A study has been following 'gifted' kids for 45 years. Here's what we've learned.

This article originally appeared on 09.22.17


What can we learn from letting seventh graders take the SAT?

In the 1960s, psychologist Julian Stanley realized that if you took the best-testing seventh graders from around the country and gave them standard college entry exams, those kids would score, on average, about as well as the typical college-bound high school senior.

However, the seventh graders who scored as well or better than high schoolers, Stanley found, had off-the-charts aptitude in quantitative, logical, and spatial reasoning.


In other words, they were gifted.

In the 1970s, Stanley and his team launched a full-scale study, identifying many of America's gifted kids and tracking them throughout their lives.

The study, called the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth never ended and is now nearly 45 years in the making. It has followed countless kids from middle school into their careers as some of America's top politicians, scientists, CEOs, engineers, and military leaders.

Stanley passed away in the mid-2000s, but psychologist David Lubinski helped bring the study to Vanderbilt University in the 1990s, where he now co-directs it with Camilla P. Benhow.

It's not a stretch to call this the biggest and most in-depth study on intellectual "precociousness." The results of the study thus far are equal parts fascinating and genuinely surprising — a deeply insightful look into the minds and lives of brilliant children.

1. Some of what we used to think about gifted kids turned out to be wrong.

Ever heard the saying "early to ripe, early to rot"? It basically means doing "too much" to foster a kid's special talents and abilities at too young an age could actually cause harm in the long term.

That's not even remotely true, at least not according to Lubinski.

That might be an outdated example. But Lubinksi says there are plenty of other misconceptions still alive today, like the idea that gifted kids are so smart that they'll "find a way" to excel even if those smarts aren't nurtured and developed.

Not so fast. "They're kids," he explains. "They need guidance. We all need guidance."

2. Intelligence is not the same as passion.

Quick, what's the "smartest" career you can think of. Doctor? Scientist?

While you do have to be pretty brilliant to work in medicine or science, those are far from the only career paths gifted kids choose later in life.

"Quantitatively, gifted people vary widely in their passions," Lubinski says. Many of the students in the study did end up pursuing medicine, but others went into fields like economics or engineering. Others still were more gifted in areas like logical or verbal reasoning, making them excellent lawyers and writers.

"There are all kinds of ways to express intellectual talent," Lubinski explains.

When it comes to doing what's best for a gifted student, it's just as important for parents and educators to know what the student is passionate about rather than pigeonholing them in traditionally "smart" fields and registering them in a bunch of STEM courses.

3. Hard work definitely still matters.

Measuring a student's aptitude, their natural abilities, is only one part of the equation when it comes to determining how successful they'll be in life. Aptitude scores can identify a particularly strong natural skill set but tell us very little about how hard that person might work to excel in that field.

Effort, Lubinski says, is a critical factor in determining how far someone's going to go in life. "If you look at exceptional performers in politics, science, music, and literature, they're working many, many hours," he says.

(And for the record, there are a lot more important things in life than just career achievement, like family, friends, and overall happiness.)

4. Regardless of aptitude, every kid deserves to be treated as though they were gifted.

The study's focus is specifically on kids within a certain range of intellectual ability, but Lubinski is careful to note that many of its findings can and should be applied to all students.

For example, the kids in the study who were given an opportunity to take more challenging courses that aligned with their skills and interests ultimately went on to accomplish more than the students who were not afforded the same opportunity.

"You have to find out where your child's development is, how fast they learn, what are their strengths and relative weaknesses and tailor the curriculum accordingly," Lubinski says. "It's what you would want for all kids."

It may sound a bit like a pipe dream, but it's a great starting point for how we should be thinking about the future of education in America.

If you'd like to learn more about the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, check out this short film on the project created by Vanderbilt University:

Quick Learners; High Achievers: Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Laverne Cox in 2016.

When kids are growing up they love to see themselves in the dolls and action figures. It adds a special little spark to a shopping trip when you hear your child say “it looks just like me.” The beaming smile and joy that exudes from their little faces in that moment is something parents cherish, and Mattel is one manufacturer that has been at the forefront of making that happen. It has created Barbies with freckles, afro puffs, wheelchairs, cochlear implants and more. The company has taken another step toward representation with its first transgender doll.

Laverne Cox, openly transgender Emmy award winning actor and LGBTQ activist, is celebrating her 50th birthday May 29, and Mattel is honoring her with her very own Barbie doll. The doll designed to represent Cox is donned in a red ball gown with a silver bodysuit. It also has accessories like high heels and jewelry to complete the look. Cox told Today, “It’s been a dream for years to work with Barbie to create my own doll.” She continued, “I can’t wait for fans to find my doll on shelves and have the opportunity to add a Barbie doll modeled after a transgender person to their collection.”

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.