What ever happened to '80s gifted kids?
February 18, 2009 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Have there been any recent studies of the long-term effect of 1980s gifted education on kids who are now in their 30s and 40s

I've had a hard time finding anything on this. Ever since I found a website about the 1984 "Olympics of the Mind," I have been fascinated by the way the gifted ed program in the suburbs flattered us 6th graders into thinking we were pre-approved for success as astronauts, computer inventors and geniuses; the way we would be pulled out of boring regular classes on the assumption that our minds would be better put to use doing stuff like pretending to be in Camelot; the seemingly high ratio of "gifted and talented" stars from my grade school years who have ended up crashing and burning as they have tried to make the transition into adulthood; and I wonder how the philosophy of gifted ed has changed for kids in school today.

Can anyone point me to any interesting writing in the last few years about this, particularly work on how '80s gifted education panned out for today's adults?
posted by Kirklander to Education (74 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Outliers touched on the effects of "gifted" education a bit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:29 PM on February 18, 2009

....I can't offer a study, but if you're looking for personal anecdote, I can share...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:31 PM on February 18, 2009

SMPY and CTY have tracked thousands of kids and published tons of papers.
posted by moonmilk at 2:34 PM on February 18, 2009

Response by poster: EmpressCallipygos: Please do, I'd love to hear it.
posted by Kirklander at 2:37 PM on February 18, 2009

Likewise, I can add my datapoint. I did Olympics of the Mind and CTY.
posted by electroboy at 2:43 PM on February 18, 2009

Outliers does talk abou this.

Ancedotally: I was in gifted ed in the early '90s, but I know a lot of my classmates grew up to have problems. It seems like so far that group has been less successful than my peers that were in regular classes. We did a lot of creative projects rather than rote learning. It put us behind a bit in high school when we switched from talented and gifted classes to honors/pre-AP classes.

A lot of the really gifted, super-high IQ kids were really weird and some are probably autistic-spectrum, but it's not like you think about that when you're in class with them as a kid. They were just weird. Those kids seem to have had the hardest time. Some of them even ended up doing badly in high school and going to crappy local colleges instead of hitting the Ivy Leagues like everyone expected they would when we were kids.
posted by fructose at 2:49 PM on February 18, 2009

I don't have any reading material to offer you, but at the same time I don't think this phenomenon ended after the 80s, or at all.

Olympics of the Mind became Odyssey of the Mind, which still runs today (even if the official website is straight out of 1993). Schools are still letting "gifted" students take on advanced or supplemental materials, be it through AP classes or "IEPs" (individualized education plans).

So, the questions your asking will probably continue to play themselves out in future generations. Personally, I think being put in "gifted" classes and participating in things like OM probably contributed to me being an insufferable, know-it-all twat throughout elementary school, high school, and undergrad. It tells kids that they're somehow special and deserving of special treatment. Blech.
posted by Pomo at 2:50 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My own Jr. High "gifted and talented" program was just an extra class. Personally, I never really had any grand ideas about how it was a guarantee that I was extra-special and was therefore guaranteed to get me into Harvard or anything -- it was actually more like a "thank god we're actually doing something halfway interesting otherwise I'd kill myself from boredom" class. We did all sorts of random stuff in all sorts of fields.

In terms of long-term effects -- the only real effect I've noticed in myself is that I honestly and truly didn't get for a long time that I WAS that gifted. It was kind of like reverse "tall-poppy" syndrome -- Instead of feeling weird because I was standing out so much taller than everyone else and I got hammered back into line, I felt weird because everyone was telling me I was smart, but all the other kids around me were also smart, and so I ended up not trusting others' estimation of my ability. I wouldn't say I've "crashed and burned" -- I'm not doing that bad, actually -- but I have been a little reticent to try new things because I under-estimate my own skill set, and that's made my career go a little on the slow side. There could be a hell of a lot of other reasons for that, true, but I do definitely know that I honestly and sincerely didn't think I really WAS all that smart and that I really WAS all that exceptional until only a few years ago, and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that being put in with a lot of other kids just like me I didn't get that there was any exception there.

on the plus side, it's kept me humble -- I found out a few years ago that I actually had SAT scores that were good enough to qualify me for membership in MENSA, and when I found out I giggled for a solid minute and a half because I found the idea of me qualifying for MENSA to be well and truly ridiculous. But, then I realized that that probably meant I'd keep membership in the proper perspective, and so I joined. (I still think it's ridiculous, and mainly only use it as an excuse to crack a joke if I do something stupid.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:52 PM on February 18, 2009 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, all anecdotes welcome. I'm kind of torn over this because I feel like, on the one hand, it encouraged us to believe that anything was possible, but on the other hand it seemed like the college prep people, who had to work hard and make practical plans, and never expected to become the next George Lucas, have been the real success stories from my high school.
posted by Kirklander at 2:52 PM on February 18, 2009

I was in the Academically Gifted Program in 4th-6th grades and the Honors classes all through junior high and high school. It took me 7 years to finish my BA, including a spell when I was expelled because of poor grades, but I do now have a Master's degree and a professional-level job. I can't say whether being labeled gifted as a child had anything to do with my early adulthood academic failures, or my eventual success. My gut feeling is that it did not.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:55 PM on February 18, 2009

I did Odyssey of the Mind in 1988 and 1989 (born in 1979). I am in touch with several our group members on Facebook now, and am reasonably certain I'm the only one who doesn't hold a degree of some kind - though I'm still running the tech company I started in my teens, as one point of explanation. The kids who were reasonably well-adjusted seemed to have stayed that way into adulthood (or at least recovered from adolescence with only a few scorch marks). They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, and a few tech heads like me. They are significantly less potty-mouthed in conversation than I can be. :)

The ones who weren't well-adjusted, who were bright but had behaviour issues? I can't find them online. I don't know what happened to them. I have loads of memories of my school years, and my elementary classmates were important people in my life, and I'd like to know how they are today.

The most serious flaw I encountered in my public school "gifted" education (California's GATE program, then IB in high school) was the assumption that we already had certain fundamentals down, that our talents would supercede the need to start with certain basics. That we were obviously destined for college because we could read at a college level. When I began having academic troubles in middle school, it was automatically a behavioural issue and not a learning issue, simply because I was "gifted". I know this is common. Regardless, I often defend California public schools simply by pointing out that I've made it where I am today entirely on that education and my life experience. Music study was encouraged and subsidized, extracurricular activities like OM were built into our school day. We were taught to brainstorm, to prototype, to explore and experiment. We were given the opportunity to study Spanish from age 8, instead of waiting until high school. We were also guinea pigs for new curricula trials - I ended up taking algebra I four times due to the experimental curriculum they started me on in the 7th grade - it made no sense to me to sit in a group and verbally solve equations.

At any rate, all anecdotes and no conclusions, but I've often felt that if the state had the funding to offer that kind of education to all its students and not just a select few based on whatever early test scores (I had to take IQ and standardized tests prior to kindergarten, halfway through kindergarten, and within the first month of first grade, but I don't know if that was the same experience my classmates had) then we would be truly investing in the whole life potential of our kids - these are skills all kids should have the opportunity to cultivate, at whatever level they are capable of, not "treats" reserved for the precocious.
posted by annathea at 3:07 PM on February 18, 2009

I was in gifted and talented education all through school (1st-12th grade). I appreciate that it let me explore my curiosity about topics not on the beaten path. I still have a curiosity about various fields of study and how things works, especially mechanical devices and scientific principles.
However, I'm really not convinced it did me any good, because being in gifted and talented let me slide. I was given the academic benefit of the doubt many times. I never learned to study and therefore had a hard time when I got to college. Now I am a happy adult person, but gifted and talented education had nothing to do with it. I was born the way I was, had parents who let me explore various hobbies, sports and ways to waste my time, and followed my own intuition. I attribute my success in life to hard work, a positive attitude and a pleasant disposition.
posted by FergieBelle at 3:10 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did OM and was pulled out of class for an entire day to go to the "Center for Creative Learning." I absolutely freaking loved it when I was a kid but it definitely gave me an unreasonable image of what I could do with little effort, seriously damaging my work ethic in school. I know I'm not alone, and on preview, that still seems to be the case.
posted by zsazsa at 3:14 PM on February 18, 2009

Er, I mean an entire day every week. Gifted programs obviously didn't teach me that I need to proofread.
posted by zsazsa at 3:15 PM on February 18, 2009

All I can give you is my anecdote:

Not super-mega successful, but have a good job and doing fine. No big problems.

And the gentle suggestion that you are wading deep deep deep into the ocean of confirmation bias. Of course some of these kids have had screwed-up lives- but to conjecture that the number of tragedies would even come CLOSE to the one for the kids in the basic classes, or the kids who dropped out- I don't think that hypothesis wouldn't fly in GT Science.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:16 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in California GATE. All we did was take extracurricular classes (that were more interesting than school) after work. And I think that's how I got into the advanced social studies/English classes in high school. I certainly did appreciate not having to be in "normal" social studies in high school, where I heard they gave out assignments like making yourself a certificate of participation (not kidding).

But really, that's it. Nobody as far as I know "made it" any different from anyone else. Then again, I avoid the reunion websites like the plague and my class happily flaked out on the 10 year reunion, so for all I know someone might have snuck something in somewhere.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:17 PM on February 18, 2009


don't think that hypothesis would fly in GT Science.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:17 PM on February 18, 2009

Just a note to distinguish, as you consider the state of philosophy, between gifted enrichment such as you're talking about, and ability-based tracking and instruction within the currciculum in chief.

Gifted enrichment is poorly studied, as the programs tend towards triviality in quantity and quality, and in any event evaluating their results has intractable correlation / causation problems. (CTY studies I've seen certainly bear that out ... not much more than tautalogy in learning that people who chose nerd camp over baseball camp have a higher rate of PhDs 20 years later, and recall nerd camp more fondly than Mrs. Smith's Grade 9 health class.)

Ability-based tracking and instruction is exhaustively studied and talked about, but the debate is so agenda-driven as to make the question of "philosophy" a bit moot. Parents see it as a way to advance their children, schools of education see it as a tool of white supremacy (with awkward footnotes to explain away those rhetorically inconvenient Asians), low-attainment districts see it as a way to obtain strategic purchase with middle-class parents, high-attainment districts see it as a way to build and protect their brands, and private schools treat it as superfluous.
posted by MattD at 3:18 PM on February 18, 2009

Also, from a scientific point of view this study is impossible.

I can almost guarantee that the GT kids are more successful than the others, but that's because they were smarter and/or more advantaged (ie lived in an area with these programs at all) and/or more motivated in the first place.

To actually know what effect the program itself had on them, you'd have to do a controlled study with identical twins or something.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:20 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a similar experience as Empress and rabbit. I was in a lot of those types of classes in high school. I think those programs were really just a kind of academic fad. I'm a reasonably smart guy with a few degrees and all that (and I was in MENSA for a while - embarrassingly - biggest bunch of dumb, pompous "smart" people ... sheesh) but I can honestly say that I'm certainly not gifted in any way, and anything that may have contributed to or qualify me as a mature, intelligent person happened way way later in life and was as much a matriculation in the School Of Hard Knocks as any university I may have attended.
posted by elendil71 at 3:23 PM on February 18, 2009

Since you said you welcomed anecdotal stories, here's mine:

I was considered academically gifted during my whole school career (70s through 80s). I was told in elementary school that I had "an extremely high IQ" but I didn't really care about the details. In junior high and high school I was in Advanced Placement, but I never thought they were all that "advanced" other than the fact that the classes had pompous-sounding names like "Modern Economic Thought."

I was always treated like I was "the smartest one in the class" whether it was actually spoken or not. While that designation has its benefits, the burden of it became greater as each year passed. Living up to everyone's expectations of me was emotionally exhausting. I went from loving school in the elementary grades to absolutely hating it in high school. I ended up dropping out halfway through my senior year. When everyone freaked out, I enrolled in college, but ended up dropping out of three different colleges as well.

I ran away and eloped at age 19. It was simultaneously the dumbest and smartest decision I could have made, but I finally learned to live for myself and not for everyone else. I learned to be happy with being intelligent without worrying about whether I was meeting other people's expectations.

Over the years, I toyed with the idea of going back to school, but I never could get motivated to actually do it. I've been a wife for 21 years and a mother for 20 years, and I'm sure other people think I've wasted my potential, but I'm okay with that. I love learning and I feed my brain with intellectual pursuits on a regular basis, but I don't think I'll ever feel the need to take any additional steps to cash in on my "giftedness."

For me, knowing that I'm smarter than the average bear is its own reward.
posted by amyms at 3:27 PM on February 18, 2009

I was what they called "HAPPy Kids" (High Aptitude something something) my entire frigging life. This was Catholic school, late seventies through the eighties. There was definitely an emphasis on "you can be anything in the entire world that you want to be, because you are exceptionally bright and lalalalalala". Speaking for myself, I was somewhat disappointed that when I graduated with my Masters in Sociology with an emphasis on trans-national social work (a program I pretty much put together for myself, because I was so gifted and fucking special), I really couldn't do anything with it, and I needed to go out and get myself a jobby-job. Did you know there aren't many jobs for people with masters in sociology? If I were so fucking bright, how is it that it took me until age 26 to figure out that I was going to need to make money in order to LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD? Color me disillusioned.
Anyway, that's my anecdote, but I can tell you the other seven kids that I have known my entire life, against whom I always competed for academic honors, all went to college and completed grad school, more or less within the normally alloted period of time. We are all successful professionals in our respective fields, but we are all deeply weird and don't play well with others. To a certain extent, I blame the nuns and our HAPPy program.
posted by msali at 3:28 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I went through GT for a short time (all three years of middle school). At my school, the leap to causation was tenuous because the school stacked the good teachers in the GT classes and the mediocre to downright horrendous teachers in the regular sections. It'd be hard to separate "putting kids who tested high into a special section" from "good teaching" when considering that, surprise surprise, the GT kids did better.

(High school crushed any special status you had--you either took honors/AP classes or you didn't. You either found them tough or easy. So not much crash-and-burn that I could discern, but the system is still pretty new with only distant connections to the 1980s programs.)
posted by shadytrees at 3:28 PM on February 18, 2009

My experience: Not super-mega successful, but have a good job and doing fine. No big problems.

I did GATE in California, went to CTY for a few years (and had my first boyfriend there), did Honors and AP in high school, went to a good college with a nerd reputation where I partied and didn't get a 4.0. Am married and working a good job and am generally a well-adjusted adult.

Honestly I feel your conclusions are a factor of ignoring the percentage of non-"gifted" kids who have burned out in some way or another. When I look back on the kids I was in GATE with, most of them pretty much ended up in the same place as the kids who didn't do the program.
posted by muddgirl at 3:32 PM on February 18, 2009

I was in GT programs in elementary school and middle school, and then entered the IB program at one of the top-ranked high schools in the country - I would have gone into my first GT program in the fourth grade, in 89 or 90 or thereabouts. Each program had about a hundred kids per year. There was a core group of about thirty to forty kids who ended up in all the programs and went to school together for eight years or so.

I would say that we were a bit coddled, and treated unbelievably respectfully by teachers and other adults, even in high school. But at the same time, many of us didn't come from especially privileged backgrounds - there were at least twenty or thirty children of immigrants in my elementary school program, including me. Lots of really hardcore smart kids who functioned pretty well but not really...normally. Lots of overachieving, and by highschool at least, some entitlement and struggle to deal with failure. Lots and lots and lots of disordered eating in those groups.

It's a small sample, but in that core group I know best, we had - two suicides since high school; one guy in jail for dealing; six kids who kind of just burned out at some point and spun their wheels; probably twelve or fifteen kids who went to "prestigious" colleges. Since college, we've had one Rhodes scholar, and perhaps six or seven of us went to law/med school. Three kids I know of ended up doing something totally contrary to what was expected of them - one guy went to the Air Force Academy, served in Iraq, got kicked out, and is now making shitty art and pretending he's the next Ginsberg. The rest are all just sort of normal people now with normal jobs.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

not a study, but some anecdotes from students from the 70's, 80's, and 90's...

Be The Dream: Prep for Prep Graduates Share Their Stories

background on the program

i'm thinking the book will probably all be success stories, but i know that there are people who fall shy of the GREAT SUCCESS, but purely in aesthetics. (i.e they didn't go to an ivy, or it took them longer to complete a BA/BS).
posted by alice ayres at 3:46 PM on February 18, 2009

I was in G&T programs in elementary school and advanced/accelerated classes in junior high and high school. There was definitely a sense of "you can do whatever you want to do!" but I figured out in high school that minus being driven to succeed, you really can't do whatever you want. (Especially if you don't know what you want.) I didn't have that Type A personality, and in short order I stopped "living up to my potential." I think that if I had been expected to work hard at an early age, instead of having everything come easy for me, I'd be a harder worker now. I see this in my husband, who surpasses my intelligence but struggled in school. He has a driven personality and loves a challenge. He thus has a much better career than I do despite never having finished college, whereas I have a Master's degree.
posted by desjardins at 3:48 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

In the early 90s, I went to a catholic school for gifted children (which sadly has been closed) that taught 4th through 8th grade. We had all the basic classes (math, reading, grammar, science, etc.) plus religion and French.

The 8th grade science class was the same as the catholic high school's 9th grade science class, and a most of us who went to that high school tested into that science class. My grade school also offered advanced (accelerated? I don't remember what we called it) math - basically doing what the next grade was doing (8th graders did high school first level algebra) - those of us who were in advanced math tested into geometry.

Once a year we had a 2 week immersion where we would study a time period (ancient Greece, WW2 era, the roaring 20s) in depth in each of our classes.

My class only had about 21 students by the end of 8th grade; most were closer to 30. I'm friends with quite a few of those on facebook. Most of us seem to be living fairly normal lives (quite a few of us are married, so not totally socially inept at least). Looking at profiles I see a lot of either grad school or medical school (I myself am in grad school).

To be fair, a lot of these people had parents that were also well educated (quite a few doctor's kids in my class), and the parents took an active role in the education process. That right there was probably what the school was best for, in all honesty. For example, the father of one of the girls in my class was a curator. He didn't teach art class, but he would come and teach a class or two a year. At a normal school you might have one parent like that per class, but at my school it was much more common.

The school also did a good job of teaching us that it was ok to be smart. They didn't force us into dumbed down material nor hold us back, if they could help it.
posted by chndrcks at 3:52 PM on February 18, 2009

I was the only person in my class to qualify for Gifted and Talented (2nd - 5th grade, late 80's and early 90's, Minnesota). I was most definitely treated at the smartest person in class - they made a big deal each week about pulling me out of my regular classes to take me to the "special" classes. I'd say it was a positive influence and provided me with more opportunities for academic growth.

That said, during my 5th grade year, my parents became unsatisfied with how my younger brother was being taught and transferred both of us to a tiny Christian school. It took me a full year to catch up to the level my new classmates were at. All four of them. This was a humbling experience.
posted by bristolcat at 3:59 PM on February 18, 2009

Honestly, I feel like I got nothing from the "gifted" program, other than an uncomfortable feeling of being singled out for a trait I had no clue I possessed, and was, in any case, not something I intentionally did.

I also felt that, because teachers identified me as "gifted," they were less likely to offer any help. As a result I never actually learned how to study (for reals, I never studied for a single thing), and I have struggled mightily in university. Whenever I obviously struggled, or felt unsure about my skills in something, rather than seriously addressing my concerns, school teachers and my parents just constantly reiterated, "YOU'RE SO SMART, YOU WILL BE FIIIIINE" even though I clearly was NOT fine.

Just my two cents. (No, not bitter at all, why do you ask?)
posted by peggynature at 4:02 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I started in gifted education in kindergarten. Very few of the people that went through the program with me have set the world on fire. There's a big difference between intelligence and ambition. In my opinion people with ambition who are 'smart enough' get much further than someone with just raw intelligence. The people I know who are getting terminal degrees now weren't in gifted with me, let's put it that way.

Personally, I dropped out of college after four years and spent my twenties feeling like an asshole because of it. Much of my angst came from the idea that I had always been 'the smart one' and that I felt like a total failure at life because I didn't finish. I identified very much with the man profiled in Outliers who dropped out of college because he couldn't hack the bureaucracy. I've gone back now and I plan on getting a master's when I'm done but I'll be almost a decade behind my peers.
posted by sugarfish at 4:08 PM on February 18, 2009

Oh, anecdotes...I was in a few different G&T programs in the 80s (we moved around a lot). Project Search was in Rhode Island, and Prism was another. Honestly? I dug it just because I got out of regular classes and got to go on cool field trips and do weird experiments. I was always a good student but also easily distracted so the G&T programs worked out great for me because they put me in an alternative learning environment, I think not unlike an alternative high school or a vocational school except there wasn't that stigma attached. It was assumed that I was a genius even though it was just that I thrive in the non-classroom environment. I was not scarred, never snorted crack off of a hooker's back, and I finished college and am finishing my PhD, although that's more a product of distraction than of any prior G&T courses or any sign of super intelligence. It just happens that I'm a hard worker. Grad school definitely put me in my place and hammered into me how incredibly un-genius I am, regardless of starting kindergarten when I was 4, and I think in the long run, I did benefit from gifted programs, but not for the reasons that they originally intentioned. Suckers. ;)
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:15 PM on February 18, 2009

AFAIK, all of the kids I remember being in GATE with (early 90s) have undergrad degrees, at least. Many have gone on to grad school or med school. Of the four kids in my 7th grade class who were put into algebra (the standard 9th grade math class in our district), I'm the only one without a master's. Granted, we were all pretty much in the same socioeconomic class, so our success could be as much a result of that as of any special treatment. We also had a pretty excellent public education system where I grew up, and I'm having a hard time thinking of many people I knew in high school, "gifted' or not, who totally failed. But again -- I associated with the smart kids.
posted by natabat at 4:23 PM on February 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, these are great. Peachfuzz, I love your air force / beatnik anecdote.
posted by Kirklander at 4:25 PM on February 18, 2009

Yes, I was in gifted 1st-8th grades...and it made me feel socially (more) awkward for being singled out. We did do fun things, but I'm not sure an hour once a week was really enough to have much effect. There is a big of a burden to carry I suppose. My 10 year high school reunion is this summer, and I'm sure everybody is expecting me to have multiple PhDs and work for NASA or something. I don't.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:25 PM on February 18, 2009

I was in GT-type programs through 8th grade, got bored with school, quit to homeschool through the rest of high school, haven't taken over the world yet but have a master's degree and am working on another one. I'm glad I wasn't stuck in regular classes that whole time, and I liked my GT classmates a lot, but I kind of wish I'd spent that time learning to program rather than pretending to be on a spaceship or making up civilizations and burying their artifacts for the other half of the class to dig up. (None of the GT programs I was in did anything concrete to get girls into science.) At one point I was in a GT magnet school and sometimes wonder if that would have worked out better if we'd remained in that city.

At the same time, I think the tests to identify the kids for these programs missed out on a lot of really creative students (particularly male students), who were frustrated by the regular classes, barely made it through high school (either academically or emotionally), and wound up not finishing college and never finding a decent career or path in life. Some of my best friends were in this group, and I think they might have made it if they'd had the outlet of GT.

I don't think regular high school classes are of much benefit to advanced students ... or developmental students ... or ... er ... well.
posted by wintersweet at 4:28 PM on February 18, 2009

I was in gifted programs from 4-12th grade. The biggest favor those programs did for me was show me, firsthand, the difference between making good grades and being smart. The former was predicated on being able to follow directions; the latter had nothing to do with your aptitude for doing what other people wanted.

The biggest drawback is one other people have mentioned: In my experience, the gifted programs I was in didn't bother breaking down how to learn, and the culture was such where if you did have a problem picking up something, the perception among your fellow students was not that you were approaching the material wrong, but that you were too stupid to understand it. O, how ironic that this actually impeded anything like learning how to use your brain more effectively!

I was a crap scholar until my first test in college, where I got all preconceived notions about being smarter-than-average thoroughly beaten out of me via my first biology exam. (I scored a 77 and only made a B. Oh my god, the shock. The shame. The identity crisis!) I had to teach myself how to learn whilst also learning in college.

In my late 30s now ... my former classmates who were very good at turning in command performances and getting good grades are mostly modestly successful. They're solid citizens with decent jobs (teacher, engineer, nurse, military officer, etc.). However, I have no good criteria for measuring whether this population is proportionally less successful, as successful or more successful than people who didn't go through gifted programs. "Success" can only be objectively assessed up to a certain point, you know?
posted by sobell at 4:40 PM on February 18, 2009

I went to gifted public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. I don't remember an outsider feeling in elementary school even though there were "non-gifted" classes, but it was also a bilingual school so everyone was in a special situation.

My high school (7-12) was all gifted. Based on what I hear about "normal" high schools, I think I had an exceptionally good experience there, both academically and socially. My school was a lot more tolerant of difference than I think many high schools are. That alone avoided a lot of teenage angst, was good for our self-esteem, and taught us good habits for life.

Years later, most of my classmates are doing great in a range of fields, and overall they are the brightest, most creative, and most well-adjusted bunch of people I know. I don't know how much of that is cause, effect, or this particular school. But if my kids could get in, I'd send them there in a second.
posted by walla at 4:40 PM on February 18, 2009

I didn't make the cut for GATE in elementary school, and was told not to worry, because it didn't mean anything at that level anyway (though I still felt left out). But I did get to be part of the Model States or something of the sort - 5th and 6th grade kids who were in the more "gifted" classes got to take the role of states and follow the course of their statehood and the nation, and the kids could make a case for their state to become part of the United States at certain times. We had to research how our states were doing over the years, figuring out when we'd be valuable additions to This Great Nation. I was never any useful state, so I sat with most of the others on the periphery, watching things happen.

I was in a Gifted track in Jr. High and High School, but the Gifted classes never held much more than accelerated learning paths. I found it was more fun to hang with the slacker kids after a a few years in high school. Some slackers were in the gifted classes, some were not. Then I was part of the first year of Arts Academy program, for those who were "gifted" but less motivated. We had fun, but I think the program tanked quickly, as gathering the unmotivated kids together in a less formal situation was a bad idea. On the other side of things: my English class was somehow worth college credits (which saved me from taking intro English in college), and we got to go to see some fantastic plays, even spending a week in Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare festival.

It took me some 8 years to get through my undergrad program (I changed my mind towards the end of my first path), and now I have what I'd consider a mid-level government job. Other friends took similar meandering paths. Some are still wandering without goals, other are into artistic fields. I've lost track of a few.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:54 PM on February 18, 2009

My OM team (World Finals '98 at Disney World!) ended up with 2 doctors, a lawyer, an engineer, a perpetual student, a retail manager, and a product specialist. Maybe a little higher than average placement, but still plenty varied.
posted by hwyengr at 4:54 PM on February 18, 2009

From first through sixth grade (early 90s), I was placed in my district's G&T program due to high IQ test scores. All the G&T kids in my grade were bussed to our G&T classes one day a week in lieu of normal classes. There were only three kids in my grade at my school, and the mainstream teachers often seemed to deeply resent our absences (one went so far as to openly make fun of us) and a few of my elementary school friends were crushed when they tried for G&T and didn't make it. I remember one girl being especially resentful, and I really don't blame her--entrance was solely based on obviously flawed IQ test scores and other types of "giftedness" weren't even acknowledged.

We never did anything really challenging at G&T. We played "educational" video games on the teacher's apple IIE, did analogies and Stories with Holes. There were books in our G&T classroom and lots of art supplies, and I remember most of our time being very unstructured. Each year, we would write a play together about some topic (endangered species one year, Greek mythology another) , which we would research, paint sets for, make costumes for and then perform for the other classes who, I'm sure, were mostly bored out of their minds. One year we learned a lot about the science of bubbles.

So it was fun, but not (from what I can recall) particularly useful. But then, I was always pretty wrapped up in my head with whatever I was obsessed with at the moment and often consumed with my own creative projects. I saw G&T as a time to explore that and, more or less, ignore whatever "curriculum" it was we were supposed to be learning. There were a few kids there like me--one was obsessed with drawing reptiles--but we were the dorky ones. The other gifted kids were kind of normal and low-key. Most of the kids in the class weren't especially creative, and few of them seemed passionate about anything, and it's taken me years to realize that both my passion and my creativity are what make me a bit quirky--the brightness might come into play, but it's secondary.

Most of us ended up in honors' classes in high school, but not all of us. I was in honors' English, but CP math (along with several other G&T kids). The high school Valedictorian was not a G&T student, for what it's worth. At 25, I'm in grad school for creative writing and (from what I've gathered from facebook) another student is getting his master's in business management. Two of my G&T classmates have yet to finish college--one worked in construction for a few years but has now returned to school. One is a paralegal for a US attorney in DC and another is an insurance agent. I still feel sort of abnormal and dorky compared to them. I'm very driven, but (as when I was younger), only in what I care deeply about. I suppose the same is probably true for them.

Overall, I don't think G&T made a major difference to my life subsequent to it at all, although the IQ that got me into G&T might have played a minor role in what I've done since. I suspect the other students would say the same.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:56 PM on February 18, 2009

It's a little strange to me to think about G&T programs in terms of how the kids turn out later. I was in G&T pull-out/enrichment classes in grades K-8 during the '80s. I don't really remember being told that we were being prepared for extra-special futures or anything like that (though it's possible that we were told that and the significance went over my head). For me the G&T programs always seemed like a mutual relief for the bad fit between me (and the other G&T kids) and "regular" classes. The G&T pull-out class was where we didn't have to be bored out of our minds by curricula that we had long since mastered, and it was also where our "regular" teachers didn't have to deal with the problem of managing the overeager, competitive, know-it-all students. In sum, it was a solution to the educational tragedy of teachers having to tell students to stop talking, stop raising their hands, stop solving problems, and basically just STOP LEARNING so that the other students in the class can get a chance to learn. It was a way to keep us productively occupied without disrupting the larger classes.

Like some of the other posters, I've had the experience of finding out first-hand that effortless success in early academics isn't always the best preparation for dealing with real-world problems. But I think that would have been the case even if I hadn't had the G&T classes in school. I don't know of any studies to point to, but I wouldn't be surprised if the life-success/failure rates (however those are measured) are similar in post-"gifted" and "regular" populations.
posted by Orinda at 4:58 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in CLUE from 3rd through 9th grades in Memphis City Schools. We focused on thinking creatively, especially things like critical thinking, brainstorming and logical reasoning. To this day, I use some of the skills I learned in CLUE.

As for how those kids did, I would say that from what I know, a lot of us went on to do interesting things, or at least none of us wound up mopping floors in a whorehouse. Many are doctors, lawyers, working abroad, saving humanity, etc.
posted by charlesv at 4:58 PM on February 18, 2009

That was in high school, but 6 of the 7 of us went to the same gifted school from 4th to 8th grade (the product specialist was the outlier)
posted by hwyengr at 4:58 PM on February 18, 2009

The best thing my G&T program ever did was allow me to take a college-level independent study course at a local university in the 11th grade. I really enjoyed my weekly hour-long one-on-one conversations with the professor, and the intense directed readings were right up my alley.

When I dropped out of high school later that year, the professor was tremendously helpful in getting me admitted to for-credit history and philosophy classes there (as I completed an AA in Graphic Design to give myself a way to earn a living) as I put myself through school elsewhere. Which is how it all went down: I went on to earn an AA in Graphic Design, moved to California and completed a BA in Studio Art at the same time I earned a BA/MA in philosophy, and have done three years' worth of PhD coursework in Policy Analysis. In all, I've been very fortunate. Would I have ended up where I am without the G&T? I like to think so, but it certainly made things easier.
posted by aquafortis at 5:13 PM on February 18, 2009

They didn't have gifted ed when I went to school while the Earth was still cooling, but I was in Mensa in the early 80s. One of the things I marvelled at was that it was filled with adults who appeared to have lost the ability to give a flying fig about anything. I'm really ordinary, just a wife and mum with a demanding job I like a lot, but it's nothing special. I consider I'm having a peak day when I get to work on time, so my standards aren't terribly high, but lots of people in my Mensa group weren't accomplished in any field except trivia contests and high frequency intoxication. One year I had to decide between spending money on the membership fee or a new handbag, and the handbag gave me way more satisfaction and occasionally better conversation.

This is all to say that I'm not sure what the problem with gifted people is, but I don't think it has much to do with education. Smarts may be a necessary condition for achievement but it certainly isn't sufficient. Looking at current programs, I think that gifted ed still has a long way to go to nail together the other pieces.
posted by angiep at 5:28 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Like SMPY and CTY, Duke University has a program called TIP. They, too, publish their research. They started in 1980, so they meet your parameters.
posted by Houstonian at 5:37 PM on February 18, 2009

a lot of us went on to do interesting things, or at least none of us wound up mopping floors in a whorehouse. Many are doctors, lawyers,

Well, in addition to doing strategic policy analysis for a major think tank, I used to work as the "Clothes Check Girl" at a monthly swinger's party. Where indeed, I found myself mopping the odd floor now and again. As a former frequenter of the Federalist Society (who audited a class at Columbia Law just for kicks) I can guaran-damn-TEE you that experience gave me more interesting stories than your average lawyer.

Just because you've got a superior IQ (161, Cattell III B) doesn't mean you have to be a no fun 9-to-5er.
posted by aquafortis at 5:39 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My older brother skipped 4th grade and attended CTY. In comparison, I was considered (by my parents) of normal or "meh" intelligence. When I got a teacher, he previously had, I got the "Oh you're HIS sister?" and a gleeful look that I would be as mentally engaging. I killed that hope pretty quick. He got a lot of praise and freedom from my parents. He could get any books when we went to the bookstore. I was only allowed one because I always "wasted" my choice on Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High. I could, however, get all the math workbooks I wanted. Score.

While he was getting praised by my parents (which he brushed off every time) and his teachers, my parents kept on telling me "If you work hard enough, you will be ok. You will not fail at life. You will not disappoint me and I know all the hours I work now will have paid off." Thanks, Mom.

So fast forward, I was able to impress people at my internship because I had a good work ethic. I got hired after I graduated. I've had steady work for the past 5 years.

After university, my brother worked at a travel agency while my parents paid his rent. Then he travelled around South East Asia on my parents' dime. I think this was for about 2 years. Then he came home and stayed at home and didn't do anything. He didn't work, he didn't clean the house, he didn't make my parents dinner when they came home from work. Then after maybe 8 years, he decided he wanted to go to grad school. I don't think he graduated because he didn't hand in his final paper. I'm not sure because he doesn't like to talk about it. Now he wants to start his own business. He has been thinking about it for 2 years.

He has a really infuriating pattern where he reads about other people achieving what he wants at that time... and keeps on reading their stories. He doesn't apply what he learned. He bought all the books on how other people got internships, how other people got into grad school, how other people started businesses - but he just keeps amassing more books. And he doesn't even get them from the library. He buys the books. Who pays for his credit card? My parents.

My dad is constantly stressed. My mom works all the time and says that she'll support my brother for as long as she lives. They argue a lot more than when my brother didn't live at home.

So on one hand, I'm like HA! SUCK IT. On the other hand, he's my brother. I love him. I hate knowing that he's incredibly smart, but such a fucking idiot. And he should get a fucking job already and stop mooching off my parents and my parents should stop fucking enabling him.

AUGH... Yeah so anyway, that's what happened to that guy.
posted by spec80 at 5:44 PM on February 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

Also, from a scientific point of view this study is impossible.

Not exactly. You could take people who had statistically equivalent qualifications (i.e. IQ scores, verbal abilities, whatever it is that got people qualified to enter GT education) who didn't actually enroll in GT programs and compare their outcomes to those who did participate in GT education. It's not strictly scientific in terms of being an experiment, but it's a close approximation.

I'm in an education doctoral program right now, and though this is not something I've read much about my general impression is that you would find GT students do have good outcomes (significantly better than equally "smart" non-GT, I don't know). I think the discussion around GT education now focuses on fair ways to evaluate who is considered GT, which presumes that GT education is good and desirable.

I will try to hunt down some useful citations. As for my anecdote, I'm a GT kid and think it did some good things for me, some practical (lots of writing that has proven beneficial, coping with heavy workloads) and some cognitive (critical and abstract thinking and all that jazz). My friends who participated in GT and International Baccalaureate with me are for the most part "successful." But we didn't graduate from HS that long ago, so maybe we need more time to mess up.
posted by kochenta at 6:00 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in the gifted program in Canada throughout most of the 80s (Grade 7-high school graduation), as was my younger brother. We did critical thinking, media studies, model U.N., brainstorming, lots of Edward de Bono, and lots of special field trips. We were frequently reminded that we would be the leaders of tomorrow.

I haven't kept up with everybody since then but, within a group of my (male) friends from the program, it was jokingly acknowledged that all the early praise and expectations may have basically destroyed our ambition. Our girlfriends all thought so.

My brother is now a very successful business manager while I am currently at home (on paternity leave from my library job) raising the children while my wife works. I'm happy enough, but I do wonder sometimes whether my life might be different if I had never joined the Gifted program.

I have no doubt that we had the best teachers available, and that they worked hard at educating us. In retrospect, I feel much the same way about it as I do about university: it was fun at the time & it offered a lot of new opportunities, but it hasn't really had a great deal to do with where I find myself all these years later.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:28 PM on February 18, 2009

Early '80s GT kid here. I went to a magnet elementary school, then a non-magnet junior high and high school, both public schools in an affluent suburban district. As far as I can see, the kids I know from the magnet school and the kids from high school have had about the same trajectory -- lots of lawyers, doctors, and advanced degrees, essentially maintaining their parents' SES. Not a lot of flameouts.

Alissa Quart's book Hothouse Kids is essentially a book-length answer to your question.
posted by escabeche at 6:43 PM on February 18, 2009

A lot of what people are saying about how they never "learned how to learn" is also resonating with me, because the same thing happened to me. But I think that was the biggest thing that the two years I had with a serious G&T did for me -- it was finally something I had to try for.

But in my case, what was different from what I'm reading in others is that I loved, loved, loved college. I have always loved learning weird shit -- but for its own sake. The academic pressure I got in school actually came from different quarters -- I would have loved to have learned for its own sake when I was in high school too, but a) the classes were absolutely not challenging, so I was often bored, and b) I was repeatedly reminded that if I got really, really good grades that maybe I could get a scholarship to college and gee, that'd really, really help, because college is expensive and we weren't wealthy, but hey, no pressure...

College was the first time I was given both the leeway to completely and fully study whatever I chose without having much of an eye to whether I would get an impressive-enough transcript, and the intellectual challenge to make the classes I was taking interesting. And I bloody flat-out LOVED IT. I studied drama, but the drama program required a really solid non-drama liberal arts course of study as well -- except that in order to make it more palatable for the hardcore drama students, they did away with a specific course list and just said, "Okay, promise us that over the next 4 years, you will take 3 humanities courses, 3 math or science courses, and then 22 electives, and only 11 of those electives may be theater-related." Everyone else was taking things like Introductory Basket Weaving because it could count as a humanities course and they could sleepwalk through it, but I was going completely the other direction and taking courses in things like Modern Soviet Foreign Policy or Early Celtic Literature. By the time I graduated, I had rounded up enough credits for a double minor sheerly by accident.

College both did and did not have things to do with what I do today; but in terms of finally getting that "a-hah, now I'm REALLY getting to stretch my brain" it was invaluable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and:

One year I had to decide between spending money on the [MENSA] membership fee or a new handbag, and the handbag gave me way more satisfaction and occasionally better conversation.

I reached that point this year, as well....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 PM on February 18, 2009

The closest thing I could find to what you're looking for, in my brief attempts, are

1) a research paper that make conclusions and comparisons of subjects in the IQ-150+ range and the IQ-180+ range in Terman's five-volume study Genetic Studies of Genius (1925-1959) --- in the studies the 'gifted' children clearly perform above average, but this was a different generation and the study is basing the conclusions on IQ... not on the quality of a specific public school education program, and

2) a less than scholarly article from 2007 from the science editor at softpedia ... based on this article's citation of a NYC Hunter's Elementary school students with IQ-130+ performed by Rena Subotnik of the American Psych association --- those with the higher IQs did not magically become rocket sciences... the article cites a quote from the famous education researcher Ericsson:
Ericsson shows that genius status is achieved when one puts in five times extra work and 10 years of effort more than average people do. "A lot of people think (that) highly talented people can become good at anything rapidly. But what this study says(suggests) is that nobody has been able to rise without having practiced(practised) for 10 years. In [classical] music right now, it takes more than 15-20 years before they start winning in competitions", said Ericsson.
... I think that if you're looking for more solid data than just anecdotal reports from ask.MeFi users who are most likely speaking about their experiences with various emotional & psychological biases ... you should start shifting your research towards studies that base their results on participants that have higher-than-average IQs on the Stanford-Binet IQ test. OR --- to get more general, studies that focus on how higher "expectations" (which is the philosophy that most of the programs your talking about are based on) affect educational and life success over time. There has been a lot of work done on this ... starting with the classic study on expectations by Robert Rosenthal in which teacher's who were told that students with low IQs were actually high performing students. Over the year, the students performed MUCH better than they would have normally... this was attributed to the teacher's holding them to a higher standard of expectation because they were 'gifted.'

If you are serious about finding more concrete information search the United State's Department of Education's ERIC (Educational Resource Information Center) database, which is loaded with with information on peer-reviewed articles on topics pertaining to your question.

Now... on a more human note... I think that whether or not a person is "successful" in a conventional sense has 200% more to do with the individual's family dynamics... and the individual's on desire to overcome whatever it is that causes them trouble WITHOUT become bitter or angry.

amyms summed it up great:
I ran away and eloped at age 19. It was simultaneously the dumbest and smartest decision I could have made, but I finally learned to live for myself and not for everyone else. I learned to be happy with being intelligent without worrying about whether I was meeting other people's expectations.

Oh... and like Ericsson points out... there is no real substitute for hard work and focus. So if the program's you're talking about (which I don't have any experience with) just lets the students explore their creative nature without any sort of discipline or behavior scheduling, then those students are probably missing out by not being in regular classes... but, in the 'gifted' programs that I have experience with (and to my knowledge the majority of them) students are allowed more freedom to explore creativity, but they are also staying very focused and working very hard on much more complex issues without their even knowing it (because they're actually enjoying it)... which SHOULD set them up for a much higher rate of success than the average student.

If a student has family or social adjustment or inflated ego issues: that's going to be your culprit, if the "gifted" student is "unsuccessful" at life stuff... not the program that holds them to higher expectations by giving them more freedom to explore the quandaries of the world. Of course --- I could be completely wrong... I mean, just take the Chinese for example ... all of us silly, gifted American's may be shining their shoes for a living pretty soon... even the "successful" ones.
posted by eli_d at 7:21 PM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nothing formal, but I can tell you what I got from it in the early 90s. Which wasn't much other than the realization that the more pretentious an authority figure is, the more it will reward you for finding:
1. Creative interpretations of the rules.
2. Legal ways around the rules.
3. Technical ways around the rules.

Basically, I found that I was often rewarded for gaming the system, whereas in regular classes I was either tolerated, frowned upon, or rewarded only if undetected.

That lesson has served me well in my business career. :)
posted by krisak at 7:36 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in a gifted program around 1995. When I figured out it was a bunch of extra work for no extra credit, I quit. Does that make me lazier than everyone else in the program, smarter, or both?

In all seriousness, I don't think it affected the other kids in the program one way or another. From what I know about them these days, they're pretty much exactly where I figured they would have been otherwise, gifted program or not.
posted by PFL at 8:52 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anecdote: I was in a "gifted & talented" school program in the late 1980's. I remember the program itself fondly; getting to leave regular class and going into a more relaxed setting where we did interesting things like word games.

The label of giftedness was more problematic. It justified my parents' well-meaning push for perfection. If my grades were less than perfect it meant I was lazy, since I was certainly capable of doing better. There was no way to win and no rest. I never felt like school was about learning, more about performance, about meeting external expectations, with grades as an artificial scoring system.

Those years were massively stressful and exhausting. It took me a long time to learn how to learn things for my own enjoyment and self-improvement. I still struggle with perfectionism, which I think has held me back sometimes. On some irrational level, part of me is scared to take risks and fail, for fear people will realize that I'm really an incompetent fraud, not gifted or special!

In retrospect, this article on "the inverse power of praise" makes a lot of sense to me.
posted by asynchronous at 9:03 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My experience mimics almost perfectly that of she with the great ass.

Born in 1975, I was reading advanced prose by 5, and was eventually IQ tested and put in my district's G/T program by 4th grade; I was one of the first children in the program, in fact.

There were a lot of expectations placed on us, and I felt rather ordinary despite what any test might have said. By high school, the classes were a strange mix: you had the long-timers who had passed tests to be placed into the program alongside children with influential or demanding parents.

I wouldn't say that being in the program put me at any disadvantage in High School (I pretty much slept through all four years with an 'A' average and a good SAT) but, for whatever reason, I did come to doubt my own 'specialness'. Somewhere along the way, I learned to not take risks at all.

The ease of high school also caused me to never develop good study habits. When I went to college (to the state school, having been too scared to apply to some of the fancier private schools), it was like I hit a brick wall. Suddenly, I had to study...and I couldn't do it. My grades were wildly inconsistent: high A's in classes that I enjoyed and found engaging, and F's in classes that bored me. I would spend hours studying Japanese or art, and sit on the couch watching "Black Sheep Squadron" in syndication instead of going to statistics. In a nutshell, I lacked both discipline and confidence.

I ended up totally departing from my major and putting a portfolio together to get a job in advertising, securing a job as an Art Director for an interactive agency before even graduating (I did graduate). Through my job, eventually, I gained some confidence. A few years later while self-employed, I decided I wanted to switch my career to medicine. I went back post-bacc and took 60 hours of hard science...and this time I got a 4.0 GPA on all of it: chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, trig, virology, microbiology, parasitology...I just soaked it up, now that I had the discipline to approach it. I spent some time working as a tech in an emergency room. At the culmination of this educational rejiggering, I sat my MCAT and scored in the 96th percentile. That both made me feel smart, and gave me a huge shot of self-confidence.

Sadly, I was unable after 3 years to get into a program...despite my 4.0 prerequisite work, and despite a stellar MCAT score. My initial college GPA, while having graduated in good standing, was just not competitive enough for me to make it past the initial screening for medical schools.

Here I am back in advertising now, with my career moving rather slow...I think due in part to my own risk-avoidant behavior. I have more discipline these days, and more self-confidence, but if you grow up never being challenged then I think you are just more likely to always shy from the challenging path.

I wonder often how my life might have turned out differently had I not been in the G/T program growing up: I would have been less able to smalltalk about every subject under the sun, for sure, but I probably also would have been better socially adjusted and would not have stumbled so much in college...I probably would have been a doctor by now instead of working in multimedia, and I still think I would have liked that so much better. Grunt work in the ER paid peanuts, but was infinitely more rewarding than what I do now.

If I am ever fortunate enough to get married again and both have it last, and have kids, then I would be rather likely to keep my kids out of the G/T programs...they're just too insular. If you want real emphasis on achievement, look to private schools.
posted by kaseijin at 9:30 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Alissa Quart book, which is entirely about this question.
posted by judith at 10:32 PM on February 18, 2009

I'm like many who have already posted in this thread. I was in a gifted program at my elementary school from 2nd grade through 6th, though I voluntarily quit in 6th grade because I disliked being singled out so much. I was the only person in my homeroom who was sent to the gifted program, which was one day per week, and I caught a LOT of flak from the other students in my regular school for it. We mainly concentrated on nontraditional learning projects, but we did have some advanced math and English classes. I vividly remember using a math textbook that was intended for high school juniors when I was in the 5th grade.

I did end up in advanced classes in junior high (taking 3rd-year high school level classes in my second year of jr. high - oddly we used the same textbook I had used in 5th grade) and went to a magnet high school. However, I ditched a lot of classes my freshman year and the high school administrators, in their infinite wisdom, decided to put me in remedial classes because my grades were bad. This is probably the worst thing one might do for a smart kid, let alone a smart kid who has been told they are smarter than average for their entire lives. I was bored out of my mind and dropped out, earning a GED two years before I would have graduated (had I attended regular high school).

I went to a community college for financial reasons rather than academic, and earned a 4.0 GPA. Afterwards I meandered a bit professionally before I found my true geek calling in IT. I've had a pretty decent career, but not over-the-top superstar style like my GT teachers told me. I've accepted that I'm pretty smart and can pick things up easily, but many other people can too and I don't really think it's such a big deal anymore.

Several of my friends in the same gifted classes ended up dropping out of high school, but that's the last I've heard of them. I don't really know whether gifted classes provided any sort of advantage or disadvantage to the kids involved, but I do think the unstructured educational foundation in some of the programs led to some kids not being prepared for the educational environments awaiting them when they left.
posted by bedhead at 10:40 PM on February 18, 2009

For me, personally: I was in gifted and talented classes from fourth grade on. I won every spelling bee, did tons of UIL (I have a letter jacket and state medal for spelling... yeah yeah, nerd city baby!). By 8th grade, I was having to go to the local community college for books because I'd read everything in the middle and high school libraries of interest to me. I graduated #4 in my class in HS, did the whole Honors Society thing, got scholarships to school, graduated cum laude with a double major in college... then won an AP award my junior year at the university, a fellowship at the Poynter Institute, taught Journalism my senior year of college for class credit, and was offered a great full-time job a full six months prior to graduation. After a year I became VP of Technology Communications and quit to join a start-up which was a stupid idea but whatever, Battlebots! Interactive animation DVDs! International distance-learning application development!. I also edited two published books and some treatises for Vatican II.

I moved on after that to advertising and now do web content management. I've got a Master's in Humanities I finished at night while working two jobs (graduated cum laude there, too) and have won multiple awards at every job I've ever had. I attribute 90 percent of my success to the problem-solving and creative thinking exercises I was challenged with regularly during my TAG days; being singled out as part of a "nerd herd" was no big deal. It helped me discipline myself socially in college and has given me the drive to change careers three times within a decade. I was also offered a teaching position at SMU at 22, but I declined.

At 30, I built my own home and now am making more money than either of my parents, have traveled internationally, and recently reconnected with many of my peers from that original TAG group. At least half of them are married with good jobs and happy families with multiple children. A few live abroad and have amazing career arcs ranging from managing a touring Cirque du Soleil production to working on the Super Collider in Texas when it was active.

Without these TAG classes I would not know about things like survival crisis thinking, advanced problem-solving techniques (you know, what do you do on the space shuttle when it breaks and you have these 7 items to fix it with or die?), creative writing, observational surroundings analysis (name one thing in the room that wasn't here on Tuesday), and many, many other bizarre things, like chisenbop.

I began my PhD work but stopped 14 hours short. Frankly, I couldn't handle the debt at that time but may go back eventually. I don't know how much of this can be attributed to my Type A personality or the knowledge that if I failed, nobody would help me financially or give me a place to live/work (because they couldn't)... but those classes gave me a thirst for knowledge and a way of thinking that helps me see around everyday obstacles in work and in life and stay constantly more aware of the world around me.

In other words, thank god for talented and gifted classes, especially in a rural area. I was able to understand things like Moebius strips and Klein bottles in fourth grade; Trigonometry by age 16; astronomy, metaphysics and things like Wittgenstein by age 19.

Private. foreign and boarding schools offer many of the same perks as far as I can tell today, depending on the area and the school curriculum (Montessori comes to mind, though I have not dealt with them personally). Then again, a lot of REALLY SMART PEOPLE are either bored by the reality of daily life or easily distracted while maintaining genius IQs.

Remember, Einstein wore the same suit every day; several modern geniuses are famously socially inept or too ego-driven to maintain success at the level they should be able to achieve.

This question is like asking: Are all the people in MENSA smart? Success and intelligence, to some degree, can be reduced due to the person's opportunities and social capabilities, mental health and any addictions/ongoing health problems. I'd say intelligence and specialized training at an early age are as important as charisma, discipline and working well with others are all key factors in major life success.

Dear god, I typed too much...
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:18 AM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I graduated in 1990, so that would make my stint in TAG from 1981 to 1990, approximately, so I fit your target demographic.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:20 AM on February 19, 2009

I'm late to the party, but I'll chime in.

I got identified for the G/T program in 4th grade, and did the local Odessey of the Mind and EXCEL programs through sixth grade. We had the usual mix of gifted kids and gifted-but-ADD/troubled/defiant kids that teachers were just glad to get out of the classroom. I loved EXCEL, EXCEL and OM were pretty much the only reason I wanted to go to school during those years. So, I had rather the opposite experience than most of you. While I struggled in high school (typical boredom and defiance issues), I had an absolutely fantastic college experience, due to what I saw as preparation from the G/T program. I always thought my particular G/T experience and the way it emphasized individual-driven studies and projects helped prepare me for college, where that kind of research and learning is expected.

Yes, my social skills were never what they "should" have been, but then with my personality I doubt they ever would be. :) An awkward, bookishly arguementative kid grew up to be an awkward, bookishly arguementative undergrad. Two degrees later, I passed on the chance for a Ph.D. to go do my own thing. I do web management work and freelance design on my own terms, wouldn't have it any other way. :)
posted by ninjakins at 5:25 AM on February 19, 2009

Wow, this is a very interesting study in itself! Put me down as another G&T grad with unreasonable expectations of the amount of effort it takes to truly succeed as well as lacking some of the basics (which shows in my poor spelling and grammar).
posted by Pollomacho at 5:37 AM on February 19, 2009

Graduated high school in 1994, did OM, did CTY, bunch of other summer science programs etc. I don't know if it's the fault of gifted and talented programs, but I'm generally good at learning things, but bad at follow through work, especially if it's something I'm uninterested in. The problem is, most adult jobs involve a lot of stuff I'm not interested in.
posted by electroboy at 6:38 AM on February 19, 2009

Mid- to late-80s GTer, suburban Maryland. In first grade, they put me in fourth grade. Then they sent me back because apparently the kids were making fun of me. (I was too young to have any idea.) So I was back to the regular GT classes, and consequently found most of elementary school stunningly boring. I just didn't do the work, and then I got in trouble for not doing it. I came up with my own ways to do math problems, which teachers hated. Come middle school, they just pulled me out of a few classes every day and let me hang out in the "Gifted and Talented Room," which I did for about half the day. We could do anything we wanted. I learned HyperCard, wrote a novel, and started a school TV station. My family moved (to rural VA) after middle school, and the new high school didn't offer anything like GT courses. I (and my twin brother) bailed after two years, and went through a self-schooling/homeschooling group, getting my degree through Oak Meadow.

I've been left with a lifelong feeling that success is relatively easy, although also the fear/understanding that it's almost always because others make it possible. Generally I just decide to do something, outlandish though it may be, and it just sort of happens. (Maybe I fail just as often as most people, but I've learned to both expect and be OK with failure? That was something emphasized in some GT classes.) The transition to adulthood was awkward in the sense that it's one thing to be a smart kid—people always saying "wow, he did X and he's only Y years old!"—but quite a different trick to be a smart adult. I think my 10-year-old self would be happy with this, my 30-year-old self.

GT classes—or maybe just labeling—provides self-confidence, but that's a double-edged sword.
posted by waldo at 7:38 AM on February 19, 2009

No other NOVA kids from St. Paul, MN, in the mid-1980s? (Hi, Dr. Di!)

I was in the public schools G&T program for 4th to 6th grade (I left private schools for it!), which would be 1984-1986. Most of my classmates went on through junior high & high school together, though I went back to the "honors" track at my parochial high school. I sought out everyone over the last couple of years, and found all but I think four -- plus two who wouldn't answer me. :7) We are professors, a screen-writer, a MITRE staffer, a child psychologist, a money wonk, an IT manager & sysadmin (me), a radio producer, a sherrff, a management consultant, and the list goes on.

Pretty much everyone turned out OK, as far as I can tell. The only thing I found interesting was how few of us have kids: maybe four out of twenty-odd.

Since we were in a magnet program, we weren't pulled from class on a weekly basis -- which meant less special attention from other kids. (We were in a schcool with "regular" kids, too, who we met on the playground. *gulp*) In 1st-3rd grade I had always left class and gone up a grade level for reading and math, and I hated it -- but being in with a classroom where we all did the same work was fantastic. i think it really built up everyone's confidence not to stand out. We did ordinary stuff ilke spelling, but we also had a philosopher (Peter Shay) who came in on Wednesdays and talked to us about...things I can't even remember now. We did logic puzzles but we also had to take gym class. :7)

I also did TCITY in high school ( summer school at a local college) and a summer school at the state university -- where I ran into a classmate I hadn't seen since 6th grade!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:55 AM on February 19, 2009

Anecdote time.

I was in a G/T program in elementary school. I distinctly remember one day when we had gotten our state standardized tests (MEAP) back, and the class as a whole had done poorly. Which kind of threw into question the whole efficacy of G/T classes, and our teacher was understandably upset with us. At the time I was just happy (and kind of smug) that I was one of the ones who did well, but in retrospect I feel like it was unprofessional of her to take it out on us. (I actually think she was a good teacher otherwise.)

I can't be sure what long-term effects the program had on me. I do think that, like many others here, it took me a long time to realize that just because I was kinda smart didn't mean I was destined to succeed. Even if you are 99th percentile, that's just 1 out of 100 and there are still a heck of a lot of people who are smarter than you, and more driven.

A friend of mine (and fellow mefite) who went to a nearby, much smaller school without any of the G/T programs, AP classes, etc., constantly tells me she wishes she'd gone to my school. But I look at her now and she's one of the most knowledgeable and motivated people I know -- I don't feel like she really suffered for it. If anything, I think it made her more practical, while I chose to pursue a more iffy career in something I love (music).
posted by speicus at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2009

Scientific American: The secret to raising smart kids

That article covers the basic point — one that I'm surprised wasn't quantified sooner in the research, or at least more publicly — that telling kids they're smart doesn't do them a whole lot of good and may be detrimental. Praising them for the effort they make is beneficial.

Since most of the gifted/talented programs from the 1980s and 1990s were low in educational quality and served the sole purpose of providing a bright child with a stamp of approval for having been born with an IQ in the 98th percentile, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that on the whole they don't result in greater success than would be expected for a group of children from similar socioeconomic strata.

As far as anecdotes go, we had an even dozen in the initial set of children in my school who were placed into the G&T program after aptitude testing as 9-year-olds; six were girls, six were boys. Three were Asian or Middle Eastern, two were "ethnically" Jewish, the rest were white. The G&T program lasted four years and consisted mainly of vague enrichment activities. Of the dozen,
  • 3 are in medical school or are now doctors;
  • 1 is a dentist;
  • 1 is in law school and additionally has a master's degree;
  • 1 has a master's degree and is doing other work on and off in the humanities;
  • 1 works a normal 9-to-5 in marketing;
  • 1 hated the whole G&T bullshit, left high school early to do vocational tech training, and is now a certified mechanoelectrical something-or-other with two children;
  • 1 tried to do a bachelor's in chemistry, dropped out of college and lost a scholarship, floated around for a while and is now trying again, this time in physics;
  • 1 has a graduate degree and a career in biochemical engineering;
  • 1 same in physics;
  • 1 mostly dropped off the radar, no college degree, has a job out of state.
Out of the twelve,
  • 2 were eventually valedictorian and salutatorian of their high school classes.
  • Only 1 did the usual bachelor's in something normal and now has the 9-to-5 job at a corporation.
  • The 3 with the life paths closest to "typical" (the master's/humanities, the marketer, the no-degree-but-normal-job) were the ones with the most typical personality traits and families out of the group. They were also by rough consensus probably the least "bright" out of the twelve by bare-bones IQ standards.
  • The 2 brightest (one "profoundly gifted," which is an old-school label for stratospheric IQ; the other unclear but probably close) by the same standards are now the physicist and one of the medical doctors.
  • 5 of the girls and 3 of the boys have or will have postgraduate degrees.
  • 1 child eventually developed bipolar disorder; 1 had/has autism (mild), ADHD, and learning disabilities.
  • Perhaps telling, perhaps not: the 1 who considered himself likely to be the most ambitious/successful at that age is now in med school but middle-of-the-pack and prefers to work for his father when he finishes. The 1 who considered himself the best in terms of raw intellectual ability dropped out of university.
There have been no spectacular flameouts. There have been no spectacular successes. (Yet.) On the whole, so far things look like what was seen in the "Termites" (the set of children studied by Terman, mentioned above by eli_d).

Also noteworthy regarding the Termites is that two children were rejected from the set of Termites due to IQs that turned out to be insufficiently high in follow-up testing on the initial pool of students identified by teachers as bright. Those two were eventually Nobel laureates in the sciences (Shockley was one; I have forgotten the name of the other). None of the Termites had similar accomplishments, as far as I know. Likewise, we of my anecdotes had classmates not initially labeled as gifted who later on have gone on to do interesting things in the arts and the sciences.

If G&T programs have any real statistical value, it probably comes solely from the ones that find "highly," "extremely," and "profoundly" gifted children (again, the old-school classifications) and allow them to accelerate their basic educations so they can spend more of their lives sorting themselves out or making whatever productive contributions they can to society. Most G&T programs offer only mild acceleration, by a grade level or two, or offer enrichment activities only; these programs can occasionally have an impact on an individual child but their effects are likely to be mostly superficial in the others, and in the case of very highly gifted children they can be detrimental.

On the other hand, maybe this is just because very, very few children identified as gifted via IQ or aptitude testing are actually extraordinary in any notable way. A gifted child is one who is thought to have the potential to do a lot of cool shit, but a gifted adult is one who actually does cool shit. Our aptitude testing thresholds lack the sensitivity and specificity to pick out who exactly will do cool shit, and some fraction of the time they leave out people who eventually do. Labels of any kind — gifted, LD, ADHD, mentally retarded — are useless in themselves, and at least in the case of so-called gifted children, the small amount of information the label provides is rarely used to further anything of value to humanity.

Oh well.
posted by jeeves at 5:21 PM on February 19, 2009 [13 favorites]

Here's another anecdote for y'all. I come from a military family, so I changed schools quite a few times.

Went to a private preschool in NoVa, public schools in CA (K-1), Maryland (2-5), Charlotte (6), Winston-Salem (7-12), UNCG (undergrad), two community colleges for continuing ed, and hopefully UNCW for an MPA in the near future. I'm 25, graduated from high school in '01 and college with a B.S. in '04.

I had begun reading at 3, but no reading material of any value other than entertainment. I started kindergarten at 4, so I was always somewhere around a year younger than my classmates. I remember very little about school in CA; but I do remember once a week I went to a special trailer-classroom where the learning environment was quite different than the "regular classroom," but I can't remember the curriculum or anything specific. This was where I began to notice (as a child might)/be told that I was "smart/gifted/talented/advanced".

In Maryland, I took a few tests and they sent me not only to "Enrichment" classes, but the supposedly superior "AG" classes as well. I was not, however, in "Top Math," despite that all of my classmates from the GT program(s) were, and I remember feeling left out regarding that. I enjoyed the classes, in that they were a departure from the boredom that I found filled most of my school day, and the teachers were awesome. The idea that we could be whatever we wanted to be, achieve whatever we decided we wanted to achieve, was fostered at this time.

When we moved to Charlotte, the school system did not recognize my test scores, so after a few weeks of remedial and "regular" classes, my parents fought to at least have me placed in the advanced English course and GT course, but the school left me in remedial math. The environment was COMPLETELY different than what I had experienced in Maryland and I was miserable. Sixth grade was the first time I had ever made a grade below an A on ANYTHING (homework assignment, paper, report card, etc). I was mortified. I started to believe that maybe I wasn't as intelligent that everyone had said I was; that I had somehow fooled myself and everyone else.

We relocated to Winston, and again, the school system didn't recognize my test scores, so instead of going to the AG/HAG middle schools (with the kids that would become my classmates in high school), I went to a "regular" middle school. It was a miserable experience, and I'm thankful that we had choice transfers for high schools at the time, so I chose the local public high school that was nationally ranked (it isn't anymore, and that frustrates me, but that's another post). There, I was placed in AP and college level classes (we did not have IB or anything like that), but occasionally took the easier "Honors" level classes because I was lazy and I liked some of the teachers better. But, those teachers always pulled me aside and explained that they would grade me on a different standard than the other kids in the class because I was "wasting [my] talent" in such classes, and I generally would sleep through them or grab the hall pass to walk outside and have a cigarette. I had a good time in high school; I was involved in varsity athletics, theatre, a service club, and several academic clubs. My classmates and I were destined for great things, right? I mean, my mailbox was flooded with invitations to visit and learn more about the applications process for Chapel Hill, Vandy, VT, UVA, NYU, and all that. But, despite my arrogance and knowledge that "surely I am rather intelligent," I was also convinced I would fail, like I had in middle school; that these schools thought I was worth something, but I was actually a phony. So I applied to three state schools where I easily exceeded their admissions requirements. And by this time, I wasn't sure I was ready to go to university, but mom and dad wouldn't stand for that.

So, I went to UNCG, didn't crack a book and graduated with a 3.36 in three years while working a full time job in food service. I didn't learn too much in college; my program basically prepped us for grad school because an entry level job in municipal management pays JACK and it's difficult to move up. My only regret in life (so far) is that I didn't go to a school that challenged me; study something I had a passion for instead of going for that easy piece of paper.

Now I'm a firefighter, in a department that is just now coming to terms with the last century, so my coworkers perpetually give me massive hell for having a college degree. And it can be quite difficult to find someone at the firehouse that will provide me with the level of intellectual stimulation that I want. But we have a new chief who is quite interested in the idea that "educated leaders lead better," so he's pushing for everyone to go back to school, and in addition to increasing my EMS certs, I'm looking into a Master's of Public Affairs. I love learning, and I'm a pompous arrogant ass that loves to laugh and have a good time and break shit, so I'm a pretty good fireman. And that's the only thing that really matters to me. I just wish I had understood years ago that life is about doing what makes YOU happy, and not to worry about other people's expectations, within reason.

Also, most of my friends and classmates from high school went to a variety of schools, but they are either still in grad school, working for the government or some law firm, or working minimum wage jobs with their B.A./B.S. hanging on the wall at their house. But, we are a relatively happy group.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 9:49 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a product of 80s/90s suburban public school gifted and talented programs. Almost 10 years after graduation, I can't say yet that the program produced any superstars. For example, the smartest kid I knew in the program aced both the SAT and ACT, ended up on academic probation at Harvard and barely graduated, now lives with his parents and doesn't work.

But I wouldn't say that our trajectories were any different than the other "non-gifted" kids -- there are a lot of people in med/law/dental school (though probably more due to upper/middle class parental financial support than the gifted label), some pounding their way through random masters/PhD programs, a lot of 9-5ers (many dreaming of grad school), a few women who had kids early and stay home with them or work part time, a couple tech entrepreneurs, a few military officers, some burnouts, etc.

I can't speak for the others, but I still feel pressure to succeed, to excel at something. As someone working a 9-5 but dreaming of grad school (and other things), it's kind of a bummer, but really I have nothing to complain about.
posted by Maarika at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2009

My gold-star-of-success got me quite a bit of mileage, despite my being a complete turd of a student. Finished college in three years and then did law school.

Now I'm working on the whole "growing up and being an adult" part of the process, which was suspiciously lacking in my experiences.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:23 PM on February 20, 2009

Just came across this post, and can offer a tiny bit of anecdotal info.

I went to one of these kinds of classes in grades 5 & 6, only here they call them "OC" classes - for "opportunity class C". (Opportunity class D was for deaf kids; I have no idea if there was an A, B or any other letter)

At my school, there were two OC classes, of around 30 kids each, drawn from all over our region of Sydney. There were others in other regions. I'm not sure how many (presumably around six or eight), and it turned out that around half the kids who won scholarships to the high school I attended were from OC classes.

In the year we graduated from high school, though, I only recognised three names out of the sixty from my particular OC class in the top-1%-of-state list, so that's some kind of data point.

I was always curious as to what had happened to everybody, and last year we managed to cobble together a reunion. Of those who attended, the careers were spectacularly unspectacular. Not that I polled every single person to find out what they had done with themselves, but apart from (I think) one doctor, one philosophy academic, and a guy who seemed to have done well for himself in business, most seemed to have ended up in some kind of middling-level office job. Not too shabby, but not Nobel Prize stuff, either. Another girl who didn't attend emailed that she's now a curator in a major national museum, but that's about it.

Of course, those who couldn't make it might be at NASA or something, but judging by the rest of us, that seems a little unlikely.

This thread was very interesting, and sheds some light on how kids who find learning easy tend to cruise through life a bit, without necessarily learning to put in any serious effort, and also tend to become discouraged & give up easily, when faced with anything they don't pick up quickly.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:26 PM on January 7, 2010

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