Less expectations, less harm

By Fan Junmei
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, May 24, 2013
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Linguistic genius Duzhao Zechuan [Godppgs.gov.cn]

Linguistic genius Duzhao Zechuan [Godppgs.gov.cn]

The more people expect from a gifted child, the more it will suffer.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the University of Science and Technology of China's School for the Gifted Young, a cradle for China's future-oriented education and experimental plot for cultivating prospective elite scientists.

Though the young and gifted students there are very smart, the school's personnel is not happy with them being dubbed "prodigies."

They are simply two or three years younger than the average university students and outperform their peers in a certain field, said Chen Yang, executive dean of the School for the Gifted Young.

"We don't expect all of them to become scientists or Nobel Prize winners like we used to do. With respect for their choices, we just want to help solidify the foundations for their [future] dreams ," Chen told the Yangcheng Evening News.

Young commando

The School for the Gifted Young was founded in the late 1970s after the Cultural Revolution. Answering the national call of "cultivating talent as early as possible and as fast as possible," the first batch of talented teenagers were selected nationwide. Ning Bo, Xie Yanbo, Zhang Yaqin, Guo Yuanlin were the legendary "prodigies" well-known across the country of that time.

When Xie was enrolled, he was only a pre-teen Young Pioneer who had skipped both his middle and high school education and had entered the elite school through self study. For many years, he was considered the most promising Nobel Prize winner.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Nobel Prize winners Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Franklin Yang all thought highly of the school as the country was placing great expectations on its ambitious young talent.

One edition of the People's Daily -- that of March 20, 1978 -- quoted them as saying, "To realize the Four Modernizations as soon as possible, we will get ourselves ready as fast as we can and will never let the Chairman, the Party Central Committee or the whole nation down."

"When we would be chatting idly, one of us would remind the others to stop playing and get back to studying; otherwise, 'How would the time wasted be recorded in our biography?'" recalled Wang Yong, a member of the first "young commando" who is now a teacher at the school himself. "We were so conceited at that time and firmly believed that someone would write our biographies [at some point] in the future."

Hard working

In the context of a new era, the young students there now think differently. Five gifted children, who were all enrolled in 2009, all humbly denied being prodigies. "We may be a little smarter than our peers, but working hard outweighs [any] intelligence quotient," the five youngsters explained.

Guo Xiaotian was admitted at the age of 14. Free of his parents' constrains, he became obsessed with the Internet. As a result, his academic performance suffered a nose dive by the end of the first semester. "I have to work hard to catch up," he told the newspaper.

He Miao has a similar story and in order to catch up with the others, he used to get up at 6:30 a.m. and would study until 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m. the next day.

However, many people turn a deaf ear to their painstaking stories. They simply assume the gifted children are prodigies who can succeed in life without putting in any effort.

"Generous" praise

Society's "generous" praise for the young and gifted in fact has a destructive effect [on them], noted Chen.

One student who would like to remain anonymous told the Yangcheng Evening News that he hated returning to his hometown over the holidays because "once my relatives or friends see me, they will ridicule me by saying 'Here comes the prodigy!' or 'When will you win a Nobel Prize?' Such embarrassing words make me feel that I should be ashamed to be going home without a first prize."

"Being covered by a newspaper or a TV program will make the children feel they are somebody. Excessive media exposure might make them worry that they aren't worth the attention -- should they fail. And this will prevent them from trying and achieving progress," analyzed Chen.

To protect its young talent, the university has decided to focus on the students' study and avoid interviews. The Yangcheng Evening News was said to be the first medium allowed in for interview in recent years.

Tolerance and understanding

In the past, all of the young and gifted were encouraged to become scientists. If a student said he didn't want to be a scientist, the teacher would be annoyed. Nowadays, however, "If the student wants to get a job instead of doing research, I will be his consultant," said Chen, "We wish them to study happily, and grow up happily."

Sadly, the young gifted students are often criticized for lacking the emotional quotient. Chen responded to this belief by saying that many other only-children also have this problem. Mostly majoring in mathematics and physics, the gifted children are devoted to research and can also find other things to do which actually suit them best.

Just as Chen said, the School for the Gifted Young understood its special students and was tolerant to some of their unusual behavior.

There was once a student who was obsessed with plants. He grew hundreds of species in a green house and gave them to the people he was most fond of. When happy, he would hug the teacher and even give him or her a kiss.

"We didn't have any problems with it. He is now doing research in a botanic garden in Yunnan Province and is very happy," said Chen.

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