A former child prodigy explores the pressures on gifted children to excel.
Quart (Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, not reviewed) has direct personal experience to draw on. “I learned to read at three,” she tells us. “My father counted on me to offer presentations on Modernist Art by the time I was five. . . . I wrote my first novel at seven.” Understandably, she is especially concerned with the effects such high parental expectations have on the children subjected to them. Not content with simply delving into the existing literature, the author interviewed educators, professionals, parents and children. She visited various classes and attended competitions, including an evangelical preaching contest for teenaged boys. Her one-on-one interviews and insightful reports from the field give this book its sparkle. Quart’s survey of what she calls the “Baby Genius Edutainment Complex” reveals an astonishing array of items aimed at raising the IQs of toddlers, infants and even the unborn, as producers of unproven products seek to persuade parents that they can enhance their child’s brain development if only they act soon enough. Her look at the testing business includes a capsule history of ability testing and raises questions about the purposes of testing and the identification of children with special talents. She’s also critical of too-avid parents who aggressively push early learning on their offspring and press schools to label their children as gifted; her message to them is: Let children have a childhood. In addition, Quart argues in favor of better training for gifted-education teachers and increased funding for gifted programs in schools, which she warns have been cut back severely as a consequence of the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act. She calls on those in the field to de-emphasize rote performance and look beyond the present narrow focus on precocious math, reading and musical skills to more broadly define giftedness.
A challenging read for educators and parents alike.