Sunday, 28 April 2019

The giftedness curse

When my oldest son was 8 years old, I explained to him that he was gifted. He had learned to read at the age of two, to multiply by the age of three and knew all the 50 states as well 200 dinosaurs by name. My son’s reaction: he cried, became angry and told me that is wasn’t a gift, but a curse.

I was puzzled - how can being a super-learner be a curse. All the students in the school I teach envied him for his learning powers. However, the truth is it had already started to dawn on me in kindergarten that being gifted is more often a burden than being a source of happiness in life. Yes, gifted people find happiness more rarely in life, and it’s not because we are not programmed to be happy, it’s because the way we are programmed to be happy is increasingly not working in our modern, stressful world.

Gifted people are high-oxytocin people. We don’t work in a social hierarchy, i.e. we don’t strive to climb up the social hierarchy, because we don’t function with reward and punishment. We are not motivated by good grades, financial rewards and hierarchical status, we are motivated by love, respect and the appreciation of others. People who work like this, don’t often have good grades in school and they don’t often occupy higher management positions in big companies.

You might say, so what? Where is the problem? The problem is that most of us don't feel understood by the world and when we try to fit in, it hurts us immensely, up to the point of becoming depressive or bipolar. This, in a nutshell, is the giftedness curse: trying to fit into a world we were not programmed to live in by evolution. People look down on us, because we are the way we are, but they really would have to meet us on our own level to really understand us. Unfortunately few bother to. There are those few who look up to us. But the majority wants us to adapt. Being forced into something that doesn't correspond to your personality or trying to force yourself to do so, only hurts and makes you sick. 

When my son started kindergarten, the first year he played all by himself. The second year he made two friends (being introverted that was actually all he needed) and in the third year he tried to integrate into the group by starting to speak the local dialect. He failed abysmally and sounded like a non-native speaker. He has since then given up speaking the local dialect. It doesn’t come naturally to him, he can only try to imitate it, like an actor imitates a foreign language.

Of course, my son still struggles to blend in at middle school. But he will never be a fully integrated member of society. Gifted people work differently, and to the outside world we often appear weird and socially awkward. Like all people, we still do need deep connections with other people to be happy. These deep connections are increasingly hard to find for gifted people, unless with stick to our own kind.

On Quora, a social network, which basically only is made up of introverted intuitive and gifted people (Myers Briggs INTP/INFP/INTJ/INFJ) there are scores of people who want to know why they don’t feel accepted and loved by the world. The answer: it is the giftedness curse.

Dedictated to my son, Andrej and dedicated to Hedy Lamarr, who always was more loved for her looks than her true self. Not beeing acceted the beautiful personality she was made her undergo verious plastic surgery procedures and a social recluse. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The common ground of giftedness and autism

Even though I only score about 50% on the autism test, I have always felt attracted to autistic people feeling that there are a lot of commonalities between gifted people and autistic people. Although I have never had any communication problems (apart from being introverted) and never shown any of that typical repetitive behaviour, there are a lot of autistic traits I can relate to, in particular a total fixation with one particular subject/idea over a long period of time.

Simon Baron-Cohen has described the autistic brain as an extreme form of male brain. He describes autism vs. neurotypical in systemizing vs empathizing. Even though this describes the typical male form of autism quite well, there is also a female version of it. The female version does tend to be very empathetic, but it is not an extreme version of the female brain. Autistic girls have a great fear of speaking of the phone, for example, and in general are not very talkative either. The often have imaginary friends.

What Baron-Cohen doesn’t see however are other personality traits: autistic people are typically introverts and they are typically intuitives.

In Myers-Briggs terminology typical autistic boys correspond to


Whereas typical autistic girls correspond to


So, how are gifted and autistic people similar? Here is a list of shared traits of gifted autistic people:

  1. Verbal fluency or precocity
  2. Excellent memories
  3. Fascination with letters or numbers
  4. Specialized areas of focus or interest
  5. Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli
  6. Memorization of factual information at an early age
To these I can add personally:
  • hyperlexia
  • hyperfocus
  • a hightened sense of justice
  • ADHD (frequently co-occurs with ASD)
  • social anxiety
  • gets easily frustrated
  • sticking to routines and neophobia
  • lagging behind in emotional development
  • lagging behind in motor development
  • neotonous traits, including delayed skeletal development. 
  • fussiness 
  • picky eater
  • being skinny
  • risk of being born prematurely
  • potentially lower sexual dimorphism

All of these traits were equally true for my two-year-old gifted son Andrej (INFP type like me). In fact, his hyperlexia made me worry if he was autistic. He started to learn the numbers around twelve months old, soon followed by the letters of the alphabet, with the Greek and Russian alphabets to follow in rapid succession.

By age two he was a fluent reader in English. Foreign language learning also came very easy to him. Here the numbers in seven different languages.

Whenever Andrej had a new interest, he was completely obsessed with it and would not want to learn anything else until he had mastered his current interest (e.g. dinosaurs, minerals, etc.). In his first year of kindergarten he wouldn’t socialize with any of the other children and prefer to play on his own.

In school he displayed aggressive behaviour when forced to work and signs of ADHD (the passive variety, him being an introvert).  Despite his ADHD and lack in work ethic at school, he has kept up well with academics at age 11 now, in particular language development (years ahead of peers), has a great sense of humour (loves puns and pranks) and an avid interest in history and acting (not unlike autistic "masking").

ADHD is a common diagnosis for both gifted children and ASD children. There are also other common overlapping diagnoses like OCD, dyslexia, HSP, social anxiety and even schizophrenia. Also cases of twice exceptional gifted and autistic children are not uncommon.

Isolationist feature are generally common to both gifted intutives and ASD kids. Both have delayed puberty. Ironically they separate themselves by not accentuating their secondary sex characteristcs (no make-up, unisex clothes, etc.) and thus become more isolated from their peers during puberty. During puberty a lot of intutives develop social anxiety and suddenly start to look like ASD teens, even though ASD is typically disgnosed around preschool age. ASD children avoid touch and social contact even more than gifted children. Presumably not to be touched by the wrong kind of people. So, they isolate themselves even more than gifted intuitives.   

So, what determines if a person (e.g. with an INTP personality) turns into a highly gifted person or an autistic child? As searches for an autism gene have proven fruitless, my best guess is the environment. Oxcytocin probably influences neural development in a myriad of ways in combination with other genes. However, the biggest factor in developping ASD is a mismatch with the original environment in which intitutives were programmed by natural selection. 

One sign often found for autistic children is “bottle fed” vs “breastfed” in gifted children. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which intuitive people seem to need more of than non-intuitive people (or neurotypicals, as it were). 

Oxytocin-preventing occurrences that might (NB: current research tends to disagree with this idea) aggrevate problems in autistic children:
  • Caesarean section (prevents mothers from releasing oxytocin during childbirth
  • Bottle-feeding
  • Separated sleeping (prevent the cuddle hormone from being released)
  • Absence of a caring father and/or other relatives (intuitives are more social breeders who need deep connections
  • Absence of intuitive siblings and intuitive playmates
  • Growing up in an orphanage (institutional autism)

Genetic testing of intuitive children should be possible. If my hypothesis is correct, they have OXTR gene (oxytocin receptor) rs53576  AA genotype. The AG genotype might also be at risk for milder forms of autism (as well as other mental disorders). If intuitives can be identified early on at, a host of preventive measures could be taken, and many cases of autism could possibly be prevented.

I think my hypothesis also explains why there are so many occurrences of ASD among children of university professors and people working in Silicon Valley. 

To sum up: both gifted kids and ASD children have what I call "hunter-gatherer" minds. Read more about them in this posts. 

Dedicated to my step brother Harald and his autistic son

Also dedicated to Temple Grandin and Greta Thunberg, two great ASD heroes who try to make the world a better place.

Beautiful minds: gifted, creative, autistic, bipolar, borderline and other high oxytocin minds

Schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder are very different diseases. Schizophrenia is a cognitive collapse in which every event is imbued with excess personal meaning and the inability to separate inner life from outer life gives rise to hallucinations and delusions. Autism is manifested in early childhood by a lack of social connectedness and solitary preoccupation with repeated motions and nonsocial thinking. Bipolar disease is the product of a broken moodostat that causes alternating periods of depression and mania. These are dire diseases.
Despite their differences, these diseases have overlapping features that make an evolutionary perspective especially useful. Each afflicts approximately 1 percent of populations worldwide. Each has milder forms that affect 2 to 5 percent of people. Vulnerability depends overwhelmingly on what genes a person has, but people with schizophrenia or autism have fewer children than other people. The evolutionary question is obvious: Why hasn’t natural selection eliminated the genetic variations causing these diseases?

The reason might be very simple, despite being less than obvious. The very same genes that make people susceptible also confer evolutionary advantages (analogous to sickle cell anemia/resistance against malaria). Giftedness and autism are the flip sides of the same genetic advantage: highly cooperative, intelligent, altruistic (high oxytocin) people.

In another post I have argued for a genetic basis of these traits in individuals I call intuitives (after the Myers Briggs test). Intuitives are only partially compatible with modern high competitive capitalism. They probably preserve a lot of the original hunter-gatherer genome and find it hard to live in a "farmer world". 

The following graph shows the income distribution of different personality types. There is an almost inverse relationship between creative types (e.g. ISFP, INFP) and more pragmatic types (extraverted S types). The more intuitives correspond to the epitome of the capitalist personality (ESTJ) the better they function in this environment (see successful ENTJ/INTJ types).

The technically/logically innovative INTP (only 3% of the population, but 10% of people working at Google) only trail far behind, even though they are often found among university professors and scientists (Richard Dawkins, Einstein, Darwin). So, why aren’t they earning more? Simply because creatives aren't able to be productive 9- to 5. Therefore they don’t fit into the system and often become individuals at the edge of society, including hobos and non-functional autistic people.

The creative INFP/INFJs (Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain) are the epitome of the aesthetic creative mind and are at high risk for borderline, ADHD and bipolar.

The following graph illustrates the inverse relationship in giftedness of extremely creative and extremely practical, down to earth personalities.

Returning to Nesse’s quote from above

"Each afflicts approximately 1 percent of populations worldwide. Each has milder forms that affect 2 to 5 percent of people."

My hypothesis is that those introverted intuitives (INTP-INFJ) who make up about 10% of the general population are mostly among the 1% of people severely affected by mental disorders, whereas those people with milder forms will mostly be found in the groups “extraverted intuitives and introverted sensors).
In general, the more divergent personality types are forced into that ESTJ capitalist system, the more you can expect a host of problems from mental disorders to heightened stress symptoms with physiological consequences (eating disorders, hair loss, burnout, frequent sickness due to a deficient immune system). This happens due to an environmental mismatch (evolved mental environment and real environment). This also explains why intutitive people who are extremely successful in a capitalist environment suffer from mental disorders despite their material success. 

This hypothesis can also explain the strange correlation between the father's age at the birth of the first child and autism/schizophrenia (see Randolph Nesse 2019). Introverted intuitives males are typically late bloomers and find relationships with non-introverted intuitives hard (the above giftedness chart might as well be a compatibility chart). Plus, intuitives tend not to want children in unsettled times. These factors make them typically the last among their peers to have children.

Creatives need a high oxytocin environment (social bonding, laughter, music, meditation) to thrive. High cortisol and testosterone environments (modern stressful work environments) make them work less well as well as sick, both mentally and physically.

Dedicated to my son Andrej, the most amazing child I have ever seen and to my brother Chris, a very creative person.

Dedicated also to my Ph.D. supervisor Dr. Peltzer-Karpf, who has always had an interest in creative people.

Monday, 22 April 2019

The evolution of out-group altruism in Homo Sapiens via a dual kin selection/reciprocal altruism and group selection mode

Evolutionary psychologists and biologists have long puzzled over the phenomenon of altruism. Altruism has long been thought to have been arisen by kin selection, but  kin selection can explain true altruism up to several levels of genetic relatedness. Some people are clearly more altruistic than others and don’t only display in-group altruism, but also outgroup altruism. How could this kind of altruism have arisen, when it is so easy for altruistic genese to get hijacked by parasites?

FIrst let's track down potential genes for altruism.  In my mind, the most promising candidate is the OXTR gene (oxytocin receptor) rs53576 with its three genotypes GG, AG and AA. 

The following table provides a genetic study of allele frequencies.

African All*
Americans of African Ancestry in SW USA
Luhya in Webuye, Kenya
Yoruba in Ibadan, Nigeria
American All*

The Hadza and Datoga are highlighted, because they have very different social organizations. The Hadza are monogamous, egalitarian hunter-gatherers (most frequent allele AG), whereas the Datoga are stratified, polygynous pastoralists (GG dominant) and personal wealth clearly correlates with reproductive success.The Dagota are more in-group cooperative and more kin-selected/reciprocal altruism type, who show a high degree of verbal and physical aggression (also towards women), whereas the Hadza are more out-group cooperative (hospitable) and more group-selected.

What is interesting to note, is that the relatively rare AA type can thrive only in a population with higher AG types. Else, there would be a high chance of GG parasitising AA. Surprisingly the AA type is often described als less empathetic than the other two groups (with AG being the most pro-social). Even though the AA type is typically described as less empathetic (and that is what makes things a bit confusing), my hypothesis is that the AA types are the true altruists? How is this possible?

Let’s have a look at the conditions under which true altruism can arise in group selection.

“However, alleles for such [altruistic] tendencies can persist only when three special circumstances are met: groups with more cooperative individuals must grow much faster than groups with fewer cooperative individuals; individuals with alleles for helping must reproduce only a little less than others in the group who do not have such alleles; and finally, exchanges of individuals between the groups must be limited, otherwise non helping individuals will move into the group and their alleles will displace the ones for helping. These conditions rarely occur together. Group selection of this kind is weak and unable to explain costly traits. An essay by Steven Pinker explains why in crystal-clear detail.

I think there is one personality type that corresponds well to these conditions: introverted rationals and idealists. Their deep introversion and thinking is the mechanism that keeps them separated from the kin selected GG (in-group sociality) genotypes. They typically mate with extraverted Intuitives or introverted Sensors (presumably AG type). So the AG genotype acts as a buffer against potential GG parasites. AG generally can mate with both types.

How are AA beneficial to the group? Already Darwin hypothesised that extremely innovative individuals could benefit the group in extremely harsh conditions. Of course, this is only possible with a sufficient number of AG genotypes, who are willing to support the AA types. The most innovative personality type in Myers-Briggs terminology are INTX (although only 5% in the general population they make up the majority of Nobel laureates and 20% of all the people who work at Google). INTPs usually keep away GG not only by their apparent introversion, but also by their brutal honesty, which tends to hurt GG type feelings more than other AA types or AG types (e.g. telling a GG that country music sucks).

INTX types have reduced social cognition (memory for names, faces, are bad at recognizing emotions, etc.) in favour of increased general cognition (problem solving skills).

To name an example: Richard Dawkins (INTP, AA type) fights for scientific truth and is like most scientists not very motivated by financial reasons. AA types highly depend on the group for their survival, so their greatest pay-off is measured in social appreciation and integration and less in status symbols and financial rewards. This social recognition is the reason why most university professors share their findings for free and sometimes even pay for publication. Richard Dawkins hates traditions and wants to show people how they are blinded by their religious believes.  GG types, however, find innovation and reason much less important than social cohesion and feel threatened by Richard’s atheism, as religion is one important mechanism to keep their community together. By blatantly offending the GG types (without evil intentions), Richard makes sure his circle of friends only consists of other AA and AG types.

A second group of AA types are actually very empathetic. INFX types also have the very same reduced social cognition, however they use their general cognition on social matters and are extremely good at mediating severe conflict in the group even though they usually avoid most minor types of conflict because they incur high emotional costs (stress) on them. 

AA types are highly innovative individuals who sacrifice social cognition in favour of general cognition (zero interest in gossip and small talk, forget names, even risk autism, ADHD and prosopagnosia). Such a genotype can only thrive if the individual is integrated and appreciated for their innovative social contributions. If this is not the case these individuals develop a host of mental problems ranging from ASD, ADHD to depression and self-harming tendencies. This is exactly what we see with ASD and gifted orchid children who fade away. At a time when deep social connections are becoming increasingly rarer AA/AG types are bound to suffer from all kinds of mental illnesses.

To summarize: Group selected altruism increased during extremely difficult conditions in human history (think of the permanently persecuted Jewish people, who have high occurrences of AA/AG types and therefore innovative potential) and have a number of partial separation strategies:

  • Introversion (makes them more cautious and reflective in social interactions)
  • Heightened sense of (out-group) justice to detect intruders and protect each other
  • Boost to general intelligence (at the cost of social cognition) to detect intruders, be innovative in times of hardship and to resolve conflicts in times of social crisis. 
  • A buffer group (AG types probably extraverted intuitives and introverted sensors)
  • Delayed onset of reproduction
  • Typically invest more resources in fewer offspring than GG type.
  • Potentially longer lifespans (reduced dopamine in introverts) 

Dedicated to my intuitive friends, Elke, Fabiana and Marius

Dedicated to Randolph Nesse and Steven Pinker, two of my heroes in Evolutionary Psychiatry and Evolutionary Psychology

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The travails of introverted kids in schools


The vast majority of middle and high school teachers are extroverts (there is a considerable number of introverted teachers in elementary school, though) and I have found that most teachers tend not to understand introverted kids, who have a preference for social interaction with only a few other individuals. For example, a lot of teachers get annoyed at kids who never raise their hands or never speak up in front of the whole class. When they try to encourage all kids to raise their hands, they actually involuntarily encourage extraverted kids to speak up more often, even when they are clueless (quite a common phenomenon in classrooms).

First things first, a surprisingly large number of adults are not sure if they are introverts or extroverts. That is because most people aren’t really anywhere extreme on the E/I spectrum. Both, teachers and parents aren’t often even aware of the distinction and whether their kids are introverts or extroverts. With the exception of the really withdrawn students, in schools children typically interact with one - three other students, and this is a number both introverts and extroverts are fairly comfortable with. So, how do you find out if a child is introverted or extraverted?

Parents are the ones who can find out most easily. I never thought of my younger son (usually very friendly and not asocial in any way) as an introvert until kindergarten. When he got invited to parties, he started to have regular meltdowns (crying and not knowing what to do) after a while. Soon he started to dread going to parties. Making him aware that he is an introvert and that he needs alone time when the stress hormone levels get high, has helped him a lot in enjoying parties again. When he starts to feel the stress, he simply alerts the other kids that he needs to have his “alone time” and then withdraws for a while.

However, parties aren’t are sure sign to find out if a child is introverted or extroverted. A lot of introverted kids enjoy parties as long as they spend them with their intimate circle of friends. My favourite test: ask a child after a school day how his/her day has been. Introverts typically refuse to answer this question, because their brains are full of cortisol/stress hormones and the last thing they want to do is talk, because that would drain their energy even more. If you ask an extroverted kid how their day at school was, they would most probably happily tell you every minor detail about it, despite perhaps being physically tired. While introverts get too much social interaction at schools, extroverts paradoxically might not get enough (meaningful) social interaction at schools. After all the kids have to sit still for a lot of the time.

So, what are some common problems of introverts at school? When I talked to the teacher of my younger son about his problems in first grade, she only mentioned one: irritability and mild occasional aggression. I was quite surprised because aggression is not a trait I associate with my son at home. I mentioned to the teacher that my son is an introvert, she was confused to what that means, and I explained to her that I think the aggression can be explained to increased levels of stress hormones due to a prolonged social setting.

Social problems with introvert can arise easily. A kid who is constantly reminded that being quiet is not ok or that there might be something wrong with her might easily become self-conscious and shy (shyness is not an inherent trait of introverts!). This happens particularly with intuitive introverts, who are deep introverts (those are the kids who find it almost impossible to raise their hands or voice in the classroom). Imagine how easily that lonely kid in the corner, who is in desperate need of alone time gets labelled a “weirdo” by his classmates and perhaps even his teachers. It is easy to see how such labelling can create a vicious circle. Even for people who are not introverted, All the withdrawn students I have are intuitive introverts who typically have acquired a social phobia and suffer from OCD, failure anxiety, and other social anxieties.

Even self-confident introverts often find it hard to cope in school. Their heightened stress levels lead to:
  • Difficulty in focussing on tasks (e.g. writing)
  • Difficulty in joining groups with less familiar students
  • Difficulty in performing in front of the class (presentations, reading aloud, doing math on the board)
Introverts often feel they are treated unfairly when getting bad grades in such circumstances (not raising their hands, not participating in group work, failing at a presentation, etc.).

The travails of introverts, however, often don’t stop when school is over. When they come home their parents often make them do homework straight after lunch. This is incredibly tough for introverts, because they haven’t had time to reduce their stress levels yet. It would be way better to get out into the fresh air for a while. My boys also like to relax watching a video or playing a video game. Unfortunately, most parents wouldn't allow their kids to do so, before they haven’t finished their homework. Finally, one of the worst things parents can do to their introverted kids: sign them up for clubs during weekdays. After a day of school and after their homework the last thing introverted kids want to have is more social stress.

So, what can parents do? They can make their kids and the teachers aware of how introverts work and that introverts are not defective extroverts. My younger son has been able to deal with parties more easily since he leared about this. For older kids I can recommend Susain Cain's book "Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids", which has helped my older son understand himself better.

To Alexander, my younger son

To Susan Cain, a very cool introverted intuitive, who helped me understand that introversion is nothing to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Learning styles - why visual, auditory and kinaesthetic are meaningless learning categories and why conscientious and explorative learning styles can predict academic success and failure

When learning style theory become popular among teachers I took an immediate liking to it because I have always known that I am NOT a visual person. I have always been fascinated by reports of autistic people seeing abstract concepts, like math, in pictures and colours. I don’t even see pictures when I read a story - all I can see is outlines.

However, even I as a not very visual person find visual information like charts and diagrams way more useful in understanding data than listening to an audio file with someone reciting the raw figures while riding my bike. I do love listening to audiobooks while cycling, but even I had to learn riding my bike in the only way possible - in a kinaesthetic way. So, no that whole learning style idea is not just flawed, it is plainly useless.

In my 20 years as a teacher I have noticed two different learning styles, though. There are students who focus really hard on their weaknesses and there are students who tend to give up on a subject when they start to fail them. Recently I have found out that these two types correspond roughly (though not exactly) to the two categories of Judgers (J) vs Perceivers (P) personality traits, introduced by Myers and Briggs in their famous personality test.
Here are some characteristics of each type:

Only by looking at these personality traits it is easy to predict which type is more successful in school, conscientious (J) learners or explorative learners (P).  

My J learners tend to
  • Hand in everything on time
  • Do well on tests
  • Soldier on when the goings get tough
  • be organized (including beautiful handwriting
  • Do their work first and then relax
  • Work to an extreme when under stress
  • Be good at most subjects
  • Excel at almost all subjects when gifted
My P learners tend to
  • forget to hand in homework on time (or don’t care)
  • do worse at tests
  • give up more easily when things get hard
  • be disorganized in general (including bad handwriting)
  • relax first and then do the homework
  • procrastinate to an extreme when under stress
  • to be unilaterally gifted
  • be twice exceptional when gifted

For teachers, who for obvious reasons most frequently belong to the J-type, P learners easily might seem a bit stupid, disorganized and lazy. However, there is a pattern here and if you look closely the truth is, they are a bit cleverer (teachers don’t know that) than the J kids, still disorganized (that is what the teachers get right) and work hard at something they are good at, be it gardening, sports, coding or robotics (that is what teachers typically can’t see).

I can base my claim that P types more intelligent than J types both on statistics as well as my personal experience.  As you can see from this table (study about gifted people) that P types consistently rank higher (with the exception of ISTJ types) than their corresponding J types.

Let me explain. I am P type (yeah, that’s really rare for a teacher, as you can imagine! ;)  and at university I taught myself Romanian and a J friend of myself Hungarian (both of us being passionate autodidacts).  My J friend did every unit very conscientiously and he did not move on to the next unit until he had learned absolutely everything from the unit. As a P learner I find this way of learning horribly boring. Being and explorative learning I moved on quickly from unit to unit until I got to unit 8 or so and could not understand much anymore. Instead of going back to previous units I would rather buy myself a new textbook then get bored with the old stuff.

Naturally, I progressed much more quickly than my J friend. However, now image we both had started our languages at school and been tested after unit 1, unit 2, etc. How would have performed better? Obvious my J friend for many units! It would have taken me much more time to finally outperform him. Eventually I would have outperformed him. Or would I? No I wouldn’t have. Remember, P types focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. After each unit I would have got the signal than I am worse at language learning than my friend and I would have become disinterested in the subject and focused on one of my strengths instead.

From these two tables, you can see how P and J do when they cannot prepare for a test and when they have the chance to work for their grades.

I have a gifted son, who was a super learner before he started school at the age of five. He learned to read at the age of two, multiply at the age of three and knew about 200 dinosaurs including their habitats and periods at the age of five.

When he started school me and my wife expected his teacher to be raging with joy about him, instead she went raging with anger. She told us that our son was stupid, lazy, and crying all the time. How, come? She showed us a drawing he had to color in and told us that he couldn't do it and he shouldn’t have started school a year early. It looked like this:

It was true, he couldn’t color in a circle properly because his fine motor skills always lagged behind his cognitive skills. When I pointed this out the teacher only replied that “I overestimated my son”. All she saw was a lazy and horrible kid who would start to cry when he had to color in a picture.
Now, image a gifted kid who has no support from their parents. You can easily see him or her ending up in special education, can’t you?

Being a P-person I have understood that the opera is not my cup of tea - I am wild, and I hate tuxedos and ties and all that other J stuff about operas (even the music). I’d rather go for a walk in the rain than spend a night at the opera. This corresponds way more to my idea of a fun time.

Being a P-person, my son quickly understood that school was not his cup of tea. Being perfectionist as most gifted kids are and feeling he was not good enough was plainly painful to him. Being a P-person he prioritized relaxing to working and would rather cry for an hour than do his homework. When he understood that he was not only misunderstood in school, but also by his parents who made him feel bad about not doing his homework he started to withdraw and not learn anything anymore at all. He refused to do anything that remotely resembled school. What he did enjoy though was open work. At least he could finish that easily in school and not have any homework.

Now, think of all P kids (not only gifted ones) who understood early on that school was not their cup of tea. Sometimes this happened sometimes right from the start. or with a change of teacher, All that talent that got lost, due to a stifling J school system. Often the problem isn't the teacher, but our modern times. P kids need more time to compesate for their weaknesses, but they aren't given this time anymore. All the groups have to be homgeonous, and if they aren't the kids get "fixed" with additional classes, such as logotherpy or fine motor therapy. When I wet to school, kids had more time to devlop than today. All these devolopments only lead to kid shutting down earlier and earlier in our school system resulting in kids only learning for grades and not the subjects. This trend is extremely counterproductive, as most kids don't want to go on with any field resembling the subject after school.

Is there any way to solve this problem? Yes, there have been myriads of proposals: Montessori, project-based learning, e-learning, and many more. These solutions aren’t just employed often enough at schools to make all P kids stay at school and not drop out.

P learners like me tend to excel at university level. There I had the freedom to pursue my own interests and I often finished with straight As while my weaknesses at school were math and science (I am extremely in love with the latter now, and I wish I had better skills in the former)

All this doesn’t mean that J students are always happy or favoured by our school system. Even though they usually try to catch up with their weaknesses, they often hurt themselves with their perfectionism. They often sacrifice free time and friends and don’t have a life anymore. I had a J student who, even though she had already decided not to go on to university and look for a job instead after high school, spent so much time studying for her final exams that she put on some 20 pounds to finish them with straight As.

Sometimes the J students even start to suffer from psychological conditions such as social phobia and fear of failure (they feel they are not good enough people if they get Bs instead of straight As) and might start to stay away from school because of that. And sometimes they don’t know what to do with their lives after school, because they have never had a hobby or learned to learn anything new by themselves.

Dedicated to my P-son Andrej and all my P students who are frustrated with the current school system.
Dedicated also to Roger Schank, the most inspirational educational psychologist I have ever read.
Dedicated also to George Lucas, one of my favourite P people in the world, who didn’t enjoy school a lot and excelled only at university level. He is the founder of Edutopia, an NGO which tries to make our education system a good one for all students.