know if really you knew those thousands of pages already, or if you only thought your knew them.

Why would I tell you I knew them if I didn't know I knew them?

I was considered "gifted" throughout elementary school. Around the beginning of high school I put my mind to work—and realized that as long as I continued to pass, no one was going to look at my high-school marks besides university acceptance committees. Further, it was both easier and cheaper to attend Low-Status Community College A, get a high CGPA, and use that to enter/finish at High-Status University B by course transfer, than it would be to try to be accepted by B from the start, given that the first few undergraduate years of A and B are basically the same (there's really a limit to how much you can learn in a Calculus I course, no matter how well the teacher is being paid or how many grants they've received.)

I promptly stopped being "gifted." (That is to say, I invested much, much less than my full effort in anything asked of me from that point on.)

Things I wish I had known when I was younger...

The current education system is essentially a massive gift to people* who are willing to make the most of it.

You get a ton of free time which you can use on any project you like. People (in education, business and especially government) are willing to put in a huge amount of time and effort to help you if you ask. Any (business) mistakes you make, even quite serious ones, are treated with leniency and there is no stigma to failing and starting over.

For a good portion of that time trivia such as cooking and cleaning can be entirely delegated to someone else, provided you are engaged on a venture that can be described in a way that makes it meet with parental approval.

The only thing you have to do to stay in this paradise of self-determined education and exploration is to turn up to some classes (40 hours a week! that's hardly a full work load) and occasionally pole vault over a final exam. If you really are so smart you should be able to do that with ease.

Frankly I think that people who think that the current educational system let them down probably failed to hack it to their best advantage. I know I didn't take full advantage of it, but I acknowledge that it was my problem and not the fault of the system.

*At least, people with parents willing to help you work out how to pay the bills.

So did you actually implement that A-B transfer idea? Cause I very seldom seen it work out for people (but, granted, it was a different country)

In my experience, school was incredibly boring for the most part. I'm far better at teaching myself than other people are at teaching me.

Figuring things out on your own takes longer than having someone simply tell you what they already know. Learning alone is often reinventing the wheel. Sometimes that is good for you, sometimes it isn't.

I think the issue here is that average teachers aren't good at teaching above-average students. What you need is an above-average teacher. Someone on your level, but older and wiser.

Also, you can find teachers outside of schools. I consider a few of my friends to be mentors. Older, wiser people are very much worth paying a great deal of attention to.

Also, you can find teachers outside of schools. I consider a few of my friends to be mentors. Older, wiser people are very much worth paying a great deal of attention to.

This is very true. The trick is to find mentors who will have oomph in the college admission process, if a student doesn't have a high school good at communicating with colleges.

A quotation I saw in a tagline on the Art of Problem Solving website, which I'm having trouble tracing to a source: "Why do we need to reinvent the wheel? Not because we need more wheels, but because we need more inventors."

Yes, but figuring things out on your own are lessons that stay for a lifetime. Having someone tell you stuff is easy come, easy gone.

Learning by doing is not all bad, even if it is a bit slower.

Learning on your own is not necessarily significantly different than studying, especially in the modern day of omni-available media (e.g. wikipedia).

Many years ago when I was in high school (before the web) I discovered that reading things like national geographic and scientific american on my own time was a perfectly adequate and often superior replacement to a full year long course in biology (which I didn't take and yet still managed to be at the very top of my class in AP biology). And I didn't start to outstrip my home grown knowledge of particle physics until I started taking 400 level Chemistry courses in college.

>>> Figuring things out on your own takes longer than having someone simply tell you what they already know.

That's why people write and read books and papers.

No. Asking someone a question is a lot less time consuming than reading an entire book to get one paragraph worth of summarized, distilled knowledge. Reading a book counts as "figuring it out yourself".

Actually, asking a question has much higher average latency. Reading a book has much higher total throughput and much better average latency, because it allows you to "ask" questions (look at the index for the appropriate section, for example) from within the correct context, which is key to understanding.

True, but reading a longer work on a topic can also reveal a lot of things you didn't know you didn't know.

Indeed. Self-teaching and instruction are not mutually exclusive, in fact, together, they probably amount to synergy.

But reading is faster than listening. In my case, about 7x faster. So having someone literally tell me is slower than having them write it to me.

If you ask someone knowledgeable a specific question, they can frame the answer (and question) in the right context, customized for you and your question, and make you see the big picture. Also, you can follow up with more questions until you understand. It's easy to read something and completely miss the point (unless it is very well presented) because there is no interaction.

It is certainly valid to claim that one can learn things this way, but it hardly seems to be the purpose of schooling. If I could read a 45 minute lecture in 7 minutes, I would then have an additional 38 minutes of question time. It's even more inefficient to sit in a classroom full of people, listening to "customized" questions asked on subjects that you fully understand. The scenario that bugs me the most is when a fellow student asks a confused question that indicates to me he has understood very little of the lecture, the instructor then proceeds to answer it poorly, which then confuses other students.

That's why Plato wrote dialogues.

That's because the school system, and especially the social system embedded in it, fails us thoroughly. As far as I could tell, it's actually designed to discourage gifted children from realizing their potential.

For these I usually casually nod, but it's actually a bigger problem than I'd normally like to admit.

I have read seriously less books than is healthy and have memorised as little as humanly possible from a young age on the logic that I should simply compensate with creating enough intelligence to work it out (no joking).

Didn't start learning any reactions in science until very late on the basis that we couldn't possibly have to memorise all reactions that could be made, therefore why learn just a few arbitrary ones in class.

Scored a standard pass in mathematics at 16, naturally went into the standard mathematics class for the next two years instead of the advanced class. Found the mathematics more interesting at this level (though still quite arbitrary) and scored a high grade. The point isn't that I scored high, but that I could've taken the more interesting further mathematics, had I taken an interest in mindless long division methods earlier on.

The sad part is that I'm not even the smartest guy in the room, I'm just so damn insistent on doing things logically.

Anyway, I'm posting this anonymously because it's more than I'd like to admit to, but am throwing it out there in case anyone else has taken this style of learning to such absurd levels (and I'll re-iterate, I'm not blowing my trumpet, I'm not especially smart).

I hear you. I've always insisted on figuring things out instead of memorizing them.

Here's an anecdote: back at high school, my class was told to write all of the basic sine-cosine formulae 100 times. The homework was worth 5 marks. I found I could derive most formulae myself, so I didn't do the homework. The result? Not only did I lose 5 marks, I also scored badly on the test because it was rigged. You could only solve the test questions if you had crammed every one of those trigonometric identities. (I did manage to solve most of those questions, but deriving the formulae from scratch took time. The test consisted of a lot of questions, each of which was worth very few marks.)

This has happened to me over and over in the past four years, in both high school and college. And no, I'm not "gifted". I'm just an average student who likes to understand how things work.

I've always had an apprehensiveness towards classes or jobs that require you to memorize things before you've actually encountered the necessity to do so. If you're paying attention while you're working through math problems, programming assignments, etc., patterns emerge and you quickly realize what constants are important, which programming methods you should remember the argument order to (or keyword/symbol names), etc.

I guess I understand (begrudgingly) the necessity to memorize something for a high school math test where you don't have the resources at your disposal to actually find the answers yourself, but in the "real world" where finding the information you're looking for is so quick and inexpensive, it seems like a waste to invest in something that might not be necessary. (Also, for some people who don't have the skills to think through solving those problems on their own, it could be a pretty big disservice.)

I can't even begin to remember how many constants, dates, formulas, names, etc. that I've memorized for a test and then promptly forgot.

The two aren't mutually exclusive. Just because you understand how to derive a formula doesn't mean that it's not useful to memorize it.

amen ... oftentimes a cache look-up is way faster than re-computation, and by developing your associative memory, you're effectively "increasing the size of your cache" over time, which is never a bad thing. some of the smartest people i know have incredible memories and are able to pull together memories from seemingly disparate times, places, and subjects to generate insights that are simply impossible to come up with by stubbornly deriving from first principles

Aye. That is what I do these days. But my long term retention rate for math formulae is nearly zero.

I just came home from a math exam. During the exam, I could recall almost every formula I had crammed last night. By tonight, I'll forget nearly half of them. In two weeks, I'll only remember 10% of the stuff I learned, and that too merely because some of those formulae were strikingly obvious or wonderfully symmetrical.

I guess I just have a terrible memory.

You're not alone in this department. Repetition is the key.

More: http://www.supermemo.com/english/princip.htm (the whole site is pretty decent at explaining the process of learning)

> And no, I'm not "gifted". I'm just an average student who likes to understand how things work.

The really smart thing to do would have been to both know how the formulae are derived, and also notice patterns in them that will help you remember them (symmetry, special cases, designing your own mnemonics, etc.).

Sure, smart people can do this, but you'll find many don't simply because they question its necessity. Or even simpler because it just isn't interesting and they could be thinking about other things.

You can be a stealth failure, too, by breezing through Podunk University instead of challenging yourself. Probably requires low personal/family-imposed aspirations to go unquestioned.

Going to Podunk University has little to do with challenging yourself. Most people (including "smart" people) would likely be better off taking a free ride at Podunk U than an $80K+ degree at a "prestigious" private school.

How much of an academic difference do you think is WORTH a difference in out-of-pocket cost? Some people take out loans to study at a particular college, viewing attending that college as an "investment." (My oldest son, having just had that choice, chose to attend our state flagship university. He essentially will be paid to study at State U.) Is it reasonable to suppose that some brand names of colleges (even if not all) might be worth more up-front expense?

I simply meant somewhere with lower academic standards/expectations (maybe I use Podunk wrongly). I don't know about the US system, so no $$$ issues were in mind.

I've seen a lot of people who have passed through the halls of academia and earned a 4 year degree yet have an absolutely minuscule degree of knowledge, expertise, or talent in their chosen alleged topic of study.

I understand that they're using a specific definition of gifted in the article (mental age > 1 + physical age), but the tone still bothers me. If a child is gifted, and does not succeed, does that not mean they are not gifted? Or, to phrase it as a solvable problem, doesn't this mean our metrics for determining success at an early age are flawed?

We've known for a long time that IQ does not guarantee success at any level in life, so I'm not sure why it is a surprise when high-IQ children do not come out on top. Even worse, they don't explain how they calculate mental age, and why this should translate to success throughout the school years.

The thesis here ("Initially promising children often underperform") might be correct, but there is nothing in the methodology that supports this point. It seems too fluffy and full of assumptions to take seriously.

education system is designed for average children, if you're too smart or too dumb, you'll fail.

I suspect with smart children, they usually don't want to memorize boring bits, in first years they are used to understand everything necessary during the class and generally didn't have to spend any time preparing for the school at home. as time passes, school becomes more difficult and students are required just to memorize rather than actually understand. this is why many smart children are taken by surprise at some point, they are not used to memorize knowledge just to pass the tests and many times they would simply refuse to do this and therefore fail.

it makes sense perfectly. look at some smart and successful people on the planet, you will see the same pattern: in real world - success, academically failures.

"If a child is gifted, and does not succeed, does that not mean they are not gifted? "

It depends on your definition of success. Most people would not define success in life by their GPA. This article is telling us that high-iq children are not academically successful (as measured by their school grades).

Even worse, they don't explain how they calculate mental age

"Mental age" can be synonymous with IQ. I assume thats how the author of the article was using the phrase. Some variations of IQ tests present IQ as a ratio of mental age over chronological age, especially useful for testing children who are expected to be underdeveloped compared to an adult.

Then there seems to be something missing here. I agree -- academics is only one area of success. But if gifted does not correlate with academic success, what kind of success are they talking about? Marking certain kids as gifted is a useless exercise unless that information actually translates into some kind -- any kind -- of success. If there is no predictive power to the test, then, at best, the test is useless.

The thesis here ("Initially promising children often underperform") might be correct, but there is nothing in the methodology that supports this point.

What troubles me about the submitted article (which I submitted after seeing it recommended by a local friend on a statewide email list in my state) is that the lead paragraph includes the statement "According to a 2003 study, a mere 40 percent of gifted children will complete an undergraduate degree or pursue graduate studies. The rest drop out." I see contact information for the University of Montreal press officer (for follow-up on this press release), but I don't see any citation to anyone's study, and it is not at all clear who constituted the 2003 study population. Perhaps that was a very unrepresentative group of gifted students and this result will never be replicated. I'm not at all sure what is going on here based on the reported statement. This drives me back to Peter Norvig's advice on reading research reports


and suggests much better research is needed on this issue.

How does the lack of a citation in a laymans article suggest much better research is needed on this issue?

You are arguing that "Perhaps that was a very unrepresentative group of gifted students and this result will never be replicated". Well perhaps not. Given people doing research are not as stupid as random people on the internet think they are, and that experimental results are a better source of knowledge than blind statements on forums, I would put very low priors on your assertion.

I went all the way back to your first post on HN the last time you flamed on this issue, and I get where you are coming from. But I don't think you get where I'm coming from. I simply think that everyone engaged in science, from the lofty Nobel Prize winner to the first-year graduate student grunt worker, has to be prepared to follow correct methodology, each day and every day.

It happens, among all subjects that are researched, that I am most familiar with the research on psychology of human abilities and education reform (especially the intersection of those subjects, education of gifted children). Most of what passes for "research" in those subjects is appallingly bad from a methodological point of view. I've seen very influential publications with recommendations on gifted education that consist entirely of "fudge"--made-up citations that can't be verified if you look at the cited journals, and "studies" with no description of how the data were observed at all.

When a press release writes "According to a 2003 study," I immediately look for a citation of the study. Scientific studies that get published all have citations. Serious scholars cite that which is published. My alarm bells went off when I didn't see any citation to any study to back up that extremely implausible point. If you want to talk about priors, my statement is that it is EXTREMELY implausible that "a mere 40 percent of gifted children will complete an undergraduate degree" by any reasonable definition of "gifted." There are severe economic limitations on college access for some learners (cited by me in another post in this thread). But my claim is that well over half of "gifted" learners in the United States in my generation or subsequent generations eventually complete a college degree, and that the "study" mentioned but not cited in the press release is bogus.

After edit: Whenever I think about the hard work that scientists do, I'm reminded of Richard Feynman's commencement speech "Cargo Cult Science"



in which the important statement occurs:

"But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves--of having utter scientific integrity--is, I'm sorry to say, something that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis.

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that."

Have you ever written to Peter Norvig, Google's director of research, with your comments on his article?


Perhaps he could reflect your point of view the next time he revises that article, if you think there is something there in need of correction. On my part, I post the article a lot because my late father (a chemistry major who extensively studied the philosophy of science) alerted me to the issue of replicating research findings when I was quite young. Odd findings may be the next great discovery. They may also be flawed, mistaken observations.

Honestly, read your post and try to apply basic scientific tenets to it. I see examples of bias, rejection of results without justification (peer reviewed support), misidentification of a report to the public as a scientific paper, a claim without any scientific support, and an assumption that researchers aren't trying to perform good science. When weighing up your anecdotal claims against real research, I would always accept the latter. Do you disagree?

Note: I have no problem with you at all, and I'm not trying to flame, but I do have a problem with posts promoting what I consider a misunderstanding of the process of science.

My general point is that you are claiming the research is bogus without even a good critique of the methodology, sourcing the original article or providing any evidence of your own to the contrary, and using Norvigs article to prop up your argument. Science doesn't work that way.

Norvig's material is great when applied properly, and I have no issue with it. To reiterate: I am not critiquing Norvig's article, I am critiquing your argument.

To reiterate: I am not critiquing Norvig's article, I am critiquing your argument.

To reiterate: any time I post the Norvig article here on HN, it is because I see a popular press report on something that appears to be a scientific finding, without any affirmative showing that proper science was done to reach that finding. As a reader in the general public, it is not my job to do unpaid scientific research to refute purported scientific findings, but rather my friendly suggestion to my fellow readers that they check whether a claim is put forth on the basis of verifiable research conducted by proper protocols. I presume that if a press release were issued by your lab for reading by the general public, it would link to a peer-reviewed professional journal where the research either has been published or is about to be published. Any time a Hacker News thread brings up a research finding, and someone says, "Here is the link to the published article," I upvote that, because we can all do with more experience here in reading more scientific journal articles about more subjects. (It's regrettable, by the way, that there are still so many journal articles behind paywalls. I currently have access to a JSTOR subscription; if I did not, I would have much less access to scientific literature online.)

It appears that you and I agree that scientific research should be conducted according to certain well established methods. You are certainly more learned than I in the specifics of statistics, as I have observed when lurking in other threads. But the thread in which you first caught my notice for decrying my frequent posting of the link to the Norvig article on reading research


caught my eye because I thought it reflected a rather odd misunderstanding of my reason for posting the link. I post not to dissuade readers from taking scientific findings seriously, but precisely the contrary, to persuade readers to distinguish genuine science from publicity-seeking by press release.

I think it is in your very first post on HN that you asked a question about corruption in certain unnamed places. I have lived in other countries, so it doesn't surprise me to find out that some government officials are more persuaded by bribes than by scientific research. More generally, even before I had lived overseas, I had studied enough history and enough psychology (besides the philosophy of science I mentioned above) to be aware that human beings respond to incentives to disregard truth for personal advantage. I am especially careful here on HN to encourage readers to check sources and facts before believing the latest purported scientific finding, because examples abound



of persons who make false claims (sometimes because of sincere self-delusion, and other times for more despicable reasons) that purport to be scientific claims.

If a claim comes along that is warranted by careful research, the research findings should be published somewhere--every science researcher has plenty of incentive to publish--and it would be enough, after I post the link to Peter Norvig's article, for someone else to post "Here's a link to the published study, for all of us to check." I like to learn more about science. I like for everyone to learn more about GENUINE science.

P.S. If we search all up and down this now quite lengthy thread, no one has offered even a scintilla of evidence for the proposition "a mere 40 percent of gifted children will complete an undergraduate degree." I am sure, noting that even most of the anecdotes of academic failure during high school in this thread relate going on to undergraduate study, that that statement is factually incorrect for the United States for any time since the Baby Boom. I attended high school with several bright learners who were turned off by high school and had poor grades in high school and who in several cases dropped out of high school. But all of my bright high school friends, without any exception, and even though they were not from wealthy backgrounds, gained undergraduate degrees within a few years of leaving high school. The burden of proof is on the unnamed "researcher" who made the implausible claim.

Jumping to conclusions about the quality of research when you have not seen said research is in my opinion a non-scientific approach incorporating personal bias.

A better statement you could make would be "I would like to see the methodology of this paper, as it's assumptions are very far from what I expect as a practitioner in the field". This statement shows us that your experience in the field leads you to a different personal conclusion, but you are not jumping to the conclusion that the research is false because of this experience.

And I just checked my universities news section and they don't provide links to the original research. Most of the time I assume the article is in press.

So-called "academic success" is based on a series of formal tests and rituals, just like IQ is. These tests could be useless as a metric of your knowledge, skills or abilities, just like you're arguing IQ is. Unfortunately, when the name of a performance indicator has the word "success" in it, you stop questioning the validity of such indicator, and you start using it as an absolute benchmark instead. This happens even though the trivial answer to "why do you go to school or college" is usually "for knowledge and skills", not "for academic success".

"Academic success" is required to enter many highly paid occupations: law, medicine, finance, etc. So I would disagree it is a useless indicator, it is directly related to one's future income.

I never said it is useless as an indicator of future income. I said it might be useless as an indicator of one's knowledge and skills, and knowledge and skills are what education is supposed to be about.

If you measure success by one's income, which is a good and clearly defined though still arbitrary indicator, I see no reason whatsoever to expect it would depend on IQ. People with high IQ are often less competitive and often question the need to maximize their income, which is obviously detrimental to such income.

>If a child is gifted, and does not succeed, does that not mean they are not gifted?

If an athlete is muscular and does not succeed, does that mean they are not muscular? Adjectives are useful for talking and thinking about things, but it's a mistake to try to reduce every attribute of an individual into a metric for "success" or failure in some area. Being intelligent no more guarantees success, whatever that means, than being beautiful or tall or diligent. Those are still useful descriptive characteristics, though.

This reflects my own personal experience. Despite participating in the occasional extra-curricular gifted student program and a voracious appetite for knowledge I did relatively poorly in school up through middle school. I was horrible at completing homework or projects regularly. Had one or another of various factors (such as my parents, my personality, my group of friends, etc.) been different there's a very significant and non-zero chance that I would have dropped out of school before completing high-school (and a very real chance of becoming a juvenile delinquent as well).

Instead, at some point during my freshman year in high school while I was contemplating why I had fallen onto the average track for english and science (and hating the boredom of it) I said to myself "fuck this" and decided to do something about it, working the system as hard as I could to my advantage and putting in a significant amount of personal effort. Ultimately I graduated as one of the top students in my high school (after completing 7 AP courses) and I went on to achieve a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics only 2 years later.

However, not every student is lucky enough to have the parents, school system, etc. that I had. And not every student has the personality or the moment of epiphany to turn things around. A lot of gifted students find themselves at odds with a school system that increasingly turns its backs not just on gifted students but on teaching itself. I don't find it shocking in the least that so many gifted students are ill served by the modern school system and find themselves at odds with it.

Many gifted children are failed academically.

There seems to be an assumption that academic success leads to successes in life in general; and it's assumed that the converse is also true. I don't think that this is necessarily true.

Some people fail academically but feel that they have good lives later on, and I'm sure there are academic successes (however you define "academic success") that end up living lives they never wanted.

Some experiences (or often, failures) outside the sheltered educational environment might just teach some lessons that could lead to success.

Disclaimer: not saying we shouldn't try and nurture the gifted, but formal education isn't the be all and end all in life.

I'm an example of that. Started school a year earlier, but could start at 3rd grade (didn't because of emotional development worries etc). Everything was easy, nothing required any heavy work. Until I started university. Now everything is at reasonably high level, but I'm not used to studying. But still, I can get by on low grades, so that's what I'm doing. No one will look at them anyway.

My grudge with this line of thinking is it encourages one to stay a failure while considering themselves an unrecognized genius.

Amen, brother !!

I have asked a lot of people in my life: Every single person I meet consider itself above the means!!, and when things don't work as they want, they make excuses.

It is so easy to blame the school,college, university system and don't accept personal responsibility. I met people with enormous success in live(social, economical, and personal) and they worked a lot in what makes them special before getting results.

Of course, you need to be special in something, like good on math or writing, but then you need to work in this area. It takes risk.

I recommend "the tipping point" if you are interested on this area, it talks about the creator of IQ test and its experiences(he tried to prove that "gifted children" would success in live, so he made a study in California and the people that won Nobel prices were dismissed as non gifted by him when they were children).

The two subsequent Nobel Prize winners who were passed over by the Terman longitudinal study because their childhood IQ scores were too low were William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, both Nobel laureates in physics. No student included in the Terman study ever won a Nobel Prize.


I'll second the opinions of the people who felt lost in the college. I work since I finished high school, and the best colleges in Brazil require full dedication, so no time to work. I regret the fact that I decided for continuing my career instead of dedicating myself to get into a public college, right now I just can't do that, because I'm 22 and would have to spend an extra year working on the admission exam preparation.

So now I have to pay for whatever college I can afford, in order to get a degree ASAP. And man, they are totally tedious, not to say stupid considering it's a college class. What's left for me is work hard on my Masters once I get my Comp. Sci. degree, this time in a good institution, hopefully.

I failed academically, does it mean I'm a gifted child

Getting an IQ test also informs the child that their "gifted", meaning that they are less likely to put in the same effort later on as their peers assuming that their superior intellect will get them across the line.

Sure there are problems with the education system, but whatever path you take I think you need to show some intelligence in knowing what you need to do to achieve what you want. If you do want a degree, follow the rules of the degree, it may not be the best education, but it's what you want. If you don't, well great go that way. Sometimes you have to work within the limitations of the system to get to your goal.

Needing a degree as a tick off prerequisite for some jobs is of course another problem entirely.

Children whom underperform are also IQ tested.

I've never seen such a concise description of my academic life.

Perhaps Intelligence never did define success. Perhaps it was this unrelated determination that drove people to succeed regardless of their graded abilities.

> Despite their high levels of curiosity and hunger for learning, many of these children lag when it comes to writing. “For these children, psychomotor development doesn't develop at the same pace,” says co-researcher Cassandre Bélanger-Legault. “This is sometimes at the root of academic failure.”

I found this bit new and interesting. Does anyone know about any more research or info on this topic (psychomotor)?

I don't know specifically about this, but we've researched neurodevelopmental delay therapy (which asserts that many issues are caused by the delay of the proper development of certain brain functions).


The therapist we talked to noted that many very smart kids who have delay issues (which may manifest themselves as "simple" eye tracking or gross motor skills issues) will eventually struggle academically because they reach a point where their brains can no longer compensate, and generally this manifests itself with writing issues.

School was painfully slow for me. Especially with math.

I never used the textbooks for my math classes, and never did my homework. I would never show up for the classes, except for chapter tests and finals. I used cliffs notes. I only looked over the material for the test during the break before the class, and I always scored highly.

This school system really wore down on me. I just didn't give a crap at all, and my GPA suffered.

Alternate explanation:

We suck at telling who is actually gifted from early performance.

See ch. 5 of Nurtureshock: "The Search For Intelligent Life in Kindergarten"

It depends how you define 'gifted'.

If you define 'gifted' to mean someone who is adept at manipulating the system and/or playing within the system, an IQ test or other aptitude tests might not be the best metric.

I interpret 'gifted' to mean 'inherent intelligence, critical reasoning skills, and curiosity'. I believe these things, for the most part, are completely unnecessary if one desires a successful academic career.

That might be how you define gifted, but if that's the case, then it would be erroneous for you to draw any conclusions about the "gifted" based on these data.

These data are based on standardized testing of young children. Nurtureshock makes the argument that because performance on these tests is a bad predictor of later success, early testing and tracking are doing children a disservice.

This article makes the assumption that its the latter education that's flawed, and that the tests are accurate.

The other problem is that not all teachers are able to handle a class full of normal or even problem children AND meet the needs of a gifted student.

The teacher spends their time dealing with majority of the class leaving little challenge for the student who needs more.

Forget gifted. Genius = 99% hardwork 1% smart.

in my high school, sci, math, and english classes were streamed, putting brightest students together for accelerated learning.

They did that at my school too - though not for English. It was a total crock. The underlying reason seemed more to keep the troublemakers and overtly "dumb" kids away from the others, rather than to seriously accelerate learning. In the UK, there's a fixed "National Curriculum" and so there's no point in them teaching above it (or even off of it - we entirely skipped set theory, for instance, as it wasn't on the NC for that year).

What was the most difficult mathematics class at your high school? At what grade level did its students take that class? How many students were enrolled in that class?

I'm not the parent commenter, but where I went we had up through multi-variable calc and linear algebra, though really I thought the toughest was Prob/Stat in HS but that's probably because the teacher wasn't very good at motivating students. P/S was required on the 'accelerated' track- the accelerated track prepped you to take the BC Calc AP exam which will test you out of Calc and Calc 2. The Multivariable and Linear classes were both elective credits and only half a year each, and also there were no AP tests so you had to convince your college to let you test out of them on your own (though I can't imagine anyone had any problems with that). Both those courses had maybe a dozen kids in them (in a class of 400ish), and it was taught by the same teacher we had for Calc and Pre-Calc our Junior year.

Truly the best teacher I ever had without any doubt, had a passion for the math, the students, the teaching, and did an amazing job motivating a few of us that were used to doing the bare minimum and gaming the system (which as has been noted is what ends up happening to a lot of 'gifted' students). If only all our teachers (or hell, most) had half (or a quarter) the passion she had, our schools probably wouldn't be failing like they are. Not to take anything away from the great teachers out there, they exist, but the system just drives away the best ones.

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