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Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child

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Overview

Critically acclaimed author Alissa Quart breaks the news about an issue that will be of urgent concern to parents and educators as well as adult readers with "gifted" pasts: the dilemma of the gifted child. While studies show that children who are superior learners do benefit from enriched early education, the intensely competitive lives of America's gifted and talented kids do have risks. The pressure can have long-term effects in adult life, from debilitating perfectionism to ...

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Overview

Critically acclaimed author Alissa Quart breaks the news about an issue that will be of urgent concern to parents and educators as well as adult readers with "gifted" pasts: the dilemma of the gifted child. While studies show that children who are superior learners do benefit from enriched early education, the intensely competitive lives of America's gifted and talented kids do have risks. The pressure can have long-term effects in adult life, from debilitating perfectionism to performance anxiety and lifelong feelings of failure.

Quart traveled the country to research the many ways in which the current craze to "produce" gifted kids and prodigies has gone too far. Exploring the overhyped world of baby edutainment and "better baby" early education programs, she takes a hard look at the claims about educational toys and baby sign language. Taking readers inside the ever-more elite world of IQ testing, she reveals the proliferation of new categories of giftedness, including "terrifyingly" and "severely" gifted and examines the true value of such testing. Profiling the explosion of kid competitions-from Scrabble(tm) and chess to child preaching-she uncovers the dangers of such heated pressure to excel so early in life and exposes the prodigy hunters who search science and math fairs for teens to hire for Wall Street investment firms. Critiquing the professionalization of play, she visits with kids who've been identified as prodigies-from a four-year-old painter whose works sell for $300,000, to an eight-year-old professional skateboarder who is backed by nine corporate sponsors. Surveying expert assessments of the necessary role of unstructured play in child development, she warns about the disappearance of recess and the pitfalls of children's overstuffed schedules today. She also profiles the growing divide in opportunities for wealthy kids versus those from middle and lower income families who are losing out as gifted programs at public schools are gutted in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act.

How should parents and educators draw the line? How much enrichment is too much, and how much is too little? What are we doing to our gifted kids? Alissa Quart's penetrating in-depth examination provides a much-needed wake-up call that will spark a national debate about this urgent issue.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In America, as in Lake Wobegon, all our children are above average; in fact, they're gifted. Alissa Quart's Hothouse Kids maps a country where a frenzy to "nurture" kids' natural gifts leads parents to deprive their children of real childhood. She charts intensive enrichment programs that turn youngsters into damaged, anxious perfectionists, placing them on daily treadmills that would dismay even workaholic CEOs. Drawing on recent studies, Quart shows how well-meaning parents deprive their children of the proven benefits of unstructured play. A wake-up call for every Gifted and Talented parent.
Publishers Weekly
Quart's follow-up to Branded shifts her focus from rapacious companies to parents, whose obsession with "creating" or "nurturing" giftedness, she argues, has led to a full-blown transformation of middle-class childhood into aggressive skill-set pageantry. While Quart wonderfully details the daily grinds of genuine prodigies (in everything from violin to preaching to entrepreneurship), the real force of the book is in showing how gifted childhood relentlessly tested, totally overscheduled and joylessly competitive is being created by striving parents of all stripes; such "enrichment" not only doesn't necessarily work, it can be harmful. A chapter titled "The Icarus Effect" presents child-prodigies as worn, depressed adults; "Extreme Parenting" and "Child Play or Child Labor?" show the bizarre (and often profit-based) forms prodigy-mongering is taking: "Phoenix has started her own knitwear business," one parent crows, "and though she is only 12, she can do it." Probing interviews (the kids are brilliant, robotic, frenetic, forlorn and every shade in between) are matched with educational and psychological data, with beautiful cultural riffs (particularly linking mathletes and Wall Street) and deep engagement: a former gifted kid herself, Quart interviews, interprets and assesses with a sympathy for her subjects and their caregivers that is emotionally profound. She turns in a remarkably evenhanded analysis and argues for "multiple intelligences" and enrichment for "strong learners" in public schools. Quart's second book is first-class literary journalism. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book reads more like a compilation of opinion pieces than a serious study of the issues. Freelance journalist Quart's (Branded) bias is evident from the beginning she herself is a former child prodigy and undermines any valid conclusions she might reach. Though the subtitle suggests that the focus is the gifted child, it is instead the parents who attempt to "create geniuses" through enrichment programs and activities, and the titular "dilemma" is never clearly identified. Quart does not distinguish between these types of parents and those who seek to provide appropriate encouragement and support for genuinely gifted or talented children. Her attempt to use the myth of Icarus as a metaphor for children whose parents push them too far is based on a distorted reading of the myth and indicative of the problems with the work as a whole, which is filled with sweeping generalizations based on a cursory examination of anecdotal evidence, limited personal experience, and a selected few works in the field. Parents seeking advice on how to raise their gifted or talented child will not find it here. For public libraries where there is an expressed interest or where Quart's previous works are popular. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/06.] Suzanne M. Stauffer, UCLA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 backseverely 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641856075
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/17/2006
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Alissa Quart is the author of the acclaimed book Branded. She writes opinion pieces and book reviews for The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine. A former gifted child, she started writing novels at age seven and won numerous national writing competitions. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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Table of Contents

1 The Icarus effect 1
2 The baby genius edutainment complex : the new smart baby products 22
3 The educated infant : classes for an improved childhood 46
4 Child's play or child labor? : preprofessional kids 64
5 Gifted and left behind : enrichment in the public schools 86
6 Gurus of giftedness : intelligence testing and talent by other measures 109
7 Extreme parenting : mothers and fathers as the ultimate instructors 131
8 Young competitors : youth contests for good and for ill 151
9 Children of God : the teen preaching tournaments 169
10 The prodigy hunters : math whiz kids become Wall Street recruits 185
Conclusion : rethinking giftedness : against perfection 204
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