LETTER:Schools of thought about gifted young

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From Prof Michael J. A. Howe

Sir: It is not true that the creative achievements of geniuses like Darwin and Einstein depended on inborn talents which their parents and teachers failed to recognise ("IQ", 26 August).

Many of our greatest thinkers have been genuinely ordinary as children. The proposal to warn young people with low intelligence-test scores not to expect too much out of life is dangerous nonsense: had such a view been heeded in the past, the enormous contributions of Michael Faraday, George Stephenson, Charlotte Bronte and Anthony Trollope would have been denied us, as well as Darwin's.

As an explanation, the myth that inborn talents are the cause of exceptional achievements belongs with witches' covens and flying saucers. Sadly, it is not just an innocent fiction, because teachers' beliefs in illusory innate gifts result in youngsters who are thought to lack them being denied the help and encouragement that every successful person depends upon.

There is nothing wrong with helping children who have made a good start in life to go on extending their capabilities, but labelling young people in ways which falsely imply that their future achievements can be foretold does far more harm than good.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Howe

Department of Psychology

University of Exeter