11 January 2013

Where Have All the Flowers Gone

I stumbled across a photostory from Life magazine about a "Genius School" in 1948. There are about 20 pictures of (white) children, ages 3 - 11, engaged in some very high level work. Here is one of my favourites, including the caption:

5-year-old Johnny, who taught himself to read, selects The Ring of the Nibelung, which looks interesting to him. Library has wide choice of simpler books like the Bobbsey Twins, but bright children tire of these quickly, abandon them in favor of poetry, biography, science and politics." Photo by Nina Leen (c) TimeLife

They are fascinating to click through. Children collaborating on an engineering project...in dialogue about scientific phenomena...teaching one another to play chess. All within the confines of a laboratory school for Hunter College in NY. "Seven decades ago, the city housed just such a venture at Hunter College — a school filled not with post-adolescent megaminds and college-age uber-geeks, but 450 apparently well-adjusted, engaged kids who just happened to enjoy IQs averaging around 150. (Post-graduate students, by comparison, generally fall in the 120-130 I.Q. range.)"

As I looked through this slice of history, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to these kids. At some point, they left the school---presumably for a traditional high school and whatever the world held for them afterward. Where did they go? What did they do with their adult lives?

Even though I make it a point to avoid "the bottom half of the Internet," I did take a quick look at the comments on this article---and someone had found and posted a study done about these kids. The study was done in the 1ate 1980's, when former students were considered to be "mid-life," and compared them with people who hadn't attended the school. The quotes below provide a quick preview of the results, but I would encourage you to review the whole study. Note that the term "Hunter" represents students from the genius school and "Terman" refers to a study done with people who were not identified as gifted as children.
  • No difference in terms of marital status (same percentage single/married)
  • "Nearly 40% of both the Terman and Hunter men pursued terminal degrees while only 5.9% of the Terman women completed doctoral or professional degrees in law or medicine. In contrast, over two-thirds of the Hunter women were holders of the Ph.D., M.D. or L.L.B. degree. The dramatic proportion of terminal degree candidates among the Hunter women did not however, translate into more prestigious careers or higher income as compared with Hunter men."
  • "It should be noted that although the Hunter women achieved relatively prestigious degrees and careers, the mean income of the Hunter women is $47,391 (median = $40,000, range = $11,000-$180,000) while the mean income of the men is $105,000 (median = $75,000, range = $5000-$505,000). The income discrepancies remain constant even when matched by profession. Higher degrees and comparably high intellect did not assure gifted women of equitable financial rewards for their professional efforts."
  • "On the 9 point scale with '1' counting as extremely radical (left) and '9' extremely conservative, the mean rating for the Hunter group was 4.5938 and the Terman group 5.3676, although the Terman group had been somewhat more liberal in the decade of the 40's (Terman & Oden, 1959). When political philosophy was translated into party affiliation Hunter graduates voted overwhelmingly as Democrats (70.5%) while the Terman group was more evenly split between the two major parties (Democrats = 29.4% and Republicans = 44%)."
  • "A large majority of the Terman and Hunter subjects described their general health at midlife as very good or good, with the Hunter group describing their health more often as very good."
  •  "Both study groups acknowledge the centrality of their work and families to their sources of life satisfaction. Each subgroup however, responded in a unique pattern. More Terman men derived satisfaction from their work (80.6%) than from their families (65%). Hunter men as a group also ranked work first (91.4%) and children second (70%). Marriage and avocational interests tied for third at 58.6%. The Hunter womens' pattern of response also reflected a lower relative position of marriage (64.1%) for Hunter subjects as a source of satisfaction as compared to work and children (75% each). The Terman men and women ranked marriage and children equally relative to other possible areas that provide life satisfaction. Terman women chose children (70.6%) and marriage (70.3%) followed by social contacts (50%), probably reflecting the large representation of housewives in the group (Birnbaum, 1975)."
  • "Both Hunter men and Terman women defined success in much the same terms as they had described the sources of their life satisfaction. When open responses were generated by subjects however, the relative importance of work for Terman men was slightly lower than that of family, income and helping others. Hunter women associated success with vocational satisfaction, peace of mind and friendships more than happy home and family. The lack of congruence between those groups' responses to sources of their life satisfaction is noteworthy. Were their sources of life satisfaction not exactly what they thought they ought to be in order to be successful?"
I don't know that we can draw a lot of conclusions/applications from this...but then, that wasn't really the purpose of the study. The researchers, like me, were interested in what happened to the students who attended Hunter. Did their adult lives turn out with as much passion as the ones they lived in their youth?

The Hunter College Elementary School is still in existence today. While it is not as experimental as it once was, it still retains its focus on gifted students.

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