Monday, June 24, 2013

Ungifted Intelligence Redefined … My Take

When I first heard about this book, my first thought was to ignore it and maybe it would go away (far away … like into the discount bin at Barnes & Noble). But here we are in June 2013 and Ungifted has just been released to glowing reviews by some very impressive, dare I say eminent, persons in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and education.

Everyone loves a winner! And Scott Barry Kaufman is quickly proving himself to be a winner. This is his third book out this year! And it’s only June. His educational background would be the envy of any gifted kid ~ he received his B.S. in Psychology and Human Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University (co-incidentally at the same time my children were attending the ‘gifted’ program, C-Mites, at CMU); his M.Phil. in Experimental Psychology from Cambridge through a Gates Scholarship;  and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Yale.

Impressed yet? He is an adjunct professor at NYU; blogger for Scientific American; co-founder of The Creativity Post; and Chief Science Advisor for The Future Project. In 2012, he won the Mensa Excellence in Research Award. But I digress …

Ungifted – it’s a title that will definitely sell books and spark debate in more fields than SBK holds degrees. And it should. It is well written, well researched (there are 50+ pages of notes and references) and if nothing else – well thought out. In fact, I'm guessing this book took root early in his life when he was mislabeled Learning Disabled. He subsequently remained misplaced until the ninth grade when he took matters into his own hands and self-elected out of the program into regular education classes.

Personally, I would have felt more comfortable with the title, Unlabeled. Labeling and all the implications attached to it are a recurring theme throughout the book. It is foremost about intelligence; a fact not to be overlooked. It also presents the author’s Theory of Personal Intelligence. I would tell you what it was … but you'll have to read the book.

I received my copy of Ungifted from the publisher with the intent that I would review it. I made no promises. I am not eminent in any field; which in the eyes of many would classify me immediately as ungifted. I did, however, read this book from the perspective of someone who has taught as a substitute and worked as a paraprofessional in special education for the past 11 years; who advocates for gifted education; and perhaps most importantly, as a parent. Much of what the author wrote struck a chord with me … with my heart.

A casual reading of Ungifted might result in the reader thinking that SBK believes “all children are gifted”. Say that in a room full of gifted parents and you better have your escape route planned! In the author’s own words, “This is not to say that at the individual differences level of analysis we are all equally intelligent, even by my definition.” (p. 305) 

And from the prologue, we glimpse his reason for writing this book:

“I firmly believe we can recognize and value every kind of mind without diminishing the value of others. I don't see intelligence as a zero-sum game: just because someone is talented (whatever that means) by the standards set by society doesn’t mean that the person who isn’t doesn’t have dynamic potential for intellectual functioning.”

So … why should the gifted community take notice of this book? We always talk about how we think our children should be challenged; so, why not all of us? This book challenges many long held beliefs. It should ignite a discussion on the potential of all children. Proponents (myself included) of the message that “giftedness is as much about who you are as about what you achieve” need to make a reasonable and intellectual assessment of Ungifted and then respond accordingly.

Read this book. I think you'll be surprised at the many areas of agreement you’ll find. And as a reminder … understanding and empathy are gifts we should all cultivate.


  1. Oh I'm curious. Could you include a link to the publisher, or at least list the name of the publisher.

  2. I was curious what you'd think of this book. The author, it turns out, lives in my community and the book is making the rounds. Much of it I whole-heartedly agree with - but I, too, think the title should be Unlabeled. I worry about the impact of the casual readers of the book, worry about an already declining support system for those who are, quite frankly, hard-wired differently. And I wonder if the problem really is about our reaction to labels in general, and not labeling in and of itself.

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