Editor’s note: Julian C. Stanley, who died on August 12, 2005 at the age of 87, established the talent search model when he began the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) at Johns Hopkins University in 1971. He found that grade-level tests did not provide enough information about the abilities of academically talented students. Stanley decided to give a large group of seventh-graders the Scholastic Aptitude Test (now the SAT Reasoning Test). Stanley found that the SAT, given as an above-level test to seventh-graders, was effective in determining the true abilities of exceptionally gifted students. He then developed accelerated academic summer and weekend programs for these students.
Over the years Stanley’s talent search model has expanded. All 50 states are served by one of the regional talent searches, conducted at Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Northwestern Universities and the University of Denver. Moreover, SMPY, now located at Vanderbilt University, is conducting a 50-year longitudinal study of intellectually talented boys and girls.
Shortly before his death, we asked Stanley how the development of talent benefits society. His response follows:
“Americans live in an increasingly competitive world. The world’s population giants, China and India, will continue to challenge the United States as their people become better educated and more entrepreneurial. The admissions standards of many foreign institutions of higher education now exceed those of MIT, Harvard, and other top American schools.
The ablest children need to be identified early so that they can maximize their personal and social contributions.
Because our nation has a relatively small population, it cannot afford to underutilize any of its citizens, whether their talents are in the arts, humanities, sciences, or social sciences. The best hope for our country to remain prosperous and to care properly for its citizens is to outthink other countries and outperform them with innovations.
Moreover, the United States faces many environmental and political challenges, among them energy shortages; global warming; the cost and inaccessibility of health care; the financial struggles of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; terrorism; homelessness; and job outsourcing. These problems cry out for sustained attention by the country’s ablest citizens. We must use all the talent we have to address them.
Thus the ablest children need to be identified early so that they can maximize their personal and social contributions. These children excel in many talent areas, all of them vital for a globally competitive country. Promising youngsters need to be continually given opportunities to use their talents and further develop them, whether through advanced schoolwork, mentorships, internships, or special academic programs (particularly during the summer).
Talent must be identified and nurtured so that it is not lost. Selective academic summer programs help fulfill this mission, because in them talented youth encounter their mental equals or superiors. They are free to talk about any subject they please without being derided or intimidated by less able students and anti-intellectuals. Parents should consider these programs invaluable educational experiences, not frills. The socialization with role models and the rigor of the courses prepare ambitious students to perform well later at demanding colleges and universities. The courses can also provide the basis for a truly broad, deep education that will serve students well all of their lives.
Enabling America’s intellectually talented students to realize their potential will help put our nation on firmer ground from which to deal with the awesome challenges that lie ahead. Our country needs leaders in all spheres of influence. University talent searches and the programs they offer identify and nurture prospects for future leadership.”
—Julian C. Stanley, PhD