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A Review
Kathleen Montour's
William James Sidis, The Broken Twig
Research Paper Prepared
during her tenure at
Johns Hopkins University
American Psychologist
April, 1977 Issue
Pages 265-279
by Doug Renselle

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My perspective of Kathleen Montour's William James Sidis, The Broken Twig,
—————————————————————1977, American Psychologist Journal, pages 265-279.
Doug Renselle

 Opposition to Acceleration  
   Examples Past and Present  
 How Does the Sidis Fallacy Operate?  
 The Prodigy and His Family  
 The General Interest in Prodigies at the Time  
   Parent-Prodigy Interaction  
   Conditions for Other Gifted Children Then  
 Chronology of Events in the Life of William Sidis  
   The Child Lecturer of Harvard and His Fame  
   Signs of His Tragic Future Appear  
   The Perfect Life  
   Rediscovered Once More  
   His Fame Finally Eluded  
 How Can His Outcome Be Explained?  
   Reliable First Hand Accounts  
   His "Breakdown"  
   His Father's Role  
 Comparison of the Precocity of Sidis and Wiener  
   Their Fathers' Actions  
   W[ie]ner's Success Versus Sidis' Tragedy  
   How Else Was He Hindered?  
   Sidis's Case was Unique  

Kathleen Montour's Credits:

John C. Stanley, Director of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Johns Hopkins University,
Cecilia H. Solano re: bringing Thurber attention to Kathleen, and
Clifton Fadiman for his special contribution.

Abstract (page 265)

Kathleen Montour calls William James Sidis a "sorry example" and an "adverse impact" on attempts by academics to educate gifted children. Her purpose is to depict Sidis as a failed creation of his parents who exploited him to expand their own egos. Kathleen also compares Sidis (as a failure) to another "similar" child prodigy, Norbert Wiener (as a success). She shows how Sidis' early fame caused him to defy authority in any form, especially from his father. She debunks some Sidis myths. She shows how Sidis' case caused inappropriate negative opinions among academics regarding educational acceleration for gifted students. She calls these negatives and their unattenuated legacy, "The Sidis Fallacy." In her view, Sidis' failures adversely affect special/gifted education, still, today. Kathleen defends her position by showing Sidis' case as a minority among many other successful examples. Return

Opposition to Acceleration (page 265)

Ms. Montour tells us that enough writers use Sidis' negative example to generate an overall prejudice against educational acceleration of precocious youth. She quotes Hickok, 1947, p. 182 which starts...ends, "The brilliant William Sidis...ended up unhappily at forty-six an obscure, unsuccessful bookkeeper." Return

Examples Past and Present (page 265)

She quotes Hickok more regarding 1940s Quiz Kids radio show where one child was treated to "age-in-grade lockstep" education despite extreme precocity and evaluated his readiness for college matriculation at age 10. His father emphasizes the child's happiness was important and depended on, "...not pushing him ahead."

But Kathleen asks, "what of the phenomenally precocious child of 8 or 9 who must move on to high school and college for sufficient intellectual challenge?" Clearly, in her opinion, that option must be available to parents. She gives an interesting example of a seven year old child with a 212 IQ. Even after expert testimony that she should be accelerated, parental requests to her school were ignored and she was only given more books to read.

Kathleen uses an excellent argument that those same educators would agree that latching a retardate in one "chronologically correct" grade indefinitely would be cruel and unusual 'punishment.' She refers, " psychology researchers (Haier & Solano, 1976, pp. 215-222; Pyryt, 1976) and educational psychologists (Fox, 1976, pp. 202-204) at Johns Hopkins University...," who note prevalence of these attitudes. Return

How Does the Sidis Fallacy Operate? (page 266)

According to Montour, resistance against acceleration is not general policy, it is only a wink, a commonly accepted myth which most expert 'professional' educators and 'academicians' adhere. It appears to arise from, "rationalized, covert, diffuse, and unconscious" attitudes which she refers as ressentient and ressentiment. Latter is a Nietzschean concept which Freidenberg (1966) used to depict an almost general American antipathy toward gifted children.

Along comes William James Sidis, and now experts have an example to show their intuitive attitudes are correct. Sidis becomes their most potent example and a new plateau upon which experts may found their policy decisions.

Not all organizations are against acceleration. Montour uses her own Johns Hopkins University as an example of one who facilitates acceleration of gifted children.

An anonymous handwritten side bar note in this document evaluates this section of Montour's paper thus, "...asserts there is an unconscious, psychologically explainable bias against acceleration - that Sidis came along to prove a point people wanted proven..."

Begin reviewer opinion and comment:

From these perspectives we may choose to view experts' tacit and now ill-founded policy as a form of innate control. It is nearly total control despite absence of legal precedent. It has become as practiced policy. Its unstated goal appears to be social cloning or homogenization of people. Again we see lowest common denominator. We perceive socialist education's fear of intellectual and spiritual ascendances and peaks. We perceive their fear of intellect and intellectual caste systems. Should we allow them to entrap our children in their lowest common denominator ruts?

Why do we see this fallacy in operation? What can we say about it culturally? We think it arises from an emphasis on social patterns of value above all else.

Yet we know, as students of Pirsig's MoQ, intellectual patterns of value are more highly evolved than social patterns of value. We infer an ongoing battle between those who adhere social patterns and newly arrived and gifted who naturally use their intellect. We see new patterns of intellect threatening ensconced social patterns. And uncannily now, we can see Western schools are about socialization, not about growing intellect. American public education focuses on social progress while disfavoring intellectual progress. We think that is most of our problem! Value precedence should be intellect over society, and our public schools are pursuing an inverse hierarchy.

By placing social organization's status quo above a goal of intellectual (and spiritual) growth we can now understand our schools' unstated purpose is to maintain societal status quo and control it, fearing accelerated intellectual and spiritual growth which would impose concomitant societal change.

It is our emphatic opinion that we need to end this, now-not-so-subtle, social-status-quo-control of American public educational organizations over intellectual freedom and growth.

Pirsig's MoQ tells us unambiguously intellect is morally and ethically more highly evolved and thus superior to society. Intellectual patterns of value have an ultimate moral and ethical right to audit and edit societal patterns of value. It is all part of a larger, evolutionary process.

It appears that some educators assume gifted children will eventually take care of themselves. They think lesser children, statistically more common than gifted children, should be educations' focus. They think it is better to drag gifted down and lift nongifted up. That socialist perspective is good for society. It is not good for intellectual and spiritual growth.

When one assumes a single context for education with group benefit over individual benefit, we can interpret a socialist's reasoning. That is a common socialist thinking mode.

However, reality does not work that way. Reality shows us unlimited varieties of context. And reality balances group cohesion with individual autonomy, while favoring latter over former when evolutionary stability (survivability) is at stake. Gifted children are change precursors of long term group survivability. Any system which degrades their opportunities reduces its own long term evolutionary stability and survivability. Gifted children, in a sense, are an apex of a natural selection process.

Today's American public education system is in decay. It manifests accumulating decline in quality of students, quality of instruction material, and quality of teachers. Today we have dumb teaching dumber. A goal appears to be to graduate as many students as possible with an A+. We have extreme gradepoint welfare. It is pseudo education. It is regrettable.

Quality is mostly absent in American public education, and has been for too long. Consequences are profound and will have enormous ill-effects on American culture.

End reviewer opinion and comment. Return

The Prodigy and His Family (page 266)

Kathleen covers memorabilia about Sidis which we will not repeat here.

She tells us Boris Sidis' educational regimes and policies were extreme. He developed his ideas in an atmosphere of high expectations for American public education. Sidis' experiences as immigrants to America appeared to demonstrate implicit opportunity for education and unlimited intellectual possibilities. Boris transformed himself from a Russian-speaking immigrant into a Ph.D. and MD. Sarah arrived in America illiterate. With Boris' assistance and tutelage, she became an MD.

They had similar expectations for their genius, gifted son, William James Sidis.

Kathleen closes, "The success of these two and the apparent genius of their son must have seemed like living proof of the opportunities to be had in America." Return

The General Interest in Prodigies at the Time (page 266)

One outcome of a dramatic rise in American free schooling was a new phenomenon: prodigy making. It was felt young children could be intellectually and spiritually molded like clay. Geniuses could be created. Almost everyone believed this early in America's 20th century.

Kathleen says, "This naive view would not be challenged until the systematic study of giftedness started in the 1920s. (See Stanley, Keating, and Fox, 1974, pp. 1-22.)" Return

Parent-Prodigy Interaction (page 267)

Ms. Montour adopts this position: what she calls a creator parent is an ill-suited nurturer of any gifted child. Characteristics of creator parents, i.e., they:

  1. Overuse static, formal processes to assure results
  2. Dominate a gifted child over facilitate a child's intellectual growth
  3. Exploit a child's genius for personal gain
  4. Promote selves egotistically as source of child's learned brilliance
  5. Assume ordinary 'properly developed' children may become gifted
  6. Believe they can transform an ordinary child into a genius
  7. Deny a child's genetic heritage as a source of genius
  8. Tend to inform a gifted child with their own frustrated ideology
  9. Tend to disregard a gifted child's more general, nonintellectual welfare

Gifted children of creator parents:

  1. Are often conceited
  2. Are often arrogant
  3. Experience conflict with parents and others

Examples of creator parents:

  1. Boris and Sarah Sidis
  2. Matriarchal Family from Wales reported by Deakin, 1972
  3. Parents of Henry J. S. Smith reported by Turnbull, 1929, p. 129
  4. Parents of Norbert Wiener, a Sidis contemporary (Bruce, 1911a, b)
  5. Parents of Winifred Stoner, Jr. (Bruce, 1911a, b; Moulton, 1915)

Examples of methods used by creator parents:

  1. Montessori
  2. Piagetian psychology
  3. Brontë-like conditions

Examples of noncreator parents:

  1. Parents of Adolph Berle, Jr.(Bruce, 1911b) Return

Conditions for Other Gifted Children Then (page 267)

By "Then" above, we infer Ms. Montour means approximately synchronous with Sidis' provenance.

To set tenor for her perspective of conditions then, she quotes Hollingworth, 1926:

"Preoccupation with the incompetent resulted from the natural tendency of human beings to notice whatever is giving them pain or annoyance, taking for granted that which proceeds in an orderly, agreeable manner...Philanthropy, originally meaning love of man, degenerated to mean love of stupid and vicious man."

Leta Hollingworth and Lewis Terman, during USA's 1920s, turned a focus upward toward gifted children. Terman observed children with high intelligence at a time when Sidis was 18 years old. Terman noted:

"Through the leveling influences of the education lockstep, such children are at present often lost in the masses. It is a rare child who is able to break this lockstep by extra promotions...Psychological tests show that children of superior ability are very likely to be misunderstood. (Terman, 1916, pp. 12-13)"

Terman wrote Genetic Studies of Genius, 1921. His children under study averaged age 10. He said, "...very few of the parents carried out any systematic scheme of child training." (Terman, 1925, p. 287) Professional educational neglect did not abate.

"Traditional methods have ignored the problem; their influence is negative rather than positive; the best that can be hoped for them is that they may not be as bad as they seem." Return

Chronology of Events in the Life of William Sidis (page 268)

Montour covers Sidis biographical material which is mostly redundant to what we already provide in our review of Amy Wallace's 1986, The Prodigy.

We will list Sidis references she uses in this text segment and then quote an interesting Sidis biographical note we have not seen prior.

Sidis references:

A biographical note:

"To this day, William Sidis remains one of the most astonishing examples of intellectual precocity recorded. His father "...began to train him in the use of his observational and reasoning faculties before he was two years old." (Bruce, 1910, p. 692), so that William was able to spell and read before age 3. The baby would amuse himself by spelling the titles of books in his father's library, such as Effects of Anaesthesia. Once, as a test of his ability, someone spelled out "Prince Mavrocordatos, a friend of Byron" in alphabet blocks before him. A week later William was asked "What was the name of Byron's friend I spelled out for you?" He answered immediately producing the phrase, thereby demonstrating that, besides his amazing memory, he did more than recognize strings of letters he had "read."" Return

The Child Lecturer of Harvard and His Fame (page 269)

Kathleen begins, "Young Sidis' Four-Dimensional Bodies remains the nonpareil of achievements by a child prodigy."

At age 10, Sidis addressed Harvard's Mathematical club and astounded all.

Norbert Wiener writes (1953, pp. 131-132), "The talk would have done credit to a first- or second-year graduate student of any age...Sidis had no access to existing sources [so] that the talk represented the triumph of the unaided efforts of a very brilliant child."

Nearly all media outlets picked up on this. Result is history. Sidis set US society's expectations at an irretrievably high level. Then he could not and would not meet those expectations "on demand." Of course vile media did nought but harass him relentlessly thereafter.

Further provoking media's jealous, zealous, ex-cathedra ire, Boris accepted credit for Bill's apparent success.

Begin reviewer opinion and comment:

Be aware: Boris was not after money! He wanted his methods to be recognized and adopted. He felt we would all benefit if we used his educational and training methods (Most born of William James' own philosophy and concepts, e.g., "reserve energy."). Many, especially media, saw Boris as greedy, publicity-seeking, arrogant, prideful. But our read of Boris is that he possessed extraordinary integrity and was noble. As Kathleen suggests though/because Boris himself was a genius he was misunderstood. He was a misunderstood pioneer.

In our opinion, Boris' integrity and nobility glares in Amy Wallace's biography of his son. (The Prodigy, 1986)

End reviewer opinion and comment. Return

Signs of His Tragic Future Appear (page 269)

Sidis early successes set society's and media's bar of expectation too high.

First New York Times praised him.

But according to Kathleen a first sign of a downturn appeared in a New York Times editorial, 'This Plan is Full of Promise,' reporting 17 year old Sidis' apparent misogyny. Next, NYT reported Sidis' arrest for his radical social beliefs expressed in Boston's 1918 May Day riots. From there it went on and only sort-of-ended with his July 17, 1944 transcension from Earth.

William could not bear his (he felt) unsolicited media abuse. He dropped out of circulation. Return

The Perfect Life (page 270)

William revised his life:

  1. revulsed academia and academicians
  2. worked low paying, low demand jobs
  3. estranged his father and mother
  4. attempted to lead a solitary existence
  5. wrote books, cerebral papers, newsletters, and correspondence
  6. rode streetcars
  7. became a cynical eccentric (Kathleen's words)
  8. became a hostile intellectual (ditto)

Begin reviewer opinion and comment:

Montour's section title apparently refers to William's published, The Hesperia Constitution (Harvard archives), which contains his extensive list of rules for a perfect life. She does not mention or reference it. Nor does she mention or refer his, Tribes and States. We think she missed much, and thus we have to take this work and her views with a grain, so to speak. Note how this fits with others' (Wallace, Sharfman(s), Eichel(s), Mandlebaum, Wiener, Fuller, Saunders, Mahony, Rosenberg, et al.) sympathetic remarks that media wrote of him on hearsay and almost in total ignorance of William James Sidis' actual characteristics, interests and accomplishments.

We think Montour's view of Sidis is both marginally limited and distorted. If one absorbs media's bias against Sidis, one's own recall of him may evolve malformed, in my opinion. Media's socialist, lowest common denominator, hate spawn can mutate one's own context. On top of that Kathleen appears to miss detail which appears in other sources, especially detail about Sidis' works and in particular its massive and unacknowledged extent. Her references include only two of WJS' ample works.

End reviewer opinion and comment. Return

Rediscovered Once More (page 270)

Montour conveys her own sympathy toward William James Sidis.

"Whatever chance there was of the public's finally forgetting him was lost to Sidis in 1937 when his unhappy tale was resurrected for New Yorker readers (Manley, 1937). 'April Fool,' Jared Manley's update on the famous prodigy was a piece for the feature 'Where Are They Now?' and is commonly held to be the best study done on him. Actually it is far from being factually accurate, especially on the early details of the prodigy's life."

Kathleen goes on to make these assessments of Manley's lauded but unlaudable work:

  1. Manley's research was faulty
  2. Manley was unfamiliar with academia's world
  3. Manley mostly used another reporter's work and opinions
  4. Manley violated Sidis' privacy (provoked a law suit)
  5. A sympathetic judge said Manley mercilessly dissected Sidis' personal life even though New Yorker won on a legal point (see Clark, 1941)
  6. James Thurber (New Yorker staff then) backed up judge's opinion (see Thurber, 1957, p. 212)
  7. Sidis resued on different grounds and achieved an out-of-court settlement. Return

His Fame Finally Eluded (page 271)

July 17, 1944, William James Sidis escapes an ugly Earth by dying of an inner-cranial hemorrhage.

More mean rumors spread: that he had committed suicide.

Begin reviewer opinion and comment:

Holocaust of a different and wholly individual nature: A total, intentional destruction of Sidis' reputation.

End reviewer opinion and comment. Return

How Can His Outcome Be Explained? (page 271)
Reliable First Hand Accounts (page 271)

We want to capture essence of this section in lists: references used, Boris' attitudes, Bruce's assessments.

Kathleen asks this (apparently media-biased) question, "Why did Sidis' life sink to such an abysmal level when he showed such great promise initially?"

References used:

Boris' attitudes:

  1. Boris thought conscious education enhancement should commence earlier rather than later
  2. Boris Sidis shared his friend, mentor, philosopher William James' belief in mental "reserve energy"
  3. Boris educational regime made it possible for William to access reserve energy
  4. Both thought accessors of reserve energy had to break through a fatigue barrier to use it
  5. Origin of William's precocity arose from concepts in James' theory
  6. William's capabilities were not based on heredity
  7. Anyone who accessed reserve energy could do what William did

Bruce's assessments:

  1. Boris based his method of child training on James' theory of reserve energy
  2. Boris' educational training system was not very severe
  3. Boris' system is both common sense and intense
  4. Boris' system is similar to Montessori methods
  5. William was an industrious and mentally sturdy child
  6. William was more rambunctious than 'normal' children
  7. William was less mature than children his age
  8. Until 1910 nothing predicted any foul outcome for William
  9. William received media praise only in New York Times first article about his lecture at Harvard Return

His "Breakdown" (page 272)

Kathleen gives evidence that William no more had a breakdown than he committed suicide.

She says, "Sidis' nervous breakdown at an early age may have been no more authentic than his suicide."

She goes on to exemplify Alexander Graham Bell as one who did have a breakdown and went on to become phenomenally successful, and she tells us that it is not unusual.

"The mental-breakdown theory is fraught with inconsistencies that render it too weak to explain the Sidis enigma alone." Return

His Father's [and Mother's] Role (page 272)

Your reviewer thinks this section of Kathleen Montour's paper illuminates Sidis' enigma better than anything else we have read. Allow us to just list her points, and you may garner our illumination or not.

Kathleen's points:

  1. Boris Sidis is almost uniformly portrayed as 'villain' and cause of all William's tribulations
  2. Most people thought Boris sought his own ego gratification at William's expense
  3. Boris was, indeed, a scurrilous hater of US' inept education system. Evidence: his book, Philistine and Genius, 1911
  4. Book Review Digest, 1911, based on their review of Philistine and Genius, called Boris a "crank."
  5. If Boris' method caused William's problems, why did others' use of it achieve success? (E.g. Berle. See Bruce, 1912)
  6. Real reason: Boris and Sarah were incapable of parenting William well.
  7. C. Fadiman told Kathleen, "Neither Boris or Sarah had wisdom. They were both intellectuals and fools. They were not cruel, but absent paternal or maternal feeling. They could educate, but not rear."
  8. Boris and Sarah were unable to offer William basic emotional security
  9. They offered him no foundation other than intellectual for dealing with a world suspicious of high intellect
  10. William was not emotionally resilient
  11. Norbert Wiener was raised similarly to Sidis and was one of 20th century's most important scientists Return

Comparison of the Precocity of Sidis and Wiener (page 273)

Kathleen begins this section with, "There are certain pregnant similarities between the sons of Leo Wiener and Boris Sidis that reflect their fathers' coexistent beliefs."

References used by Kathleen in this section:

Here are a few of those similarities both:

  1. Russian Jews
  2. self-made
  3. used opportunities available in USA
  4. used their sons to illustrate their theories
  5. their sons exhibited social awkwardness
  6. their sons found adolescence a difficult time academically
  7. both used extreme supervision
  8. their sons initially suppressed feelings of revolt, then found esoteric ways to actually revolt
  9. experienced similar outcomes to JS Mill, Edmund Gosse, and Samuel Butler, and Butler's creation, Ernest Pontifex

Here are a few differences unlike:

  1. Sidis, Wiener left detailed autobiographies
  2. Sidis, Wiener was able to transition from child to adult
  3. Sidis, Wiener (his father) managed Norbert's life responsibly shielding him from overt praise
  4. Sidis, Wiener chose Tufts for his son's college education - Norbert did not show off
  5. Wiener, Sidis revolted against intellect and academia
  6. Wiener, Sidis estranged his Father (and Mother)
  7. Wiener, Sidis (his father) did not manage William's life well exposing him to ego-building commentary
  8. Wiener, Sidis invited extreme attention by enrolling William in Harvard - William was forced to show off
  9. Sidis' William, Wiener's Norbert only had to deal with his Father's pressure to succeed
  10. Sidis' William, Wiener's Norbert was exposed to other children in school
  11. Sidis' William, Wiener's Norbert got along well with other students and his teachers
  12. Sidis' William, Wiener's Norbert lacked conceit and arrogance
  13. Sidis' William, Wiener's Norbert protected his father-son emotional bond
  14. Wiener's Norbert, Sidis' William was exploited by his Father
  15. Wiener's Norbert, Sidis' William experienced little childhood socialization with other children (home education)
  16. Wiener's Norbert, Sidis' William was disagreeable as a student in class
  17. Wiener's Norbert, Sidis' William was conceited
  18. Wiener's Norbert, Sidis' William showed no regard for his Father's well-being

Bottom line, if we are going to do this, each case is special and unique. Do not try to generalize! Return

Their Fathers' Actions (page 274)

Wiener's Actions:

  1. Insisted on disciplined study over Norbert's desire for free-ranging study

Sidis' Actions:

  1. Denigration of games and "objectless" sports as worthwhile activities for William

Kathleen conjectures William apparently ruined his own life (Reviewer: in eyes of prideful egoists) to prevent his Father's exploitation of him. William had no bond with his Father. Norbert bonded with his father, and would not even consider doing what William did.

Begin reviewer opinion and comment:

It may be worthwhile to consider potential sociopathy induced in William by his family's absence of emotional support. Clearly it is a family-focused sociopathy, if it exists, because William did not do this to non-family members as far as we know. He did show extreme indifference to those outside his family he felt were exploiting him.

In his correspondence with Julius Eichel, we saw William doing just fine in that interrelationship until William perceived Julius' actions in opposition to his own. At that point William showed extreme (almost over-reactive) emotion and verbal meanness. This was happening just prior to William's death in 1944. Reading his correspondence over a five year period one can sense a gradual build-up in tension and what we perceive as mania. He may have anticipated his demise. Unfortunately he was failing again in his attempts to deal with others to achieve mutual goals.

We think this section should have been integrated with previous section.

End reviewer opinion and comment. Return

W[ie]ner's Success Versus Sidis's Tragedy (page 274)

Norbert Wiener married. His wife and their little home-cave and mutual nurturing protected and insulated him from outside concerns.

William Sidis may have been incapable of a sexual union. He had no partner or symbiont to mitigate his exposure. He had to do it all himself, alone.

Norbert was able to leverage his talents and intellect.

William had to trail in a lime of extraordinarily successful and prominent parents whose glare swamped his potential. It was too much strain for William. His only recourse was to run, to escape from society as best he could.

Norbert said of Sidis, if he had gotten competent psychiatric help while he was at Harvard, he could have been saved. His Father and Mother were just too busy. Norbert insists that parents of gifted children protect them and indulge their extreme vulnerability by relative overattention and caring and love.

About John Stuart Mill in comparison to William Sidis, Kathleen writes,

"John Stuart Mill had to come to grips with his unusual station in life at about the same age William Sidis did. Note 1. Mill went into a period of depression when he realized how hollow his life goals were. In his autobiography (Mill, 1873/1924) he wrote, 'If I had loved anyone sufficiently to make confiding my griefs a necessity, I should not have been in the condition I was.'"

"According to Wiener, Sidis reacted to the recognition of his alienation by turning against his family. In Wiener's words he, '...broke down.' (Wiener, 1953, p. 132)" Return

How Else Was He Hindered? (page 275)

  1. He had to flee antagonists for his entire life's remainder
  2. Media and society would not allow him his chosen obscurity
  3. He was allowed no rest, no privacy, he was hounded relentlessly
  4. His defenses were perceived as emotionally disturbed behavior (Montour thinks they were apropos.)
  5. His Marxism attracted abuse (elsewhere Saunders claims Sidis was no Marxist)
  6. He was unable to conform socially
  7. He never advanced beyond a baccalaureate (Reviewer opinion and comment: geniuses do not need degrees, degrees are for normal folk. Degrees are about celebrity, status, and apparent power and control. Both are antithetical William's whole being. Degrees are extreme Static Quality, extreme conformity. Geniuses like William James Sidis are free. They ascend and transcend in spite of small-minded humanity. Ph.Ds. become entrapped in their own and academia's little axiomatic boxes, and often experience lives of incremental descensions!)
  8. His life was one of parental exploitation
  9. His life was one of emotional starvation

Kathleen ends this section with, "Who knows what we have lost because William James Sidis never realized his full potential." (Reviewer opinion and comment: A full story is not in yet on that issue.) Return

Sidis's Case was Unique (page 276)

Ms. Montour begins this section with, "The tragedy of William James Sidis' life after his graduation from college does not seem ever to have been matched." Most others despite extreme tribulations with family, society, and media managed modicum success.

A detailed reading of this section by educators will be useful to see how various approaches worked to varying degrees. Return

Conclusion (page 277)

Kathleen Montour suggests a conspiracy to conceal facts about William James Sidis among media reporters.

However, she quotes, "...but what cannot be obscured is that Sidis' life represents the traducement of an 'honorably defeated...combatant in the battle for existence..." (Wiener, 1953, p. 134)

She ends her paper thus, "The manner in which Sidis' terrible history was twisted to fit the traditional conception of the inevitable fate of the prodigy, as in Hesse's (1906) Unterm rad for example, represents a curious psychological phenomenon in itself. That the Sidis fallacy — the myth of 'early ripe, early rot' — persists, reflects the need many persons have to believe that precocious youths must fail. While some of these misinformed people may bow to strong, clearly presented evidence to the contrary, others remain a challenge for social psychologists and educators of the gifted to overcome." Return

Reference Note (page 278)

1. Fadiman, C. Personal communication, March 5, 1976. Return

References (pages 278-9)

  1. Adolph A. Berle dies at the age of 76. New York Times, February 19, 1971, p. 1.
  2. Allport, G. W. Letters from Jenny. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.
  3. Bell, E. T. Men of Mathematics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1937.
  4. Book Review Digest, 1911, 7, 430-431.
  5. Bowden, E. T. Satiric poems: M'Fingal and the progress of dulness. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962.
  6. Boy of ten addresses Harvard teachers. New York Times, January 6, 1910, p. 1.
  7. The boy prodigy of Harvard. Current Literature, March 1910, 68, 291-293.
  8. Bruce, H. A. Bending the twig; The education of the eleven-year-old boy who lectured before the Harvard professors on the fourth dimension. American Magazine, March 1910, 69, 690-695.
  9. Bruce, H. A. New ideas in child training: Remarkable results obtained in the education of children through new methods of some American parents. American Magazine, July 1911, 72, 286-294. (a)
  10. Bruce, H. A. New ideas in child training., Journal of Education, 1911, 74, 2 92-2 94. (b)
  11. Bruce, H. A. The story of Karl Witte. The Outlook, January 27, 1912,100, 211-218.
  12. Burks, B. S., Jensen, D. W., & Terman, L. M. Genetic studies of genius: III. The promise of youth. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1930.
  13. Clark. Text of opinions, Sidis v. F-R Pub. Corporation. Federal Reporter, 2nd Series. 1941, 113, 807-811.
  14. College boy of thirteen could read at two. New York Times, November 10, 1935, Section II, p. 8.
  15. Deakin, M. The children on the hill: One family’s bold experiment, with a new way of learning and growing. .New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.
  16. Dolbear, K. E. Precocious children. Pedagogical Seminary, 1912, 19, 461-491.
  17. Dr. Boris Sidis dies. New York Times, October 25, 1923, P. 19.
  18. Dr. Sarah Sidis dies. New York Times, July 17, 1959, p. 72.
  19. Five "prodigies" enter Northwestern class. New York Times, September 13, 1932, p. 23.
  20. Fleishman, F. A boy prodigy and the fourth dimension. Harper's Weekly, January 15, 1910, 54, p. 9.
  21. Four Boston radicals get prison sentences. New York Times, May 3, 1919, p. 3.
  22. Fox. L. H. Sex differences in mathematical precocity: Bridging the gap. In D. P. Keating (Ed.), Intellectual talent: Research and development. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
  23. Freidenberg, E. Z. The gifted student and his enemies. In The dignity of youth and other atavisms. Boston: Beacon Press, 1966.
  24. Haier, R. J., & Solano, C. H. Educators' stereotypes of mathematically gifted boys. In D. P. Keating (Ed.), Intellectual talent: Research and development. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
  25. Harvard A.B. at 16, William James Sidis, the youngest student to get that degree there. New York Times, June 14, 1914, p. 1.
    Montour claims this is untrue. See her paper for details.
  26. Hesse, H. Unterm rad. Berlin: G. Fischer, Verlag, 1906.
  27. Hickok, E. M. The quiz kids. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947.
  28. The hidden genius. New York Times, July 19, 1944, p. 18.
  29. Hollingworth, L. S. Gifted children: Their nature and nurture. New York: Macmillan, 1926.
  30. Illustrating a system of education. New 'York Times, January 7, 1910, p. 8.
  31. An infant prodigy. North American Review, April 19, 1907, 184, 887-888.
  32. Keating, D. P. (Ed.). Intellectual talent: Research and development. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
  33. Manley, J. R. Where are they now?: April fool! New Yorker, August 14, 1937, 13, 22-26.
  34. Mill, J. S. Autobiography of John Stuart Mill. New York: Columbia University Press, 1924. (Originally published, 1873.)
  35. Montour, K. Merrill Kenneth Wolf: A bachelor's degree at fourteen. Intellectually Talented Youth Bulletin, 1976, 2 (7), 1-2. (a)
  36. Montour, K. Charles Louis Fefferman: Youngest American full professor? Intellectually Talented Youth Bulletin, 1976, 2(8), 2. (b)
  37. Montour, K. Pre-revolutionary prodigies. Intellectually Talented Youth Bulletin, 1976, 2(9), 1. (c)
  38. Montour, K. Three precocious boys: What happened to them? Gifted Child Quarterly, 1976, 20, 173-179. (d)
  39. Moulton, R. H. A twelve-year-old wonder child. American Magazine, February 1915, 79, 56-58.
  40. Oden, M. H. The fulfillment of promise: 40-year follow-up of the Terman gifted group. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 1968, 77, 3-93.
  41. Ohanian, P. B. A musically and artistically talented family nearly half a century later. In J. C. Stanley, W. C. George, & C. S. Solano (Eds.), The gifted and the creative: Fifty-year perspective. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, in press.
  42. Precocity doesn't wear well. New York Times, January 11, 1924, p. 16.
  43. Pressey, S. L. Educational acceleration: Appraisals and basic problems. Bureau of Educational Research Monograph (No. 31). Columbus: Ohio State University, 1949.
  44. Prodigious failure. Time, July 31, 1944, pp. 60-62.
  45. Pyryt, M. Attitudes toward teaching the gifted child. Intellectually Talented Youth Bulletin, 1976. 2(6), 1-2.
  46. Sidis, a "wonder" in childhood, dies. New York Times, July 18, 1944, p. 21. (Date of death was 17Jul44.)
  47. The Sidis boy. The Independent, January 20, 1910, 54, 9.
  48. Sidis, B. The Philistine and genius. New York: Moffat, Yard. 1911.
  49. Sidis, W. J. The animate and the inanimate. Boston: R. Y. Badger, 1925.
  50. Sidis, W. J. (Folupa, F.). Notes on the collection of transfers. Philadelphia, Pa.: Dorrance, 1926.
  51. Stanley, J. C., Use of tests to discover talent. In D. P. Keating (Ed.), Intellectual talent: Research and development. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
  52. Stanley, J. C., Keating, D. P., & Fox, L. H. (Eds.). Mathematical talent: Discovery, description, and development. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.
  53. Stern, A. The making of a genius. Miami, Fla.: Hurricane House, 1971.
  54. Terman, L. M, The measurement of intelligence. Boston: Riverside Press, 1916.
  55. Terman, L. M. Genetic studies of genius: 1. Mental and physical traits of a thousand gifted children. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1925.
  56. This plan is full of promise. New York Times, April 24, 1915, P. 10.
  57. Thurber, J. The years with Ross. Boston: Little, Brown, 1957.
  58. Training supermen. New York Times, May 7, 1914, p. 10.
  59. Turnbull, H. W. The great mathematicians. London: Methuen, 1929.
  60. Who was who in America; Historical volume (1607-1896) (Rev. ed.). Chicago: Marquis, 1967.
  61. Wiener, N. Ex-prodigy: My childhood and youth. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1953.
  62. Wiener, N. I am a mathematician: The later life of a prodigy. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1956.
  63. Wiener, N. Analysis of the child prodigy. New York Times Magazine, June 2, 1957, pp. 15-30; 32-34.
  64. A wonderful boy. The Outlook, October .23, 1909, 93, 485-486.
  65. Worcester; D. A. The education of children of above average mentality. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1956.
  66. Young Sidis, "Harvard prodigy," sentenced to a year and a half in jail for rioting. New York Times, May 14, 1919, P. 1.
  67. A youthful prodigy in trouble. New York Times, May 15, 1919, p. 16.


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©Quantonics, Inc., 1999-2006 — Rev. 25Aug2002  PDR — Created: 8Oct99  PDR
(13Dec99 rev. - Typo correction.)
(13Nov2000 rev - Add links to Boris' Philistine & Genius, and James' Some Problems of Philosophy.)
(25Aug2002 rev - Add 'consensus' link to common sense above.)

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