A New Initiative for the Gifted and Talented

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 95 (February 2007)

Photograph courtesy of Elan Sun Star

My thanks to all who replied to our invitation in the December 2005 issue of The Stream, concerning the gifted and talented.

You may be wondering what this invitation is all about, especially after my next, opening, statement:

The people best qualified to solve the problems uniquely facing the gifted are the gifted themselves.

Consider also that many or most of us live in a country that does not understand the gifted or their situation very well. Most of our schools do not nurture giftedness when it happens — indeed, some appear systematically to destroy it. Most of those who still survive as gifted live inside that situation every day, are intimate with its details, indeed are the world’s leading experts on that condition.

You may have noticed, elsewhere in this website, in our newsletter, The Stream, and in some of our other publications, that for some time we have been uniquely pursuing the creation of ever better methods of solving problems and of understanding.

To put that in sharper focus:  to be gifted is not necessarily to be creative, any more than being creative is necessarily to be gifted. Nor is being either necessarily to be skilled at problem-solving. These are somewhat overlapping, but somewhat independent, variables.

To put that in yet sharper focus:  While it is possible to build giftedness, it is a lot easier to build creativity and a lot easier still to build effective problem-solving skills.

So I propose to call in the experts on the situation of the gifted — to call in you. And to equip you, by means of a series of experiments, with various creativity-evoking and problem-solving methods and skills, to go to work on understanding and solving/resolving the situation of the gifted. Along the way, further things may occur to us that we might want to do, or there might not. For now, I propose that we:

  1. Seek to understand and better identify aspects of the situation of the gifted;
  2. Experiment together with each of several specific problem-solving methods on one or more problematic aspects of the situation of the gifted — you will then possess these methods and are free to use them on such other issues as you please;
  3. After such results as we obtain from steps 1 and 2, see what if anything further we may want to do.
  4. Very bright people are coming together here in this focus:
    • Gifted people differ more from each other, as you will see below in my discussion of the biological definition of “intelligence,” than they do from “the norm.”
    • We can expect to see emerging some very bright alternatives to the agenda I suggest here, so
    • I want to hold open here the possibility that one or another of you may alter our course into another and even better direction, once we’ve initiated this focus. But this invitation is where we are starting out from.

Origins of better problem-solving methods

In 1967, when I first was getting into the creativity literature, it occurred to me to propose that if one has a good method for solving problems, one of the best problems to work it on is on the problem of — how to create better problem-solving methods. One of the best problems to work those better methods, in turn, is on the problem of how to create even better such problem-solving methods….. This is the simple Principle of Reinvestment — investing your best methods into creating even better methods.

That Principle, and process, have brought us a long way. Anyone else may also pursue it and create a body of ingenious further such methods. One example is the article on Toolbuilder.

Many of you receiving this, because you are among the gifted, have been brought up in the context of science (though not necessarily in the spirit of scientific inquiry, which is a very different story). For one reason or another, you may feel that “scientific method” is the final word on how to solve problems and create new ventures and discoveries. Scientific method is indeed utterly essential to phases of these things; it is very much needed to pull weeds from the gardens of truth, today more than ever. But it is not the most effective process for most forms of problem-solving. You are welcome to question this and use scientific method, btw, on the problem of what are the best methods for solving problems — including even scientific problems…..

So it is not because we have any special qualifications that we propose use of some as-yet unusual methods of problem-solving, applied by the true experts on the gifted — you — to various aspects of the situation of the gifted. We have just been applying that Reinvestment Principle for awhile, and so have given rise to a good many among the various creativity and problem-solving methods now being widely and professionally used.

Sectors of Interest

One of my own strong personal interests is finding or creating an appropriate education for gifted children. They don’t have as much control over what happens to them as do we adults. Most who start out as gifted never make it to adulthood as gifted. There, too, I’d like to the extent possible to recruit the experts themselves, the gifted children, to problem-solving on their own situations.

Existing Hi-IQ groups like Mensa have, to date, been a profound disappointment. Mensa the organization has prided itself upon doing nothing. Nature, abhorring the resulting vacuum, has riddled most regional or metropolitan sectors of that society with petty politics ruining any effectiveness that society might have had. Yet the prospect of several hundred thousand fairly bright and sometimes gifted individuals under one umbrella could become a powerful factor for good if that resource could somehow be marshaled into play. How to effectively engage that resource, or sectors of it, on behalf of giftedness or in whatever worthy efforts, is another sector of interest which seems worth our attention.

Heavily capitalized science has largely sold out. Yet self-correcting science has been one of the better things going on this planet, because of that systematic self-correction. At present, most gifted people are not scientists and are not working in fields dedicated to the principle of self-correction. Little mistakes drift uncorrected into becoming large mistakes. And both in and out of the sciences, gifted people, by the very fact of their being exceptional and seeing things differently, face real challenge in trying to get their perceptions across to the people around them, even when the points they are trying to make are obvious. — So we waste a huge proportion of the giftedness that manages to survive in our society.

Photo courtesy of Elan Sun Star

The plight of inventors in our time, especially independent inventors, is familiar enough to serve as a good metaphor for the plight of the gifted individual generally, even if not all inventors are gifted. In the modern USA, the only people who beat a path to the door of someone who invents a better mousetrap these days are all those invention development firms who make their money, not from the development of inventions, but from the services they can sell to inexperienced inventors. As we look at this general sector, we may be able to define several key questions to address which will be well worthy of our attention.

Refer to other gifted-related publications, organizations, websites. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, and there appear to be a lot of different things needing to be done as regards giftedness. So pooling our respective pieces of information on these seems to be a worthy sector for our interest.

The biological definition of “intelligence”:

The range and number of factors, internal and external, which one can take into account in pursuit of one’s wants and needs.

As you increase that range and number of factors, as you increase that intelligence, you increase also the variation in cumulative life histories which develop those factors and the elements within that intelligence. The literature on giftedness has failed to make this overwhelmingly obvious point: the gifted differ from each other far more than they do from “the norm.” The failure of the experts on giftedness to recognize this very basic fact, invalidates a substantial part though not all of their work in this field.O

Educators’ definition of “the gifted”

Many of the early studies of the gifted and of giftedness, including the most famous study, Lewis M. Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius at Stanford University, were based upon teacher recommendations as to who was apparently gifted in their class. Small wonder, then, that the “Termites” and other subjects in those studies seldom made the high contributions to science and the arts that had been expected of them!

What is the history of the vast majority of the truly major contributions that have been made to our civilization? Someone bulling ahead in the very teeth of everyone “knowing better,” and in opposition to the established knowledge on the topic in question. What are the traits required for someone to push ahead against all odds and against all accepted wisdom to make that contribution? Definitely not that sweet kid in the front row who always is ready to give you the right answer!

Some of the later studies have corrected that error, but we have been stuck with a lot of mythology and misconception from what went before.

The plight of the gifted while growing up

The basic human nutrition is:  appropriate feedback — appropriate feedback upon one’s actions, initiatives, interests, activities.

By their exceptionality, the exceptionally gifted are the population most deprived and starved of that basic human nutrition.

You can see the scars of that effect in almost any Mensa meeting.

Even if you homogeneously grouped gifted children together, you’d still have some of that exceptionality, by the above biological definition of intelligence. You’d also have respectable — and respected — peer relationships, though without any of that experience most gifted persons are grievously late in coming to recognize validity in the differing perceptions of those immediately around them, however much some of them espouse that validity in principle.

What education and what childraising and what preparation is appropriate for gifted children? Given earlier oversights and errors in the professional fields on such matters, we may do best coming to the experts — you experts who are in these situations or parents of those in them — coming not with our own opinions as to what ought to be done, but with various methods in problem-solving, and giving these over to you for yourselves, as the expert inhabiters of these situations, to discover what does need to be done.