Friday, 19 February 2016

Beyond IQ: Birdkill And The 150 Problem

Raven's Progressive Matrices Example
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My newest novel, Birdkill is set in the wooded grounds of The Hamilton Institute, an enterprise dedicated to the fostering of the talents of exceptionally gifted children.

It is here that damaged teacher Robyn Shaw is hoping to recuperate, an incident in her recent past triggering amnesia that cloaks the events and replaces them with the Void. She finds herself involved in a number of odd happenings seemingly triggered by one of the children, an unusually difficult and truculent child called Martin. She finds herself fighting against a child for her sanity as her friend Mariam rushes to find out what terrible event in Robyn's past could possibly trigger the unravelling of her mind.

The children in Birdkill are marginalised, Robyn is told. They haven't been able to find their place in society and are often difficult and wayward. They struggle with being an old head in a young body, intellectually capable of resolving complex problems but lacking the life experience to fundamentally understand the advanced ideas they can so brilliantly study conceptually.

The truth is we often struggle to manage exceptionally gifted children, for a number of relatively good reasons at that. Firstly we have the issue of benchmarking quite what a gifted child is. Every pushy mum thinks their little darling is gifted and I have seen (through having lived a lifetime with teachers as my parents and partner) numerous examples of children being 'hot-housed' by mums who are convinced their child has that extra something, quite often living vicariously through their child.

The great benchmark is the IQ test but I have always been convinced these tests merely measure one's ability to do IQ tests, not any exceptional giftedness or intellectual capacity. Whatever benchmark one applies, the next problem is that there is little resource dedicated to facilities for such children. A relatively small percentage of the whole, meeting their needs is frequently limited - where they're lucky - to being differentiated within their age group rather than being taken out of 'standard' education and offered programming suitable to their capability. Home schooling has been the recourse for many parents of such children.

It has been a fascinating area to research, I have to say. And there are a lot of kids out there who are being pretty badly let down. Sir Ken Robinson has wisdom on this, with his ideas about schools quashing creativity. Because a mathematical mind doesn't necessarily mean a gifted mind. And structured learning isn't necessarily the greatest gift we can give to such a mind.

So an institution dedicated to not only helping these children but extending their capabilities seems like perfect sense to Robyn, who is mildly irritated to find when she arrives at her new job that the Institute is not just a boarding school, but also a research institution. What does it research? Nobody will tell her. Fraternisation between the research staff and the faculty is not allowed. And then she watches one of the children seemingly calling sparrows to him out of the air and carelessly breaking their necks. Caught in his gaze, she knows she will be next.

Robyn starts to wonder quite what she's got herself into...

Birdkill is available from Amazon and will be on sale in print at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai from March 1st 2016.

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