The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one’s own intellectual limits and fallibilities–in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today’s education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, “I can’t do this.” Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them. That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.
The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.
The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good. —Charles Murray —Aztecs vs. Greeks: Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise. (Opinion Journal)
Wow, some challenging, exciting stuff. I’m taking a break from polishing my syllabi, and I’m glad I came across this.
When I was preparing for my dissertation defense, I knew in advance that my evaluators had every intention of pushing me until I broke. I don’t mean that I thought they were out to get me, just that their goal was explicitly to see how well-prepared I was to be a fully-fledged member of the community of scholars. If it had been a job interview, I could have imagined a scenario in which I gave the “right answer” to every question, such that the evaluators would stop asking questions once I satisfied their concerns one way or the other.
Not so with the Ph.D defense. My goal there was to delay the point where I cracked, so that it was as near the end of the hour as possible. In order to support a minor point in my analysis of A Streetcar Named Desire, I mentioned Blanche’s reference to Edgar Allan Poe. I know I looked it up when I originally wrote that chapter, but years later when my reader asked me to comment further on it, I drew a blank. I said “I could speculate if you like, but I’d feel more comfortable looking that up.”
That was when I saw my professors clicking their pens shut and sitting back in their chairs. Even though I didn’t answer the question, I was comfortable enough to admit my limitations.
Am I wise yet? Can I really teach wisdom if I still make stupid mistakes? It’s a challenging task.
I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at teaching students rather than teaching a subject. I’d like to think that my students are learning ethics and other intellectual virtues, along with where the punctuation marks go.