It’s a tough time to be the parent of a gifted child.
Gifted children seem to be missing from much of the national discourse about education in the wake of the pandemic. Reporting about student learning during the pandemic continually points to learning loss and concerns about how to address the needs of low-achieving students. Parents and educators alike are expressing particular concern about the decline in referrals to special education programs, as well as the lost learning and engagement of students already in those programs.
Where gifted education is part of the conversation, most attention is focused on inequity of access to and underrepresentation in gifted programs. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and scholarly research journals alike publish pieces about one state after another defunding or removing altogether programs in schools or specific academic domains, often explicitly saying this action will help address inequities in gifted education.
To be absolutely clear: these inequities are clear and undeniable. They deserve attention and remediation, as soon as possible. They are real, and they have not suddenly appeared because of shifting political tides, but have been part of education for decades.
However, if you are parenting a gifted child, you may be wondering why no one thinks what your child needs is important — even more than ever. No matter how limited they are — if the “gifted teacher” is shared among five other schools, or if the “gifted program” is one 45-minute class period every other Tuesday, or if your child is gifted in language arts but the “gifted program” is focused on robotics — it seems like any kind of programs intended to serve children like yours are being dismantled.
But wait, you think:
Not everyone lost years of learning during the pandemic (though many did).
Not everyone is “behind,” working below grade level (though many are).
Not all students disengaged from learning (though they may have disengaged from whatever remote learning they were afforded).
It’s important to remember that your gifted child has never belonged to any category called “many” or “most,” anyway — quite literally — so measures to address “most” or “many” students are unlikely to positively impact your child now, either.
Unimaginably awful once-in-a-century circumstances do not give any school permission to stop meeting students’ educational needs — that is precisely what happened during the pandemic, and that is the problem. Gifted children need their educational needs met, too.
The post-pandemic world of education
The post-pandemic world of education is one very much concerned with proficiency and minimum standards, with catching up and remediation. You recognize this landscape: you have been here before, thrust into it by No Child Left Behind and state tests that ate days and weeks of instructional time in the classroom. All of that never went away, exactly, but it also was not front-and-center in the national consciousness, either. Now, it has consumed everything else in sight, from one horizon to the other.
Parenting a gifted child has never been a particularly enviable position to sit in, no matter what anyone else thinks. From the outside, it looks like it would be — after all, other parents might say, your child is ahead, your child loves school, your child loves to learn, etc. But from the inside, it feels quite different: gifted programs are (again/still) perceived to be sprinkles on top of the icing on the cupcake. How can we focus on the sprinkles when there isn’t any icing and the cupcake itself isn’t baked properly?
In the wake of the pandemic and its enormous impact on schoolchildren, the urgency of focusing on educational deficits is all-consuming. How could you ask for “more” for your child when so many children are behind and need support to catch up? Not only that, but how dare you even ask?
You are the princess complaining that her diamond-encrusted shoes are too tight.
Meanwhile, your child has been issued shoes that are, in fact, too small. They don’t fit now, they haven’t fit for a while (if they ever did), and there’s definitely no room for more growth. Blisters caused by ill-fitting shoes are not different from blisters caused by being barefoot — both need attention, and both need shoes that fit.
No matter what educational system you are part of, your child is an outlier, by definition; if your child is profoundly gifted, she is an outlier among outliers. Even putting aside all the social-emotional aspects of giftedness, your child was likely not well-served by anything called a “system,” anyway.
But now, so much attention is focused on what so many students did not get over the last two years, and your child is “fine,” because she’s not working below grade level. (Frankly, that’s hard to do when she was well above grade level in the Before Times.) And while the system is not wrong to identify and attend to the enormous educational consequences of the pandemic, you have a child who may be starving for challenge, for knowledge. You are not overreaching or entitled or helicoptering or grasping or pushing when you say your child needs more.
Highly gifted children learn not only faster than others, but also differently. Standard teaching methods take complex subjects and break them into small, simple bits presented one at a time. Highly gifted minds can consume large amounts of information in a single gulp, and they thrive on complexity. Giving these children simple bits of information is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at a time – he will starve before he even realizes that anyone is trying to feed him.
— Stephanie S. Tolan, from Helping Your Highly Gifted Child
It’s okay to want more.
Education, like all development, happens in one child at a time. You are allowed to want growth for your child. You are allowed to want more for them — that’s a universal drive in parents everywhere, more for my child.
You’re not wrong to see that your child needs more — not “would like more,” not “might enjoy more,” but needs more. But you’re also not wrong to notice that particularly these days, seeking what your child needs feels like shouting into the wind more than ever.
Lucky for your child, parents of gifted children are scrappy and resourceful. You have had to be, ever since the beginning, long before your child stepped foot into a school building. And while the pandemic has exhausted us all for a thousand different reasons, you’re not unequipped to fight this fight (yet) again for your child.
It is the right of every parent to fight for what their child needs. It is the right of every child to learn, and all children deserve to learn something new every day.
More on parenting a gifted child
If you are the parent of a gifted child, you may find these posts from our gifted blog helpful in your journey:
- The ups and downs of parenting a gifted child — you are not alone — and research shows your struggles are real.
- P. Susan Jackson, founder of The Daimon Institute and Grayson Research Advisory Board member on parenting the highly gifted.
- Surprise! Gifted children are more likely to be questioning their gender and sexual identity.
- For all digital immigrants: explore the perils of parenting a digital native.