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Kimberly Probolus
Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
Estados Unidos
Vol. 40 Núm. 2 (2020): Managing Giftedness in Contemporary Society, Dossier, Páginas 325-347
Recibido: Jan 11, 2021 Publicado: Dec 31, 2020


This paper explores how discourses of giftedness informed attitudes towards parenting in the United States from 1920 to 1960. Using psychologists’ studies of giftedness, media coverage of the topic, and guidebooks for parents of gifted children, I argue that giftedness emerged in the 1910s, and by the 1920s addressed a newly limited definition of intelligence and problems in urban public education, coinciding with the popularity of the culture and personality school. Scholarly debates about giftedness traveled from the academy to the wider public through the media and guidebooks for parents. Media coverage brought awareness of the problem of the neglected gifted student, and guidebooks offered parents practical suggestions about how to raise gifted children. I show that the discourse contributed to racial segregation in American schools and classrooms by using merit to determine access to educa- tional opportunity. Experts’ advice about giftedness also altered expectations about childrearing and encouraged parents to become more involved in their child’s educational development. This argument puts the history of psychology in conversation with histories of parenting, and it evidences how the discourse on giftedness impacted institutional inequality both through merit-based gifted and talented programs and by impacting ideologies of parenting. Thus, I provide a more comprehensive account of how and why giftedness profoundly shaped both the school and the home. This article considers the cultural work the discourse accomplished; it gave the public the impression that disparities in educational achievement between individuals and groups could be explained by the parenting a child received, putting significant pressure on all parents to make educational achievement a top priority for their child.


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