Monday, January 28, 2013

The G Word

I saw a link to this article go by in my Facebook Feed earlier this evening.  It is an argument about why the word "gifted" should be retired.  The argument is basically we should stop coddling the gifted kids -- if they show a talent in some area, let them explore it, but bear in mind, anyone can master anything if they show perseverance and a willingness to put those mythical 10,000 hours into learning regardless of whether or not they have natural talent or not.  (As a voice teacher, I can tell you that this is not possible.  I can most likely teach you to sing better than you did when you started with me, but to truly master the art, you've got to have something kind of special to start with).  It says a lot of other stuff, too, but one thing becomes painfully clear as you read this:  The author is an IT-professional and a former dentist.  Not a teacher.  And (I'm willing to bet) not a parent of gifted kid.

Why are gifted kids treated like entitled brats in society?  What makes them any different from a kid who's a really great athlete?  The athletic kid gets special training outside of gym class and she gets featured on her team.  What makes a gifted kid different from the kid where reading doesn't come easily?  That kid gets a special classes, a tutor or even an IEP to help get him up to speed.  And yet, when gifted kids need enrichment or acceleration, it's a fight for those services or classes.  School administrators believe that if the kid's smart, he or she can figure out their own path.  (Note that I am not picking on the teachers here as I believe the majority of the teachers in the system want to do right by all of their students.  Often times, they're hamstrung by their administration, the standardized testing, and/or lack of funding.  But this is a rant for a different blog post).

What makes this all very difficult to understand is that every gifted kid is unique.  I don't mean this in the sense that every kid is special in some way because they all are.  I have seen figures that say the top 5% intellectually are more diverse than the bottom 95% put together.  Gifted kids have emotional needs and sensitivities that go beyond what most average kids experience.  They often have learning disabilities that go undetected because they can compensate for them.  Some gifted kids aren't academic geniuses - they're musicians, artists, or...wait for it...athletes.  Even the academic geniuses have strengths and weaknesses -- there are mathy kids who don't like reading.  There are kids who are reading several grades above their level who couldn't be bothered with learning their basic addition facts.  And so on.

The Peanut is gifted. In both reading and math, she is well-above grade level.  She also has a few sensitivities that to the outsider probably look completely over-the-top.  She also swings from very intelligent conversation to having a temper tantrum that would make any 2-year-old jealous.  All of this is normal when you're gifted and as a parent, I've learned to roll with the punches as best I can.

"Gifted" is not a word that I use all that often anymore because I do not like the negative connotation that word has.  I also don't want The Peanut to feel bad about being different -- I want her to embrace who she is.  Three years ago, when I began wondering what the best course of action was for my precocious little girl, I used that term more often because it pointed me toward resources.  Prior to my research, I thought gifted equated to being smart -- not all the other stuff.  Had I not embraced the word, I may not have found all that I did.  If she were in school, I would want access to whatever resources would be available for her -- just like the athletes and the kids who have problem reading.   Odds are, if she were in school, I'd probably still use this word.

It's a sad commentary on our society in general that you have to fight for your kids' education.  I hear some friends talk about their fights over getting the IEPs they need.  I read many parents who struggle to keep their smart kids engaged in school.  It's two sides of the same coin where if your kid is not statistically average, there's a chance he or she will be left in the dust.  I sincerely hope that The Powers That Be who are responsible for education policy someday realize that not all kids are statistically average and even the gifted ones (and in some cases, especially the gifted ones) need special attention too.


  1. Even when I was in school, there was the idea that gifted kids would find their own way. Actually, what it did was make me lazy. Things came easy to me all the time, so I never had to try. Then I went to college and became devastatingly average, even below average! It was really hard.

    1. I agree. My first Calculus test in college I knew I wasn't prepared but I had no idea how to study for a math test because I had never had to before.

      One of my biggest goals for my son is that he will learn how to learn and that he can apply what he learns beyond school.
      If you struggle to learn you will adapt a method that is best for you, but if you're never challenged you'll never learn how you learn and when something new comes along you're left without a clue.
      Most people have one or two aptitudes, for a gifted child with many aptitudes it can be impossible to settle down to "what you want to be when you grow up" because you want to be everything. Focusing on life outside school is essential for these kids or they will end up really smart and talented people who are always under/unemployed.
      Schools so often miss the boat on these two very important issues.

    2. This is so me. I was the first National Merit Finalist my school had had in years. I was 10th in my class. And I coasted through the entireity of high school. I didn't care about working because I didn't have to.

      College was a really rude shock. Suddenly, everyone was as smart as I was and I had to work. And I had no idea how to do it.

  2. Very excellent. At the bottom of it all is jealousy, pure and simple: people think that the life of a gifted kid (and therefore the child's parents) is easy. They have no idea that parents of gifted kids find ourselves soothing our 2-year-olds about the situation in Syria (if they wandered into the room while we watched the news) or that our frustrated 10-year-old who is getting an A in reading but dissolving in tears in public is actually dyslexic but covering it extremely well, he knowing that he is capable of thinking about things he hears discussed but can't actually read about them without a huge amount of effort. Or the 12-year-old who completely understands the Education Bubble and is suicidal because she knows that her dad's job loss may mean she can look forward to a managerial job at McDonald's one day when she's already done calculus. Or the kid who has already done calculus but whose teacher insists he repeat 5th grade because he wasn't paying attention. All these kids, and parents, fall outside the norm and are hurting badly. If the jealous could realize that, maybe things could change.

    1. Wow. Try grateful. Grateful that I don't think myself or my kids so self important and better than everyone else that the rest of the world is too jealous to understand us. I haven't yet put a label on my children's gifts. But you can bet I won't label the rest of the world jealous of them

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.