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Cultural Dimensions of Giftedness and Talent

There are many unique cultures in the world and, consequently, there are many different ideas and conceptions what it means to be gifted and talented. The paper “Cultures Dimensions of Giftedness and Talent” discusses children’s intelligence in cultural context. The paper also discusses cultural concepts of giftedness, cultural differences in concepts of abilities and implicit conceptions of intelligence and giftedness.

The paper provides not only theoretical framework of the problem, but it has practical application because Robert Sternberg, the author of the article, offers valid studies of intelligence in Kenya and Alaska to illustrate the differences in giftedness. School should understand children’s developmental peculiarities and the community conception of the talented child. In other words, giftedness should be measured in terms of child’s home community. A child may be viewed as gifted in America, and may be viewed as ordinary in Kenya or Alaska simply because these cultures have another conception of giftedness.

Many countries are multicultural and, therefore, it is necessary to appreciate and to respect their conceptions and peculiarities. Cultural Dimensions of Giftedness and Talent There are many unique cultures in the world and, consequently, there are many different ideas and conceptions what it means to be gifted and talented. When children are identified as talented or gifted, only own conceptions of the definition are applied. It means that cultural peculiarities of development aren’t accounted.

Therefore, such identification of giftedness isn’t adequate because it doesn’t reflect the richness of the cultures. The article “Cultures Dimensions of Giftedness and Talent” by Robert Stenberg discusses children’s intelligence in cultural context. He says that children considered gifted in one country may be viewed as not gifted in others and that is natural because different cultures have their own concepts of giftedness. Thus, the paper discusses cultural concepts of giftedness, cultural differences in concepts of abilities and implicit conceptions of intelligence and giftedness.

The article provides not only theoretical framework of the problem, but it has practical application because the author offers valid studies of intelligence in Kenya and Alaska to illustrate the differences in giftedness. Robert Sternberg argues that it is inadequate to view giftedness in terms of skills in “profiting from his or her environment of socialization” as there are will be definite differences between children at the level of giftedness. (160) Defining the problem, he assumes that school should understand children’s developmental peculiarities and the community conception of the talented child.

In other words, giftedness should be measured in terms of child’s home community. Nowadays many researchers argue that cultural differences are insignificant and IG tests reflect true giftedness that transcends cultures. They claim that IQ tests are universal and authoritative. However, Robert Sternberg doesn’t agree with this claim and says that this argument is hollow. Sternberg says that, firstly, IQ tests “to a large extent reflects a cultural conception of competence”. (160) These tests were designed in France to predict and to evaluate children’s school performance.

But even in culture with high value of schooling the test isn’t paid too much attention. Many countries, including France, don’t even use it as it inadequately reflects child’s giftedness. Secondly, Sternberg assumes that the kind of intelligence measure by IQ tests is included in modern conceptions of giftedness and talent, but tests are insufficient to identify true giftedness of any child. Sternberg states that socio-emotional kind if intelligent is more important than other kinds of intelligence.

He says it is necessary to judge children of each cultural group by taking into account the environment and the kind of socialization they were raised in. So, the main thesis of the article is that it is necessary to consider cultural origins and peculiarities when assessing children’s giftedness. Today many schools take cultural context into account, whereas many others don’t. For example, a child may be viewed as gifted in America, and may be viewed as ordinary in Kenya or Alaska simply because these cultures have another conception of giftedness.

Many countries are multicultural and, therefore, it is necessary to appreciate and to respect their conceptions and peculiarities. Sternberg refers to the theory of successful giftedness and intelligence as his basic theoretical approach. His theory claims that “individuals are gifted if they have the abilities needed to reach their own goals within their socio-cultural context”. (161) In other words, individuals are intelligent if they are able to capitalize their strengths and to cope with their weakness when adapting to select environment.

Practical and creative abilities are of great help in adaptation. Sternberg says that basic mental processes and structures which underline intelligence are similar in all countries. The difference is the extent to which processes and structures are applied and considered important for adaptation. Sternberg’s research proves that differences in perception of giftedness and intelligence are extending far beyond Latino American, Asian American and Anglo American cultural groups.

If to incorporate all studies conducted around the world, it would be obvious that conceptions of intelligence and giftedness are different as cultural function. For example Taiwanese Chinese think that interpersonal and self-understanding skills are the primary focus of their conception of giftedness. African studies illustrate other significant discrepancies in conceptions of giftedness across culture. So, research literature is available as this question interests many researchers from all over the world.

For example, in their study Ruzgis and Grigorenko claim that “in Africa, conceptions of intelligence revolve largely around skills that help facilitate and maintain harmonious and stable intergroup relations; intragroup relations are probably equally important and at times more important”. (162) further, Serpell argues that “Chewa adults in Zambia emphasize social responsibilities, cooperativeness, and obedience as important to intelligence; intelligent children are expected to be respectful of adults”. (162) It is interesting to note that in Zimbabwe, for example, to be gifted means to prudent and cautious in social relations.

For Baoule people the key to intelligence is service to the family, and politeness towards elder people. Research studies prove that cultural differences are to be accounted when assessing giftedness and intelligence of children. Nevertheless, the focus on the social aspects of giftedness should not be limited only to African cultures. Sternberg says that in Kenya conceptions of giftedness four distinct terns are outlined: knowledge and skills, respect, initiative, and comprehension how to solve real-life problems.

In USA people have broader definition of intelligence than simply IQ tests. US people include practical skills, such as problem solving, decision making, verbal activity and social competences. In such a way Sternberg shows that people in different cultures have their own ideas how to define smartness and intelligence. Sternberg cites Michael Cole who conducted interesting cross-cultural studies of giftedness. Cole and his colleagues asked adult members of one African tribe identify giftedness.

As a result, the researches revealed that what North Americans considered sophisticated thinking African tribe defined as unsophisticated. Further, Luris studies proved that Asian peasants weren’t able to cope with cognitive tasks simply because they refused to accept the tasks they were presented. Apparent strengths of the article are practical researches of giftedness in Kenya and Alaska. In Kenya researchers tried to asses children’s abilities to adapt to innate environments. Researchers worked out a test to measure practical intelligence of children who had to adapt to indigenous environment.

Moreover, the test was to measure children’s informal knowledge of natural herbal medicine used by villagers to fight infections. Also children were to define illnesses and to work out practical recommendations how to combat them, etc. No surprise that children managed to cope with tasks set. However, US children would definitely fail to perform well as they were raised in different environment and knowledge of medicine wasn’t the primary focus of their school education. The reason why rural Kenyan children knew answers is apparent – their community pays attention to medical knowledge.

Researchers assume that identification of human giftedness and intelligence sheds light on the abilities of children to interact with cultural patterns of society and schooling. If to place Kenyan children in American schools and to set tasks which are easy for American children, Kenya children are likely not to look very bright. It means that Kenyan children have knowledge which is considered important for their cultural environment. However, in American schools they would be written off as their academic skills are undeveloped.

Other skills of children won’t be appreciated. The similar results were revealed in Alaska study. Researchers studied academic and practical intelligence of Yup’ik Eskimo children in semi-urban Alaskan regions. Actually, researcher assessed the importance of intelligence and giftedness in those regions. Researchers were motivated by previous observations noted while working with Eskimo children. Eskimo children might have good knowledge of fishing, hunting, herbal medicine, etc. Researchers revealed that Eskimo children were capable to adapting to their own environment.

So, Kenyan and Alaskan studies show that practical intellectual skills are very important for adapting to everyday environment. In Alaska the processes of intelligence were similar to those in Kenya. Eskimo children have skills of planning trips as we have, but their trips are often by dog sled ad we may find it rather different that trips we have used to. In his article Robert Sternberg shows that it is impossible to create tests which would adequately identify intelligence and giftedness of children from diverse culture.

He states that no test will property represent all cultures of the world. Therefore, conceptions of intelligence and giftedness are different in different cultures depending on their level of development and cultural values. So, Sternberg recommends cultural approach in measuring children’s giftedness and intelligence. He believes that we should respect cultural differences and take them always into account when assessing someone’s talents. If to test intelligence of a child outside cultural context, researchers will fail to identify a child who is gifted by the virtue of his own culture.

Tests may also consider children gifted, though they would be less outstanding if to take into account their background. Sternberg is willing to say that people need themselves to be more intelligent in identifying intelligence and more gifted in identifying giftedness. Sternberg views pedestrian approaches as too routinized and such that represent only shallow attempts to identify gifted children. Gifts should be put on display because it will help to identify talented children adequately. Giftedness is nurtured and socialized in cultural context and outside the context it matters nothing.

Nevertheless, the author doesn’t call for working out tests for every child. He wants to show that cultural environment plays crucial role in assessing giftedness and intelligence. Sternberg wants to show that “children who are not labelled as gifted using traditional measures may be gifted in terms of other cultural contexts, but children who are labelled as gifted using traditional measures may not be gifted in terms of these other contexts”. (160)

References

Sternberg, Robert. (2007, Spring). Cultures Dimensions of Giftedness and Talent. Roeper Review, 29, 3, 160-165.

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