Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
Smart Girls (Revised Edition) - A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness is the result of a research project conducted by Dr. Barbara Kerr exploring the lives and accomplishments of the female students of her graduating high school class. These girls were identified as gifted after the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and were given a unique educational opportunity to nurture their intellectual and leadership abilities. At Kerr's ten-year reunion she was surprised by the women's occupations and life paths. Although her classmates had been carefully groomed for success, very few of the women had become "leaders of tomorrow." Smart Girls is an examination of how and why intelligent girls sometimes fall short of their potential, and is a useful guide for those assisting gifted girls in achieving self-actualization.
Many chapters in Smart Girls are devoted to the developmental stages of gifted females. The chapters cover the early years, adolescence, the college experience, and gifted adulthood. Different stages present new sets of conflict and decision-making opportunities for gifted girls, all of which mold them in to whom they will become. Each chapter ends with a thorough summary of the key points covered, as well as a section of questions and answers. Additional questions and answers for each developmental stage are included in an excellent appendix.
In the book, Kerr looks at seven of the most influential studies that have significantly impacted gifted females today. In her discussion of this research, she reveals a theme that continuously surfaces in these studies; gifted women struggle between their longing for close relationships and their desire for achievement. Kerr points out that the introduction into the "culture of romance" plays a large part in the direction gifted women choose to take.
More specifically, Kerr discusses the internal and external barriers faced by gifted women today in the chapter "Barriers to Achievement." Kerr writes that by the age of seven girls learn their sex-role stereotypes and by age eleven begin to lose their assurance in themselves and their abilities. Kerr goes on to say that the biggest internal roadblock for gifted girls seems to be the psychological adjustment to being who they are compared to society's expectations. In addition to these obstacles, many minority gifted girls face cultural and economical pressures. Kerr writes a powerful section about the additional barriers faced by gifted girls and women who are Native American, African American, Asian American, and Hispanic American.
In one particular chapter, Kerr summarizes the lives of several eminent women, including Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, Margaret Mead, Georgia O'Keefe, and Rigoberta Menchu. Not only is it entertaining to read about these extraordinary women, but it also highly informative; Kerr highlights the aspects of these women's lives that have enabled them to overcome barriers that other women have been unable to conquer. Kerr discusses several common themes that set these women apart from others. Some of these themes include time alone, individualized instruction, same-sex education, taking responsibility for oneself, love through work, mentors, integration of roles, and refusal to acknowledge limitations of gender.
In Kerr's final chapter she emphasizes the importance of guidance from parents, teachers, and counselors in helping gifted girls reach their maximum potential. In this section, Kerr discusses specific interventions and recommendations that can be used during preschool, elementary, middle school, high school, college, and postgraduate years to help encourage intellectual growth in gifted girls.
Overall Kerr provides a stimulating read and a thorough overview of the current issues surrounding gifted girls and women today. I strongly recommend Smart Girls (Revised Edition) - A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness to anyone who is interested in understanding and meeting the needs of a gifted girl.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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