“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A digression - should interest in sci fi be a qualifier for gifted programs?

Since my blog muse has, hopefully temporarily, abandoned me and my calculations regarding the energetic plausibility of carbon dioxide sequestration via carbonate minerals is taking much more time and effort than I'd anticipated, I'm going to go completely outside any subject space I've dealt with.

As a youngster, I read a LOT of Isaac Asimov's writing. While Asimov is very well known for his science fiction, I read none of it. What I read were his essays, which covered such an amazing breadth of topics that it's hard to believe that a single individual could do it. However, one that I read rankled.

Asimov was clearly a prodigy and, back in my youth, some regarded me as such. All that ever interested me was science and math and I was fortunate enough to attend a progressive (in the academic rather than the political sense) school. I was accelerated, I was offered training in scientific investigation, and I was offered the opportunity to choose what I studied, at least to an extent (I managed to squander most of this advantage upon reaching college but that's a story for another time).

But Asimov wrote an essay (I can't find it but remember it distinctly) suggesting that school children be assessed for accelerated learning or "gifted" (a label sometimes applied to me) programs based on their level of interest in science fiction. I found it then and find it now to have been pretty self-serving and self-aggrandizing for such an otherwise objective thinker.

I started both Asimov's "I, Robot" and his "Foundation" series and finished none of the stories, finding them much less interesting than reading and studying science and mathematics. I could likely count the science fiction stories I've read on the fingers of a hand (and I wouldn't need the thumb). I read "The Hobbit" and found it quite boring, and made it through two and a half of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (at Northwestern University in the early '70s, at least in my circles, it was a scarlet letter offense not to have read these - I had a fraternity friend who prided himself on reading the entire trilogy every year). Halfway through the third novel, I concluded that "this sucks, I'm reading it only because I'm supposed to" and put it down, never to complete it. Yes, I realize that Tolkien's works are fantasy rather than science fiction but I'm sticking with the point.

What point is that? It's not really clear, but it's a rant I've kept inside for decades. The trailers for "The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug" are popping up and brought it to mind. I've not seen any of the previous Tolkien adaptations (for the matter of that, I saw the original "Star Wars" in 1977 and have seen none of the prequels or sequels). I did watch all of "Star Trek" and some "Star Trek TNG" so I guess I'm not completely immune, but these shows could almost as well have been done as westerns!

In any case, I'm not at all sure that Asimov's razor (as I'll call it) would be the appropriate metric for determining the suitability of elementary school students for gifted programs (assuming such programs still exist in this day of No Child Left Behind-based teaching to the test). I'm sure it's a reflection of both my ego and my ability to hold a grudge that an essay I read, probably, over 40 years ago still causes resentment but perhaps this post will allow me to finally let it go!

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