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Education professor, alumna receive award for 'smart girls' book

Friday, May 15, 2015

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor and alumna have received a Silver Medal for Education award for a book on young women's giftedness, self-actualization and barriers to achievement.

"Smart Girls in the 21st Century: Understanding Talented Girls and Women" was one of 160 finalists for the Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Awards. The authors are Barbara Kerr, professor of education, and co-author Robyn Mckay, a KU alumna.

In their award-winning publication, which was released in November 2014, Kerr and Mckay examine education, adolescence, college, eminent women and career guidance. The book transcends the binaries of poor vs. privileged, gifted vs. ungifted and feminine vs. masculine.  The authors show how talent, gender and privilege intertwine in the lives of smart girls.

They also present a model of female talent development that offers clear, research-based guidance for parents, teachers and policy leaders who want to provide opportunities for all bright girls to achieve their full potential. Some of their recommendations have become controversial, given the popularity of ideas in psychology about the importance of “grit” and “mindset.” With regard to “grit” Kerr said, “Girls don’t need to be encouraged to be persistent and perfectionistic in all tasks – instead, they need to learn “selective conscientiousness – having grit only in the area of their passion.”

With regard to “mindset,” Kerr and Mckay acknowledge that a “growth mindset," which leads young people to believe that they can grow their intelligence through application to learning, is better than a “fixed mindset," which leads them to believe that their intelligence is stable and unchanging. They fervently disagree, however, with the popularization of the idea that bright girls should not be told that they are gifted. 

“It is not whether or not to tell your girl she is gifted but how to tell her,” Kerr said. “Bright girls need to know specifically what their intelligence and achievement test scores mean, how the tests may be biased, how their areas of strength relate to their interests, how this snapshot can be used to guide future learning.” 

On a foundation of the most recent psychological science on intelligence, personality, sex role socialization and human development, they show how bright girls grow up in societies where parenting, education and the media turn them away from the development of their talents. 

The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, which include 55 categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design, are regarded as one of the highest national honors for indie publishers and self-published authors. The awards are administered by IBPA with help from more than 150 book publishing professionals, including librarians, bookstore owners, reviewers, designers, publicity managers and editors.

Kerr currently serves as the Williamson Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology within the Department of Psychology & Research (soon to be Educational Psychology), works with Lawrence Creates Makerspace and is the author of six books, among them: A Handbook for Counseling Gifted and Talented; Smart Girls; Smart Boys. She also directs a laboratory for the study of creativity.

Co-author McKay earned her bachelor's degree in biology and her doctorate in counseling psychology from KU. She's the founder and creative director of she{ology}, a leadership and coaching program for bright women.

More information about the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards is available here

The Department of Psychology & Research in Education (soon to be Educational Psychology) is housed in the School of Education, a nationally ranked school serving educators and health, sport & exercise science professionals to prepare them as leaders. 

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