It’s true that all children are gifts.
It’s true that all children have gifts and struggles.
What is not true, however, is also a common myth that exemplifies one of the most fundamental misunderstandings about gifted students: all students are gifted.
It’s a myth that periodically makes the blog rounds — here’s one example: “Every Child is Gifted and Talented. Every Single One.” And while the author of the original blog post, Glennon Doyle Melton, issued a follow up and an apology on Facebook (although not on the original post), this doesn’t undo the fact that this idea continues to circulate.
The myth that all children are gifted is a common one, which is why we suspect the response was so vehement. It’s not just this post; it’s a myth perpetuated by the first grade teacher, the Facebook friend from college, the well-meaning coworker. It doesn’t come from a bad place, but regardless of the intentions behind the sentiment, it remains the case that this attitude — all children are gifted — works to undermine and deny the very real struggles that gifted students and their families face.
Perhaps the problem is the wording itself. Many people not familiar with the field may not understand that “gifted” has a specific educational meaning, and that gifted students have identifiable educational needs different than their typical peers, that “not every child has the neuropsychological wiring that is the primary characteristic of a gifted child.” The truth, however, is that for many gifted students and their families, their abilities may frequently feel like more of a struggle than a gift. Parents may be told that their four-year-old doing fourth grade math has to sit through colors and numbers in pre-K another year because he has become a behavior problem. They may be told that they shouldn’t worry so much; they should be grateful their child is so smart, of course they’ll be fine in school. They may be told that their children will receive additional supports: extra worksheets; if they’re lucky, reading at their desk once they have finished their work. These parents may even be told that it’s not fair for them to talk about their child’s gifts, that their desire for services for their child is elitist. They may be told, “gifted children are blessed with enough, why give them more?”
Meanwhile, these parents watch their gifted children struggle. These children may have difficulty fitting in with their peers, facing isolation or even bullying. They may be misdiagnosed by pediatricians or psychologists inexperienced in what giftedness looks like, as this excellent post describes. They may have other undiagnosed or unrecognized disabilities because their giftedness masks these learning struggles; or, conversely, their disabilities may mask their giftedness, causing an even greater misunderstanding of their abilities and needs. They may encounter teachers or other adults who encourage them to not make other children feel bad by answering every question or in other ways failing to be “humble,” while they watch their classmates praised for their somehow more acceptable gifts—singing, athletics, art. They may sit through school, hour after hour, day after day, with no opportunity to learn anything new, as their innate love of learning dwindles, as they come to dread going to school, as they fight with their parents, act out in class, and finally drop out.
This, of course, doesn’t describe the experiences of all gifted students, but the adage that “all children are gifted” utterly fails to acknowledge is that gifted learners—in the technical, educational sense—do actually need something different. Different supports, different instruction, a different learning environment. Gifted students are not necessarily “gifted in learning the classroom way,” as Ms. Melton puts it. In fact, for some gifted students, the typical classroom may be the worst place for them. However, the continued circulation of this fiction “makes it easier for people to belittle our abilities, deny our accomplishments, and ignore our needs….We need real solutions both inside and outside the classroom to help us reach out individual potential, better understand ourselves, and find our place in the world around us,” as explained by Madison Kimrey, a 12-year-old who is profoundly gifted.
Nowhere is the failure to recognize the needs of gifted learners more heartbreaking than in the “excellence gap,” the discrepancy in performance at the highest levels of achievement between racial and economic groups of children. Giftedness—again, in the sense of the innate, high ability of learners—does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, culture, or socioeconomic status. This fact makes the disparity of achievement in our country even more stark, as documented in Talent on the Sidelines: Excellence Gap and America’s Persistent Talent Underclass.
It is incumbent on all of us to continue the conversation to educate and advocate for our children. Check out a follow-up post on the subject: Changing Perspectives: Are You A Gifted Myth-Buster?
This blog was originally published as part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop