National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2018


Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19.2 (Fall/Winter 2018) ISBN 978-1-945001-01-7 ISSN 1559-0151


© Copyright 2018 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


Last year’s surprise hit of the television season was The Good Doctor, in which Freddie Highmore plays a gifted surgical resident who is also a high-functioning autistic. Critics speculate that it succeeded because audiences are hungry for good-outcome fantasy, or “warm bath” television. Fantasy is right. As much as we love watching Shaun Murphy show up not only all the other residents but all the attending physicians, we wouldn’t want to work with him in real life. Gifted students who can move through the K–12 curriculum so quickly that they can earn college-ready SAT scores at 11 or 12 are a prickly annoyance after elementary school, and many of them, especially boys, are outright casualties of the secondary school environment. They may sabotage their chances for admission to colleges that could challenge them—through poor attendance, low grades, and issues with authority, making an early exit from the educational system to excel as entrepreneurs or perhaps deliver pizza until they eventually succeed without a formal education or go back to school years later. In college, they are reluctant to enter yet another honors environment where they expect to be chased around with a “potentiometer.” How can they know that college is not high school—that, in college, they can do undergraduate research, take classes that are actually hard, and develop intellectual relationships with their professors that are truly collegial and rooted in mutual respect? You might think that gifted students are a natural fit for honors education, and they are, but they are nevertheless a marginalized minority because they are not always high achievers, their behavior is hard to predict or measure, and extrinsic motivators don’t work well with them; it is hard to justify giving them money or a scarce slot in a program with competitive admission unless they have a solid track record of proven academic success rather than just a glittering pile of test scores indicating amazing potential but little to no accomplishment. Honors programs tend to steer admission away from high test scores and low grades because high grades and class ranking do predict college success, at least early on. Yet we also recognize that honors programs have historically experienced high attrition and problems with student persistence. One of the wickedest of all wicked dilemmas for honors is whether we can predict performance from potential.