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    When Smart Kids Fail
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | May 13th 2011 10:19 PM | 15 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Bright people run into two curses in life that others mistake as blessings.  The first is that many tasks come easy to them.  The second is that they can do okay for a long time without experiencing failure or set-backs.  Both of these lead to a life of underachievement.

    In "Patterns of Underachievement in Gifted Students", Carolyn Coil ( notes 3 patterns where smart kids dive into underachieving:

      1) Does well in early grades, then underachieves more as they get older
      2) Sporadic up-and-down pattern
      3) No effort to go beyond the minimum

    It's terrible to be told "you did well because you're smart".  That's like telling an Olympic athlete they won a medal because they had good genetics.  It ignores the value of work and effort.  When things are easy, you aren't often tested as your best.  When success is assumed because you are smart, you avoid risks.

    This leads 'because you are smart' kids to lifelong problems.  Students praised for being smart choose an easy task over a harder challenge.  Students praised, instead, for effort choose harder, more meaningful tasks.

    Carol Fertig at Pfurock Press notes  "Extrinsic motivation drives a person to do things for tangible rewards or pressures, rather than for the fun of it [...] Intrinsic motivation drives a person to do things just for the fun of it, or because she believes it is a good or right thing to do. [...] Intrinsic motivation is by far the most desirable as it is long lasting. [...] It is always most desirable to encourage hard work and learning for the love and self-satisfaction of it rather than for a short-term reward or punishment."courtesy of Pfurock Press

    Earlier I covered myths of gifted education, and now Coil provides 30 strategies to help underachievers.  Her research includes avoiding "Parents-to-the-Rescue" syndrome.  The urge for a parent to solve his/her child's problems is the easy-- and wrong-- way to set lifelong habits.  In school, sports, activities, it is often necessary to let your child fail.  As someone once quipped, "failure brings learning.  Success? Not so much."

    Coil advises you set limits on how often to rescue.  For kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade, every 2 weeks you can step in to deliver that forgotten project or hand-hold through something they should do themself.  For 3rd to 5th grade, cut back to once a month.  By 6th grade and up, once per semester or grading period.  And for 12th graders?  Never.  That's the time where they stand or fall on their own merit.

    The strongest advice when dealing with anyone (child or adult) is to praise for persistence and effort rather than for intelligence and/or how smart/gifted he or she is.  Relating stories about people who have overcome fear, anxiety, economic distress and other problems does not just make for a good movie, it sets up a basic admission of the reality of life.

    Success does not comes automatically without any failures or set-backs.  If it does-- you aren't setting your goals high enough.

    ... in the midst of fundraising-- visit and buy mission patches before it expires May 21st!


    Gerhard Adam
    Great article!  Don't know what else to say.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Great article. I now know why I've fallen short on so much promise... so far.

    BTW - Your link to Coil's post "30 strategies" above is lacking the "m" in .com ...the full link should read http://www.carolyncoil.com/ezine14.htm

    Yes, to some degree this explains why I play video games on 'easy'.

    p.s. Thanks for spotting the URL error, now fixed!
    We did some pieces on this a while ago; there is even institutional discrimination against smart kids.   No one is ever going to cut funding for special education but advanced classes are cut quickly because 'those kids will succeed anyway' - smart kids are penalized and discriminated against because they have already done well.    Of course, that is the problem with public schools; they are the only business that expects higher funding for schools that do poorly.
    Hank: they are the only business that expects higher funding for schools that do poorly.
    It fits common amercian attitude-- love the sinner, hate the saint.
    In Quebec, Canada, private schools get a 50% subsidy per student if they cater to ministry guidelines. The vast majority cannot resist the offer or afford to decline it. The problem is that the guidelines are so convoluted that they are an obstacle to both special ed and to the gifted.
    At the university level, the problem is even worse in America.   You can't get any taxpayer money (talk about a competitive disadvantage!) unless you adhere to racial quotas.  Result: an Asian person has to get a higher score than a white person who has to get a higher score than a black person to go to the same school.    It isn't right, and it isn't helpful - we'd trade forced discrimination for curriculum guidelines any day!

    One school (I think - it is the only one I know of) did not cave in to discriminating against the best   students regardless of skin color in return for money; Hillsdale College.  Since they accept no federal or state taxpayer subsidies, they may be the only actual independent academic institution in America.
    It is relevant to put the blame on racial quotas ? I understand for human science studies, but do scientific studies require smart students who succeded into standarized grades ?

    Perhaps I don't understand the question.   Schools don't cap enrollment based on projected major - it takes five minutes to change.  So if I were to apply to military 'science' at Stanford and got in, I could then switch to physics where the competition would have been much greater.

    Quotas certainly matter when fairness is used to make enrollment unfair.
    I'm curious: Are there also racial quotas in American graduate schools?
    Not that I am aware of - about 20 years ago one political party saw that a college education earned people more money so they declared college education should be a 'right' and made student loans unlimited to allow that.   The result was more federal oversight but grad school was already loan-based or worked out with the the school and were not 'student' loans guaranteed by the federal government.     I imagine researchers would flip out if they were told they couldn't hire Asian grad students unless no one else was available.
    Into the Carol Fertig's paper «Motivation and the gifted underachievers», I found a quote :« It is always most desirable to encourage hard work and learning for the love and self-satisfaction [...]». But it seems to me that it should be so difficult to let brigth kids find their own ways to be satisfied when they are forced to help less gifted children and when teachers are forced to raise the scores of everyone. According to me, it seems so unfair.

    But, when students of evry levels are considered like customers... nothing can destabilize me...

    Success does not comes automatically without any failures or set-backs. If it does-- you aren't setting your goals high enough.
    Can't argue with that!
    Mr Uva,

    I have just a question for you. Did some of your students ever take part of an expo-science ?

    But, I think we ask too much to schools. Anyway, there are so many ways for smart kids to spread their wings. In Québec we have International classes were the youth learn in three languages : French, english and spanish. Also, there is Expo-science were the brithest can spend innumberable hours... and may be earn the opportunity to meet other brains during an international contest.

    Finally, isn't the duty of the parents to make sure that their young genious receive what they need to achieve their goals... because they are the first vector of their success...