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Piirto, J., & Keller-Mathers, S. (2014). Mary Meeker: A Deep Commitment to Recognizing Individual Differences. In A. Robinson and J. Jolly (Eds.). Illuminating lives: A century of contributions to gifted education (pp. 277-288). New York, NY: Routledge.

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

This biographical essay on one of the pioneers of gifted education, Mary Meeker (1921-2003) describes her life and her advocacy for alternative methods to identify giftedness utilizing the SOI Learning Abilities test.
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21
MARY MEEKER
A Deep Commitment to Recognizing
Individual Differences
Jane Piirto and Susan Keller-Mathers
Born in Clarksville, Texas, in 1921, Mary Meeker was the oldest of three children
of half Acadian, one-fourth Lebanese and one-fourth German descent (M. N.
Meeker, unpublished survey, March 28, 2003). Mary’s father, who reluctantly had
to quit school in the fourth grade to run his father’s general store, told his young
daughter Mary that he was going to make sure she went to college as she was
very smart. That year was 1925 and offered a glimpse of a bright, independent-
minded girl who grew up to be a passionate advocate for the development of
diverse intellectual abilities.
A series of early professional experiences laid the foundation for her interest in
intellectual diversity while her doctoral studies provided the pivotal experience
that paved the way for her scholarly work in the development of the intellect. As a
mother, teacher, and psychologist, she immediately saw the possibility of applying
J. P. Guilford’s Structure of Intellect (SI) theory of human intelligence to school
children (Guilford, 1967, 1977). She had
witnessed all kinds of students from gifted to special diagnosis being failed
by teachers who had no concept of diagnosing why intelligent children
did not learn. Instead, they failed them. My mission was to protect the
children and instruct the teachers. (M. N. Meeker, unpublished survey, April
26, 2003)
Mary Meeker’s insights during her doctoral studies led to the development of her
seminal 1969 book The Structure of Intellect: Its Interpretations and Uses and applica-
tions through her Structure of Intellect (SOI) Institute in California (1974–1991)
and in Oregon (1991–present) with various satellites in the United States, Canada,
Mexico, Germany, Singapore, and South Africa (SOI Systems background, n.d.).
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278 A Century of Contributions to Gifted Education
The Spirit of an Early Scholar
Mary Meeker came from a family of fi ve (M. N. Meeker, personal communica-
tion, April 29, 2003). Although she was named after the Virgin Mary, she refused
her traditional Catholic religion when the nuns at her elementary school were
cruel to her learning disabled sister, who had been born a blue baby (Maxwell,
2009). This was Meeker’s fi rst documented instance of empathy and care for those
who had trouble learning. A spirited girl with a passion for writing, four-year-old
Mary, book in hand on top of the kitchen table, exclaimed loudly that she was
going to be a famous author someday. Her mother, who was often abusive to her
children, whirled around and told her she would not grow up if she didn’t get her
dirty feet off the table (Meeker, 1990; M. N. Meeker, personal communication,
April 29, 2003). Refl ecting on her mother’s life, Mary’s daughter Valerie Maxwell
(2004), a practicing psychologist, stated that she was a courageous advocate for
children and “paradoxically, it was because of her abuse that she was so zealously
protective of the creatively gifted child.
Meeker (1990) described how her mother thwarted her creativity when she
was a child and suppressed her creative urges. When Mary got a doll for Christ-
mas instead of paints, she pushed the doll in its buggy into a ditch: “I wanted
paints; I don’t play dolls. I was crying. My heart was breaking” (Meeker, 1990, p. 4).
When she was seven, a teacher chastised her for making original fl owers of vari-
ous colors instead of the prescribed red rose with green leaves. She lamented, “I
weep inside that my art teacher could not see the budding love for colors and
textures” (p. 5).
Mary’s family moved often during her childhood. Each time her father had a
new idea, he would start another business. Each new school would give her an
achievement test and she eventually skipped one grade. She entered the Uni-
versity of Texas at age 15. Her fi rst encounter with her future profession was
by chance. After realizing she did not have the prerequisites for journalism, she
ended up majoring in psychology. She graduated with a degree in industrial
psychology at age 19.
Family and Emerging Professional Opportunities
After her university studies, Mary and her new husband Norman Maxwell moved
to California and had two children, Jessica and Valerie. Mary fi rst worked for a
Beverly Hills psychiatrist for a few years, increasingly taking on more complex
cases even though she did not have any clinical training. When the Los Angeles
Unifi ed School District offered provisional certifi cation to individuals with a
related degree, Mary decided to apply. She was assigned to teach students with
severe developmental delays but not knowing how was asked to be reassigned.
She credited that experience as the “beginning of my interest in individual differ-
ences” (M. N. Meeker, personal communication, April 29, 2003).
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Mary Meeker 279
Mary was assigned various positions from second to fourth grade to a special
education class with students who didn’t fi t into any category. Her experiences
in educating children enriched and expanded her thinking about how children
learn. She explained how she “took that [special education] class over and I did
everything but teach and we danced to music and we danced outside and we
played sports” (M. N. Meeker, personal communication, April 29, 2003). These
experiences as led to her “persistence in understanding individual differences”
(M. N. Meeker, personal communication, April 29, 2003).
When her children were three (Valerie, born 1952) and four (Jessica, born
1950), Mary divorced her husband. Mary continued to take graduate courses
while teaching second grade.
You want to talk about poverty and a single mother. . . . I can tell you ex-
actly what it is like. You give up what you want to eat in order to feed your
daughters and just in order to pay the rent. So I was kind of frazzled with
everything going on in my whole life. (M. N. Meeker, personal communi-
cation, April 29, 2003)
A Lifelong Partner and a Career Focus Takes Shape
Besides being a psychologist in the schools, she also worked as a Human Factors
Specialist at Systems Development Corporation (SDC). Through this work she
achieved fi nancial independence. SDC was also where she met her future hus-
band (R. Meeker, personal communication, February 2, 2012). Robert Meeker
was a human factors scientist with a background in ethics, philosophy, and math
(R. Meeker, vita 2011). They married in 1959 and had one child, Heather, born
that same year. She went on to become a lawyer in Silicon Valley, specializing in
intellectual property and authored books on the topic (cf. H. Meeker, 2008). To
add to his resume, Robert earned an Ed.D. in School Administration in 1973.
Eventually, Robert and Mary both worked at the Rand Corporation and then
transferred back to SDC in the computer division. Later, Robert was on staff at
UCLA, as director of the computer lab of the psychology department and evalu-
ator for medical and sociological research projects.
Mary earned three graduate degrees from the University of Southern
California—a Master of Science, a Master of Education, and a Doctor of Educa-
tion. It was at USC that she had the opportunity to study with J. P. Guilford. Guil-
ford said her mind worked like no other student he had ever encountered, once
describing her as a maverick to a colleague. Mary was one of only three women
to study with Guilford. She explained to him that she was an applied psychologist
and, therefore, focused on applying the SI model when no one else was (M. N.
Meeker, personal interview, April 29, 2003). She completed her Ed.D. in 1966,
with a dissertation titled “Immediate Memory And Its Correlates With School
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280 A Century of Contributions to Gifted Education
Achievement. Her chair, C. E. Meyers, was known for his research on Structure
of Intellect factors and special education.
Mary recognized the potential to use the SI model as an assessment tool in
educational settings, stating “When I met the Structure of Intellect, I understood
it immediately” (M. N. Meeker, personal communication, April 29, 2003). In her
early work with the SI model, Mary did not intend to write a book. Dissatisfi ed
with the assessment commonly used, the Stanford-Binet, she designed templates
to translate scores from that assessment to Structure of Intellect cells. According
to Meeker, “Education is the only profession that never diagnoses its problems.
They think that if they get an achievement score that that is the diagnosis” (M. N.
Meeker, personal communication, April 29, 2003). She called her work on the
theory, the SOI, to contrast it with Guilford’s SI. The book, The Structure of Intel-
lect: Its Uses and Applications (1969), was a milestone in school-related assessment
and broke new ground. In relation to mainstream psychology, she described her-
self as “so far afi eld it is not an easy place to be” (M. N. Meeker, personal com-
munication, April 29, 2003), as the bell curve was something psychologists were
not willing to give up. She stated, “It takes different intellectual abilities to do
different things and the notion that with all the different abilities that you could
put a three digit number on intelligence is to me insane” (M. N. Meeker, personal
communication, April 29, 2003).
After receiving her doctorate, Mary took a position at California State Univer-
sity, Northridge, and developed the school psychology program while achieving
the rank of full professor. In 1974, she and her husband Robert founded the SOI
institute in El Segundo, California, and eventually moved it to Oregon in 1992,
when they retired from their academic positions (Meeker & Meeker, 1986; “Mary
Meeker, 2003; “Mary Meeker, 82,” 2003). It was renamed SOI Systems and went
from being a non-profi t corporation to a for-profi t corporation in 1992.
Over the course of her career she published scholarly articles and books and
continued to write hundreds of SOI training exercises in the SOI modules as well
as poetry, short stories, children’s books, and creative nonfi ction about watercolor
painting that she took up in her 70s (“Dr. Mary Meeker,” 2003; “In memoriam,
2003; “Mary Meeker, 2003; “Mary Meeker, Ed.D.,” 2003; “Mary Meeker, 82,
2003). She described herself as someone with “immense concentration, “indom-
itable energy, and “the ability to focus and pay attention” to what came to her
mind (S. Keller-Mathers, personal communication, April, 2003).
The Work
Mary often wondered what types of interventions or curriculum were presented
after testing was completed. She believed that intellect could be nurtured and
developed with proper diagnosis and targeted instruction and that intelligence
was not fi xed but malleable.
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Mary Meeker 281
In her 1969 book, Meeker explicated her developing model, calling it the SOI
model (Structure Of Intellect), after Guilford’s SI model (Structure-of-Intellect).
Guilford asserted that there were many facets of intelligence, which revealed the
limitations of one or even two scores that were obtained from traditional intelli-
gence tests. Using factor analysis, Guildford broke down the intelligence quotient
(IQ) into various abilities required to perform certain vocational tasks (e.g., the
Aptitudes Research Project) and identifi ed 120 discrete types of intelligence fac-
tored across fi ve Operations (See Table 21.1 ).
Guilford factored these into 120 types of intelligence (5 Operations x 4 Con-
tents x 6 Products = 120 types of intelligence) and constructed separate tests for
each of them in order to demonstrate that they were, indeed, separate facets. After
many years of experimentation and theorizing, he collected these into his clas-
sic 1967 book, The Nature of Human Intelligence , published just two years before
Meeker’s (1969) explanation of his theory. Guilford’s legacy is mixed, and Car-
roll in his seminal analysis of factor analysis in cognition called Guilford’s theory
“idiosyncratic” (Carroll, 1993, p. 34). Meeker subsequently took 26 of Guilford’s
120 tests, deemed most related to school learning, and created the SOI Learning
Abilities test (SOI-LA) (See Table 21.2 ).
The Test and Its Properties
The theory purports that intelligence is not fi xed and is not general ( g -factor), but
it is malleable and differentiated. No intelligence quotient is derived (although an
index can be made to rank class members), and norms are based on grade-level
comparisons. Based on the results of the SOI-LA, strengths and weaknesses are
identifi ed and addressed in order to minimize disabling areas and to maximize
robust areas (Meeker, 1985; Meeker & Meeker, 1979, 1985).
TABLE 21.1 Guilford’s Original Delineation of The Structure of the Intellect (SI)
Operations Contents Products
Cognition (C) Figural (F) Units (U)
Figural auditory
Figural Visual
Memory (M) Symbolic (S) Classes (C)
Convergent Production (N) Semantic (M) Systems (S)
Divergent Production (D) Behavioral (B) Relations (R)
Evaluation (E) Transformations (T)
Implications (I)
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282 A Century of Contributions to Gifted Education
TABLE 21.2 Factor Defi nitions for the SOI-LA Test from the Parent Conference Form
COGNITION
CFU Ability to identify objects by name, visually and auditorially
CFC Classifi es perceived objects
CFS Perceives spatial patterns and maintains orientation
CFT Manipulates or transforms objects into another visual
arrangement
CSR Discovers relations involving letter patterns
CSS Ability to discover complex relationships in systems
involving symbols
CMU Vocabulary
CMR Discovers relations in conceptual, abstract meanings
CMS Ability to comprehend or structure problems in preparation
for solving them
MEMORY
MFU Recalls materials learned by visual and auditory presentation
MSU Recalls for immediate production, after one presentation, a
series of numerals or letters
MSI Memory for well-practiced number operations
EVALUATION
EFU Ability to identify identical forms
EFC Ability to analyze how units are classifi ed
ESC Ability to judge the appropriate class in which to place
numbers, letters, or signs
ESS Ability to estimate appropriateness of aspects of a symbolic
system
CONVERGENT PRODUCTION
NFU Ability to comprehend and reproduce an observed bit of
behavior
NSS States the order of symbolic systems from start to goal
NST Ability to produce new symbolic information by revising
letters
NSI Substitutes or derives symbols
DIVERGENT PRODUCTION
DFU Ability to draw fi gures conforming to simple specifi cations
DSR Generates a variety of relations between numbers or letters
DMU Ability to write a story about a drawing
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Mary Meeker 283
Most people possess strengths and weaknesses in different areas, and that was
seen as the advantage of using SOI assessment with students. Often students are
grouped, or tracked, with no regard for their intra-individual differences. In any
given class, a few students may be called gifted , but often there is no indication of
what type of giftedness the student exhibits, and learning activities may be inap-
propriate because (a) the student already has the ability being taught and does not
need more instruction, (b) the student cannot perform the task because of a lack
of background, or (c) the mode of the activity—fi gural, symbolic, semantic—may
not suit the child’s learning preference.
Of the 26 subtests, 9 are Figural, 13 are Symbolic, and only 5 are Semantic.
This itself makes the SOI-LA test different from most abilities tests, which are
typically semantically (verbally) loaded, favoring those who are good with words.
The test was normed on approximately 800 elementary students in four states;
however, the sample was not analyzed according to gender or ethnicity.
Despite the lack of norming by ethnicity, the instrument promised to be
culture-fair assessment and was attractive to gifted educators. Meeker was ada-
mant that a greater number of gifted students existed beyond the top 2% iden-
tifi ed by the commonly used Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (S-B) or the
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). By the mid-1970s, Meeker
was traveling the country, speaking to groups of teachers and coordinators inter-
ested in differentiating curriculum for the gifted, based on the SOI-LA results
and subsequent diagnosis of learning strengths and weaknesses.
SOI and Its Use in Gifted Education
The use of the SOI-LA assessment by the gifted education community waned
in the late 1980s. Perhaps it was because of the challenges posed to the reliability
and validity of the instrument indicated by Buros reviewers and researchers (Clar-
izio & Mehrens, 1985; Coffman, 1985; Cummings, 1992; Leton, 1985; Newman,
1992; O’Tuel, Ward, & Rawl, 1983). Meeker, Meeker, and Roid (1985) argued
that these commentaries were unjustly harsh, but the reviewers asserted they were
just applying the testing standards of the American Psychological Association and
the American Educational Research Association (Standards for Educational and
Psychological Testing, 1985). Another reason may have been the intellectual chal-
lenge and the time-intensiveness required to understand the theory, to do the
testing, to create the diagnosis, and to apply the remediation.
Anecdotally, the fi rst author, when she administered the test to students with
high Stanford-Binet IQs, found that the test battery had an unforeseen ceiling
effect; that is, it was impossible to diagnose and remediate skills for students with
high IQs when they got all the items right for their age levels. When I asked the
teachers at the Hunter College Elementary School to recommend their students
having learning problems and after I administered the full SOI-LA to them and
got the test scored and learning packets ordered from the SOI Institute, the results
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284 A Century of Contributions to Gifted Education
turned out that “all these children are gifted and need no remediation.This
was disputed by their classroom teachers, who knew that even the highest IQ
students had processing weaknesses. This experience led to my own declining to
do further workshops or attend further conferences, though it did not affect our
friendship and annual Christmas communications. However, my experience was
not replicated by others who used the assessments.
For example, Maker (1982) listed several advantages to using the SOI-LA. This
included diagnosing gifted students who were having problems learning, individu-
alizing learning with the assessment, and understanding the multidimensionality of
giftedness. She also noted several disadvantages: that the assessment might lead to
a “cookbook approach when specifi c cells are targeted and workbooks are keyed
to those cells” (p. 132) and echoed issues regarding validity and reliability. She
questioned the methodology of both Guilford and the Meekers, stating, “many . . .
questions need to be addressed by solid research to determine the validity and reli-
ability of the model for curriculum development” (Maker, 1982, p. 132). Of course,
lack of validity research is an ongoing problem for many curriculum models.
Several federal grants funded by the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Stu-
dents Education Act used the SOI assessments. One of the most comprehen-
sive was Project Step-Up, a project for identifying and serving disadvantaged
youth conducted in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas. Project investigators
included experts in the fi eld of gifted education: Dorothy Sisk, C. June Maker,
and Roberta Braverman Daniels. Potential students were fi rst identifi ed by the
SOI Learning Abilities Test. Sisk said, “The SOI was chosen because it does not
represent a traditional intelligence test, and involves students in a broad spectrum
testing experience” (Sisk, 1993, p. 5). The Project, conducted in the early 1990s,
eventually involved 14 sites of second grade students who were economically
challenged. Project Step-Up Director, Sisk said of the assessments, and of Meeker:
We found it [the use of the SOI in gifted education] very helpful since our
kids were high potential minority low-income students with low pre-test
scores. The SOI tests also clued the teachers in to areas they needed to con-
centrate upon and build lessons and activities for remediation . . . my dear
friend and colleague, Mary . . . came to Texas and trained the entire group
of teachers of gifted students in Beaumont and trained the Beaumont Su-
pervisor of Gifted and me as “trainers. Mary believed and said if we could
defi ne giftedness, we could teach and develop giftedness. We used the SOI
in all of our sites in Step-Up and another project that used the SOI for the
entire district was Paris ISD in Paris, Texas. (D. Sisk, personal communica-
tion, January 4, 2012)
Other projects that employed the instrument to be used with potentially gifted
students included (a) a project in the Lompoc, California school district in 1963;
(b) a Title III, ESEA project in 1965 in Canada to identify fi gural intelligence in
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Mary Meeker 285
First Nations (Meeker & Meeker, 1986); and (c) in 1985 a project in New York
City concerning alternative assessment for gifted identifi cation. SOI Systems
continues to advocate that their assessments and diagnoses will help the near gifted
to become identifi ed as gifted, through remediation of certain of the 26 abilities,
and they advertise curriculum materials for homeschooling students. SOI Sys-
tems website states, “With the SOI approach the near-gifted have a clear means
of becoming gifted if they want to develop their near-gifted abilities to the gifted
level” (SOI Systems Gifted Program, 2010, para. 3).
By the early 1990s, the SOI-LA assessments were increasingly used by special
educators and educational therapists in helping students with learning disabili-
ties, including twice-exceptional students; and by developmental optometrists for
eye movement diagnosis and remediation. The Meekers also provided diagnostic
workshops in several countries, especially for potential engineers. They also worked
with adults in prisons and veteran’s centers. The SOI Institute in Vida, Oregon,
continues to provide assessment and diagnosis in special education, sometimes in-
cluding gifted education. Their mission statement refl ects the change from an em-
phasis on gifted assessment to an emphasis on assessment to help learning problems:
SOI Systems is dedicated to nurturing the appreciation of multi-faceted in-
telligence, and to the creation of the most effective and practical means for the
assessment and treatment of learning problems. (SOI Systems, n.d., para. 1)
Advocacy Efforts
Her work adapting the Structure of Intellect as an assessment and remediation
tool for students was, she said, “a major contribution that has not been truly ac-
cepted. It may not ever be” (M. N. Meeker, personal communication, April 29,
2003). Toward the end of her life, she became interested in the emerging brain
function research and felt it reaffi rmed her work. Her daughter Valerie, a practic-
ing psychologist who works with SOI, has carried on the diagnostic/prescrip-
tive work of her mother (cf. Maxwell, 1989). She explained, “Mary believed and
proved that we can train intelligence and creativity” (Maxwell, 2004).
Many recognized her contributions. When Mary received her doctorate, J. P.
Guilford sent her a box and gave her his blessing and copyright for “all of the
tests that did not factor as well as all those that did” (M. N. Meeker, personal com-
munication, April 29, 2003). In 1970, Mary was appointed editor of the state of
California gifted framework and curriculum guides (Meeker & Gowan, 1970).
Selected by the U.S. Department of Education in 1975, she was as one of the
ve social scientists whose work held promise for education for the next century.
She was a consultant for 33 state departments of education and named Education
Leader of the Year in 1981 by the American Psychological Association of which
she was a member (Meeker, n.d.).
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286 A Century of Contributions to Gifted Education
Meeker was elected and re-elected for 15 years to the Board of Directors of
the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). A microfi che search of
the pre-matter in the Gifted Child Quarterly from 1975 to 1993 indicated that her
rst term on what was then called the Executive Board began in 1977, when she
was elected along with Lynne Fox, Frank Williams, Donald Treffi nger, Irving Sato,
and Kay Coffee ( Gifted Child Quarterly , 1975–1993). She served as secretary of the
organization for one term, in 1984–1985, and was also awarded the Distinguished
Service Award in 1989. She noted, “They keep re-electing me,” (M. Meeker, per-
sonal communication, ca. 1987). Even after Meeker’s passing, her legacy contin-
ued. In 2004, she was posthumously awarded the E. Paul Torrance Award from the
Creativity Network of the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC, n.d.).
Refl ecting on her life, Robert Meeker stated, “She has saved or substantially
enhanced thousands of lives through her counseling and the body of her work.
That is her legacy” (Meeker, 2003). He summed up his memorial to her in the
SOI newsletter in this way:
Courage and integrity were the hallmarks of her professional life.
Understanding and compassion were the hallmarks of her interper-
sonal life.
Love, encouragement, and guidance were the hallmarks of her family life.
She lived a remarkable life. It is my privilege to have shared it. (Meeker,
2003)
Her daughter Jessica, in a spiritual memoir, Roll Around Heaven , described her
mother as a sensitive, spiritual being with the ability to read people and environ-
ments with great and sometimes eerie accuracy (Maxwell, 2009). This aspect
of Meeker’s personality was known by colleagues and friends as well. Several
months before her passing, Mary refl ected on her hope for the future. She noted,
What I would like to see is that no teacher gets out with a degree unless that
teacher can diagnose a child’s intellectual abilities, physical abilities, emotional
abilities, and there are materials for this so that the teachers become diagnos-
tic and then in so doing the child doesn’t fail because he does not receive
the right treatment. (M. N. Meeker, personal communication, April 29, 2003)
Meeker’s Legacy
Meeker’s long-lasting and vital impact was in her tireless advocacy for alternative
identifi cation methods and in her insistence on going beyond the IQ to under-
stand intelligence. She was a pioneer in emphasizing the diversity of students, and
in advocating for an appreciation and respect for that diversity. Her development
of an alternative assessment and in actually producing a workable and applica-
ble assessment was innovative. Following her lead, the fi eld of gifted and talented
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Mary Meeker 287
education continues to seek such alternatives because of the social implications of
having fewer economically poor students being identifi ed for gifted and talented
services when the traditional IQ tests and achievement tests are used. Though other
theorists (e.g. Gagné, 1991; Gardner, 1983; Piirto, 1994; Renzulli, 1978; Sternberg,
1985; Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius, & Worrell, 2011) have since proposed alterna-
tive intelligence theories and models, Mary Meeker was among the pioneers along
with others in this volume. She not only spoke about equity; she lived it.
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Article
Full-text available
This is a reprint of an article originally published in November 1978. A new one-page introduction by the author appears in the print and digital editions. After reviewing old definitions of giftedness and research dealing with characteristics of the gifted, the author presents a definition that focuses on three clusters of traits: above-average general ability, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity. The author holds copyright to this article. Distributed by Phi Delta Kappa International with permission.
Book
This textbook is available in 3 editions (1994, 1999, and 2007). The first two editions were published by Merrill/Macmillan/Pearson. The 3rd edition was published by Prufrock. Chapters include Chapter One: Who Are The Talented?. Chapter Two: GETTING STARTED: DEVELOPING A PROGRAM FOR THE TALENTED. Chapter 3: Identification of the Academically Gifted and talented:High-IQ Talent and Specific Academic Talent. Chapter 4: Identification of Creativity. Chapter 5: The Young Gifted and Talented Child: Birth to Grade Two. Chapter 6: The Elementary and Middle School Talented Child. Chapter 7: High School and College Gifted and Talented Youth. Chapter 8: Talented and Gifted Adults. Chapter 9: Precepts for Curriculum for the Academically Talented. Chapter 10: Curriculum Practices Inside and Outside of the Classroom. Chapter 11: Guidance and Counseling Needs of the Gifted and Talented. Chapter 12: Children of the American Dream: Populations of Talented Children Who Need Special Attention
For nearly a century, scholars have sought to understand, measure, and explain giftedness. Succeeding theories and empirical investigations have often built on earlier work, complementing or sometimes clashing over conceptions of talent or contesting the mechanisms of talent development. Some have even suggested that giftedness itself is a misnomer, mistaken for the results of endless practice or social advantage. In surveying the landscape of current knowledge about giftedness and gifted education, this monograph will advance a set of interrelated arguments: The abilities of individuals do matter, particularly their abilities in specific talent domains; different talent domains have different developmental trajectories that vary as to when they start, peak, and end; and opportunities provided by society are crucial at every point in the talent-development process. We argue that society must strive to promote these opportunities but that individuals with talent also have some responsibility for their own growth and development. Furthermore, the research knowledge base indicates that psychosocial variables are determining influences in the successful development of talent. Finally, outstanding achievement or eminence ought to be the chief goal of gifted education. We assert that aspiring to fulfill one’s talents and abilities in the form of transcendent creative contributions will lead to high levels of personal satisfaction and self-actualization as well as produce yet unimaginable scientific, aesthetic, and practical benefits to society. To frame our discussion, we propose a definition of giftedness that we intend to be comprehensive. Giftedness is the manifestation of performance that is clearly at the upper end of the distribution in a talent domain even relative to other high-functioning individuals in that domain. Further, giftedness can be viewed as developmental in that in the beginning stages, potential is the key variable; in later stages, achievement is the measure of giftedness; and in fully developed talents, eminence is the basis on which this label is granted. Psychosocial variables play an essential role in the manifestation of giftedness at every developmental stage. Both cognitive and psychosocial variables are malleable and need to be deliberately cultivated. Our goal here is to provide a definition that is useful across all domains of endeavor and acknowledges several perspectives about giftedness on which there is a fairly broad scientific consensus. Giftedness (a) reflects the values of society; (b) is typically manifested in actual outcomes, especially in adulthood; (c) is specific to domains of endeavor; (d) is the result of the coalescing of biological, pedagogical, psychological, and psychosocial factors; and (e) is relative not just to the ordinary (e.g., a child with exceptional art ability compared to peers) but to the extraordinary (e.g., an artist who revolutionizes a field of art). In this monograph, our goal is to review and summarize what we have learned about giftedness from the literature in psychological science and suggest some directions for the field of gifted education. We begin with a discussion of how giftedness is defined (see above). In the second section, we review the reasons why giftedness is often excluded from major conversations on educational policy, and then offer rebuttals to these arguments. In spite of concerns for the future of innovation in the United States, the education research and policy communities have been generally resistant to addressing academic giftedness in research, policy, and practice. The resistance is derived from the assumption that academically gifted children will be successful no matter what educational environment they are placed in, and because their families are believed to be more highly educated and hold above-average access to human capital wealth. These arguments run counter to psychological science indicating the need for all students to be challenged in their schoolwork and that effort and appropriate educational programing, training and support are required to develop a student’s talents and abilities. In fact, high-ability students in the United States are not faring well on international comparisons. The scores of advanced students in the United States with at least one college-educated parent were lower than the scores of students in 16 other developed countries regardless of parental education level. In the third section, we summarize areas of consensus and controversy in gifted education, using the extant psychological literature to evaluate these positions. Psychological science points to several variables associated with outstanding achievement. The most important of these include general and domain-specific ability, creativity, motivation and mindset, task commitment, passion, interest, opportunity, and chance. Consensus has not been achieved in the field however in four main areas: What are the most important factors that contribute to the acuities or propensities that can serve as signs of potential talent? What are potential barriers to acquiring the “gifted” label? What are the expected outcomes of gifted education? And how should gifted students be educated? In the fourth section, we provide an overview of the major models of giftedness from the giftedness literature. Four models have served as the foundation for programs used in schools in the United States and in other countries. Most of the research associated with these models focuses on the precollegiate and early university years. Other talent-development models described are designed to explain the evolution of talent over time, going beyond the school years into adult eminence (but these have been applied only by out-of-school programs as the basis for educating gifted students). In the fifth section we present methodological challenges to conducting research on gifted populations, including definitions of giftedness and talent that are not standardized, test ceilings that are too low to measure progress or growth, comparison groups that are hard to find for extraordinary individuals, and insufficient training in the use of statistical methods that can address some of these challenges. In the sixth section, we propose a comprehensive model of trajectories of gifted performance from novice to eminence using examples from several domains. This model takes into account when a domain can first be expressed meaningfully—whether in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. It also takes into account what we currently know about the acuities or propensities that can serve as signs of potential talent. Budding talents are usually recognized, developed, and supported by parents, teachers, and mentors. Those individuals may or may not offer guidance for the talented individual in the psychological strengths and social skills needed to move from one stage of development to the next. We developed the model with the following principles in mind: Abilities matter, domains of talent have varying developmental trajectories, opportunities need to be provided to young people and taken by them as well, psychosocial variables are determining factors in the successful development of talent, and eminence is the aspired outcome of gifted education. In the seventh section, we outline a research agenda for the field. This agenda, presented in the form of research questions, focuses on two central variables associated with the development of talent—opportunity and motivation—and is organized according to the degree to which access to talent development is high or low and whether an individual is highly motivated or not. Finally, in the eighth section, we summarize implications for the field in undertaking our proposed perspectives. These include a shift toward identification of talent within domains, the creation of identification processes based on the developmental trajectories of talent domains, the provision of opportunities along with monitoring for response and commitment on the part of participants, provision of coaching in psychosocial skills, and organization of programs around the tools needed to reach the highest possible levels of creative performance or productivity.
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