A Forgotten Voice

I have just finished reading a biography of Leta Stetter Hollingworth, (“A Forgotten Voice” by Ann G. Kelin, Ed.D.) One of my favorite things to do is read or watch shows about influential people throughout history. The Biography Channel and the History Channel feed this hobby for me and many other people in our world.

What was so significant about Leta? First, you wouldn’t be drinking the same amount of caffeine in your Coke without her research back in 1911. Second, women may still be in the “stone ages” without her research and writings. Third, identification and education of the gifted child may not have the solid foundation that it has with her findings. Fourth, the field of Psychology may not be recognized as a professional field of study. She was the founder of the American Assoc. of Clinical Psychologists.

As a newly married woman in the early 1900’s, Leta couldn’t continue teaching after her and her husband moved to New York City from Valentine, Nebraska. Teachers could not be married and still teach, “because it was viewed women teachers as interchangeable and replaceable like pieces of machinery.” She had a graduate degree and several years experience before her move; after her move the public viewed her experience and knowledge as nonexistant. More important was her skills in birthing and raising children. Then her husband was awarded a research project from Coca Cola to find out if the levels of caffeine were harmful to human behavior. As a man who respected the individual’s achievement, he gave the study to his wife to conduct. She was meticulous and thorough, finding that there was no significant difference in human behavior. Caffeine was only a mild stimulate. From this success, she gained the respect of others and continued researching in several fields including differences in the sexes and intelligence through her 53 years of life.

At the time, there were several myths about sex differences between men and women like male brains weighed more than female brains,. Her research refuted many common myths of the day and forwarded the women’s movement by research rather than banter. She believed that you should not claim something unless you had the research to back you up.

She oversaw one of the first large-scale studies regarding the education of the gifted child. She looked at each child as an individual rather than a number or label as she conducted her studies. Her findings mirror most of the concepts we used today to teach the gifted. Namely, IQ was the most accurate and valid measure of intelligence but use of multiple methods were most effective, IQ’s of 130-180 occur in the top 1% of the population, schools should be obligated to make provisions for educating the gifted, funds should be made available for those students of profound giftedness to further their academics regardless of their family’s income level.
Despite all the progress made today in the field of educating the gifted, though, many states choose to educate their gifted populate through the use of programs that are enrichment based and meet only once or twice a week with a trained gifted teacher. Leta understood the social and emotional value of gifted students meeting frequently with their intellectual peers and would frown upon this practice if she were alive today.

Leta was a gifted, influential woman of the early 1900’s when it wasn’t acceptable to be one. She worked tirelessly to use her giftedness to better our world. She struggled without a mother (died in childbirth), a father who abandoned his family, an alcoholic step mother and the ideals of the day. She did have strong grandparents and a caring set of friends and teachers.  Would she have been as effective without this background? That was a basis of a discussion my friends and I had on a recent trip. How many gifted individuals are ‘discarded’ because we as a society ignore them? Leta was one individual who rose above the circumstances. My opinion is that society loses about 75% of its gifted individuals because it ignores their existance. What about the child rummaging through the garbage heap for his/her existance because there was no adult to care for them? What about the child who must labor in the fields to help his/her family survive? What about the child who much suffer at the expense of an unstable parent?

We have much to do as a society to educate each child to their full potential. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ mantra needs to be adjusted to fit the capabilities of the individual. Under the No Child Left Behind program put forward by the Bush Administration, the education of the gifted child is ignored, and the education of the special needs child is misdiagnosed. Responsible law makers need to look at educating the child the way Leta Hollingworth did throughout her studies. A child is an individual with propensities, interests, capabilities and feelings. And law makers need to provide the means for the teacher to meet the needs of the individual child by providing resources, training, and support.