Jan 1, 2013

Hothouse Kids

the Dilemma of the Gifted Child
by Alissa Quart

I found this book browsing at the library; the title and then the cover image really caught my interest. It's all about "gifted" children in American society. I found it quite interesting at first but slowly my involvement in the book started to lag. The author looks critically at the recent surge in popularity of products (think Baby Einstein) that claim to improve infants' learning ability or intelligence and the plethora of classes and intense instruction for the very young- I didn't know that formal soccer training was all the rage for three-year-olds! There are chapters that delve into the issues surrounding specialized education, others that look at competitions young kids are fiercely involved in- scrabble or chess tournaments and the like. She talks about the difference between kids who are intently interested in their specialized pursuits and others who are pushed into it by their parents. Most of the children she discussed seemed to either shine as a child prodigy and then turn out to be rather normal adults, acutely missing the former attention; or grew up resenting the loss of their childhood to the pressure to perform and schedules full of classes or structured activities. Very few, it appears, ended up successful in a field related to what they excelled at when young.

So... it was very intense but often the arguments seemed a bit unfinished to me, or the plethora of quotes and studies referred to simply lost me. I did pay more attention to the stuff about infants and very young children, probably because I can relate to that easier than the stories of parents pushing their kids into the limelight or prepping them for private preschools, or getting heavily involved in homeschooling when they feel public school systems fall short. I found myself agreeing with the author's position that baby-educating videos are probably a waste of time; children learn far better in their natural environment (taught by people and experience) than by sitting in front of a screen (and the idea that listening to Mozart benefits young developing brains is, she claims, based on two small studies whose results were never successfully repeated- it's more a cultural myth than anything).

However, she seems to also dismiss the benefits of teaching babies sign language and I disagreed. Admittedly I didn't teach my baby very many signs- I tried about eight or ten and she ended up learning and using half a dozen, but I found them very useful. I don't know if teaching her sign language necessarily enhanced her language development, or affected her later-in-life reading skills (that wasn't my goal anyways) but I do believe that it lessened some possibility of frustration, as she was able to communicate a few basic wants or needs before learning to talk: "more", "eat", "drink", "potty" etc. It did take a lot of patience. I know I repeated the first sign for two months, perhaps longer, before she first used it herself- so the author's criticism when observing a class of infants being shown a few signs -I wondered what the teachers and the parents thought their children got out of it- seems unfair to me. Most of those babies probably never made signs themselves in class, only at home and after their parents/caregivers repeated them many times in a familiar environment and appropriate context.

Anyways, I think I've gone off on a tangent here. The book is good- I got two-thirds read before realized I simply didn't want to go further. It probably doesn't help that I'm tired all the time lately (have a headcold). It's one I might come back to later, as I was particularly curious about the ideas of how early intensive education affected people's attitudes and emotions in their adult life. Either this wasn't addressed in detail enough to stand out to me, or I didn't get to that part yet. I ended up skipping the final chapters about youth competitions, child prodigies who preached religion (really?) and math whiz kids recruited to work for investment and finance companies.

Abandoned ......... 260 pages, 2006 ........ find it on Amazon

more opinions:
Reading is My Superpower
Read the Other Day

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds interesting. I think many people are overdoing it these days - things seem even more intense than when my son was small.