Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman

Ungifted: Intelligence RedefinedUngifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a teacher of students identified as gifted my enjoyment and appreciation of a book title "Ungifted" may seem ironic.

The children I teach are generally highly successful at playing the game of school. But some are not, including my own children. My oldest was very successful in public education until his sophomore year in high school when boredom and disinterest drove him to ignore his studies. He eventually, begrudgingly, rejoined the education game and is now doing very well in college.

My younger two children have various learning difficulties, including learning delays and dyslexia. But they are very intelligent in the areas of their passions. My daughter, due to her super power of dyslexia, has an amazing visual memory and taught herself to ride a bike and tie her own shoes very early in life. My middle son is encyclopedic in his knowledge of college and pro sports. It hurts that he can recall every starting QB and their number in the NFL but took eighteen months to learn that a dime and nickel make fifteen cents.

The one thing that Kaufman makes clear in his writing is that an IQ test will have very little determination on the future success of my students who are academically gifted and my own children who show high ability in traditionally non-academic areas. What is important, as Kaufman defines in his Theory of Personal Intelligence, is the dynamic interplay of engagement and abilities in pursuit of personal goals.

How come my son did not learn about money but had no problem remembering numbers of NFL QB's? He didn't care about money, it didn't match with his personal goal to be involved in sports.

Why does my daughter not like to read? It's hard, frustrating. Who wants to do things that cause your brain to hurt and your self-esteem to suffer? At the same time she is great working with younger children, and volunteers helping children with delays using hippotherapy at a local stable.

Success is not a test score. And that is important for all students to know, no matter where their dot falls on the bell curve.

The only point I disagree with is the use of the word Truth in the title. As Kaufman points out many times in his work, the truth is subjective and it changes. A century from now researchers may look on his work much like we look at the work of Alfred Binet and his IQ tests. At the time, everyone thought he had unlocked the secrets of measuring intelligence, when he was just a little bit less wrong in his thinking than before creating the test.

Ungifted is an important book for anyone who works with children. We cannot let the antiquated structure of the early 1900's still dictate what is considered successful in schools. Kaufman reaffirms and synthesizes the many ways we can all be great in our own lives, in our own ways. And a number on a test should not dictate our greatness.

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