We can all recall the last time we have read or heard something that has grossly mischaracterized gifted education — and, more importantly, gifted children. As a community, we can help each other to create a greater understanding of the special gifts and talents that define our children and students.
Why do some feel the need to promulgate the idea that ability differences do not matter or don’t even exist? After all, no matter how much I train, I will never be Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky. For me to pretend otherwise is a waste of my time and whatever abilities I do have.
The origin of gifted myths
I would suggest that the size of our community is one factor. NAGC estimates that there are 3 to 5 million children in K-12 gifted education programs in the U.S., or 6-10% of the population. While that sounds like a large number, it truly isn’t, when compared to the over 70% of children who participate in organized sports.
I also believe that the gifted community feels misunderstood because of basic human nature and culture. We can call it or label it whatever we want — gifted, high-ability, asynchronous, or something entirely different — and it will likely still evoke the same emotion. Giftedness does not mean “better” or “worse,” it just means “different,” in the way that we vary in so many other traits. If one child is considered gifted, it does not mean that another is incompetent or lacking intelligence. I recently read one woman’s recollection of how uncomfortable she felt when asked, “are you gifted?” Of course she did! She didn’t want to sound like she thought herself superior, or to imply that she was identifying a deficiency in the person asking the question. But how sad that she could not express pride in her own abilities for fear of making someone else feel bad about themselves.
One definition of intelligence describes it as “defined by the culture in which it exists. Most people in Western cultures tend to agree with the idea that intelligence is an important personality variable that should be admired in those who have it. But people from Eastern cultures tend to place less emphasis on individual intelligence and are more likely to view intelligence as reflecting wisdom and the desire to improve the society as a whole rather than only themselves.”(Beginning Psychology, Baral & Das, 2004; Sternberg, 2007).
In order to change such false perceptions, we must listen to, and understand the origins of these mischaracterizations, and then use facts to help educate and advocate for our gifted children. We need to do this — not to put others down, not to make them feel deficient or lacking, not with an air of superiority or entitlement — but for our overall society to thrive.
Busting Gifted Myths and Misconceptions
A commonly-accepted myth is that, because of their intellectual abilities, gifted children “will be fine” if the teacher leaves them alone to attend to her other students, but the truth is that highly gifted children need more from school, not less. In fact, research shows that gifted students, want very different things out of school than their non-gifted peers: they have much more interest in learning about subjects in depth, to even an expert level; in working at a faster pace; and in getting more challenges in their learning environments.
When public schools are classified as low-performing or become drop-out factories, why does the bulk of funding go to remedial programs? If a high dropout rate is the criterion for getting funded, then perhaps we should remind politicians that gifted children drop out of school at an estimated rate of 18-25% — which is actually higher than many special needs students.
Perhaps most importantly, however, giftedness is much more than intellectual precocity, and an understanding of the social-emotional needs of gifted children is often neglected. These students’ struggles can include issues such as perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and/or sensitivity in a variety of areas, any of which may go unsupported in a typical school setting. We need to help our children understand and manage these issues rather than treating them like behavioral issues that cause “problems” for teachers in school.
Every day, we all fight the perception that we are being elitist by focusing on gifted children. To the contrary, giftedness is rarely the topic of parental bragging, but more often the cause of frustration, helplessness, and worry: Why does my child act like this? Why is it so hard for him to play nicely with others? Why does she ask so many questions? How can I possibly learn enough to be good at parenting this very atypical child? And perhaps most heart-breakingly: This is so hard — I wish my child were just…normal.
Decades of research and classroom experience have made clear that gifted children require differentiated, enriched educational programming to have the best opportunity to reach their full potential.
While public, private and parochial, and charter schools may offer some services for high-ability learners, programs designed specifically for gifted students all day long, especially programs including social-emotional support, are exceedingly rare. Like all children, gifted students need and deserve an education that will meet their individual intellectual capabilities. For these high-ability learners, this means allowing them to move at an accelerated pace and level of instruction appropriate for them — across all their classes, since their abilities likely vary from subject to subject. It is why so many parents of gifted children turn to homeschooling in order to best support their gifted child’s intrinsic desire to learn and think deeply.
Not every child understands logarithms at age 5 or Shakespeare at age 9, just like not every child has perfect pitch or extraordinary hand-eye coordination or superb balance — but every one of those abilities deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. Sadly, however, while American culture typically embraces students whose gifts are artistic or athletic, it too often dismisses — or bullies, isolates, or ignores — children whose extraordinary capabilities are intellectual.
Parent Communities Are important, too!
Last month, our post about finding intellectual peers for your child included stories and a few tips on engaging communities and discovering friends. Remember: don’t forget about yourselves – as parents and educators, we need to have support networks in place, too, and we should “pay it forward” to people we meet who are struggling to find the right resources for their families. Join or start a Meetup.com group in your area, or network with other gifted parents in your child’s school or community!
Most of you reading this post have probably experienced similar issues (and more!). To help us all deal with the myths and misconceptions that exist about giftedness, please share a myth-busting strategy or story on how you have “found community” in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
This post is a part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. Please visit a list of this month’s blog posts on the topic of community to read more.