Monday 18 January, 16:00 (GMT) Online with Zoom
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Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Dr Jennifer Crane (University of Oxford)
“Think of the position I have been put in since first grade, just because I passed a silly test of describing pictures”: gifted children, intellect, and expertise in modern Britain and America
In the Summer of 1979, teenagers on a ‘Mentally Gifted Programme’ in California wrote to the youth magazine of the National Association for Gifted Children in Britain. They criticised the label ‘gifted’ and its burdens, writing: ‘Think of the position I have been put in since first grade, just because I passed a silly test of describing pictures’.
This paper explores the characterisation of ‘giftedness’ by psychologists in Britain and America; a co-constructed notion which came to denote a small percentage of people, 0.5-2% on various measures, with extreme, unusual, and powerful intellect. The paper explores how this label was applied to children in practice – by national and local IQ testing, for example, and in daily life as parents used magazine tests and brought new recipes and products on this basis. Children, meanwhile, used new voluntary groups to critique this concept, highlighting its biases decades before educational sociology did the same, and asking if it misunderstood what was valuable about humans.
As such, this case study illuminates a broader rise and fall of psychological and experiential expertise in this period, a series of transatlantic professional and voluntary networks, and questions of how medicine has shaped notions of human worth and value.