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The presumed snobbery of gifted education February 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary.
Tags: , , , ,

I was having a conversation with my older boy the other day (it does still happen…despite the fact that he’s a teenager, I haven’t become dumb as bricks yet), and we were talking about people we know who are what I’d call “gifted education snobs”.

I’m sure you’ve met these people: they’re the ones who talk about how their kids will eventually get into Harvard while they can’t even tie their own shoes at 16. Although, if their kid is like Albert Einstein, it might be forgivable. But seriously, these are the people who are pushing kids who are probably reasonably bright beyond their limits or into doing things that make them depressed and frustrated.

The reason they bug me is not because they have kids who may or may not be intellectually superior to my own. Let’s face it: I’ve run into a lot of people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than myself. It’s not even the attitude that they are superior (although I have to admit that can get annoying, too).

What gets me is the notion that their kids are so bright that everything will come easy to them and they’ll never have to work at anything. Because that’s what it means to be smart, right? This attitude is obviously not working for the kid, and it’s giving everyone else a bad impression of what giftedness is or is not, as well as what the parents of ‘gifted kids’ are like.

This attitude is what hurts the rest of us who are advocating for our gifted kids. I imagine from the outside, it all looks the same to someone who doesn’t anticipate their kid will ever get to be in a gifted program. We all just look like we’re trying to give our kids a special advantage over everyone else.

So let me clarify: that’s not at all what I have been trying to do with my kids. There are some things gifted education should do that has nothing to do with a special advantages:

1) I want my kid to learn to work hard. No matter how smart you are, there will always be things that are challenging in life. There will be some point where you hit a brick wall. It’s best if you learn early on how to manage your time, be responsible, and deal with learning new things (which can sometimes be intimidating). Probably two-thirds of most students can get that out of a regular classroom. For half of the other third (or one sixth), it will be too much – and there is a significant amount of funding and infrastructure in place to help these kids (which they very much deserve). However, the other sixth is left to float, in most cases. They’re smart, and for some reason it’s more acceptable to let these kids coast and fight boredom through school than to give them the same appropriately challenging education that most other kids receive.

My older son is learning that there’s a significant difference in effort between his high school and homeschool courses. At most, he spends about two hours outside of school per week doing his high school work. His homeschool work, where he’s learning everything himself, is a lot harder. He’s even gotten extremely frustrated. But that’s what I wanted: he needs to learn to deal with that frustration (that he can learn things that are hard if he keeps trying or gets some help). I want him to know how to deal with this before he gets to college and flames out because he’s never had to those other skills established and honed.

2) Gifted kids, like all other kids, want to feel secure and have friends. They don’t want to be the constant target of bullies. Again, I think this is because most people may not understand how badly gifted kids can stick out. I got tons of complaints about my older son “talking like a professor” in middle school. I never thought he talked oddly because this is the way we talk to each other at home. But in a group of mixed-ability, this sort of behavior sticks out, and the other kids use it as an excuse to bully and ostracize. There has been a lot of research (some of which is listed here) showing that gifted kids are more likely to be bullied than others, even by teachers, because of their differences. The only place many of these kids feel secure and can make friends are when they are with other kids like themselves, i.e. where they won’t stick out like sore thumbs. This sort of arrangement also tends to make them less likely to become overly confident in their abilities because they go from being smarter than everyone else in a regular classroom to the average person. (The fact that they are in a gifted classroom often doesn’t play into their perceptions; they are more affected by their interactions with the people around them than labels.)

So when I complain about my kid not being able to take advanced coursework, it’s not because I think he’s better than everyone else: it’s because I know he’s being deprived of the opportunity to learn the intangible skills that go with being appropriately challenged. It also deprives him of the chance to feel like a normal kid. Both of those things are very important to how he will function as an adult, and far more important to me than having him look like he’s smarter than other kids.


1. Cari - February 2, 2011

Great post. My gifted child is only 3rd grade, but we are seeing the social outcast already. I have been asking his gifted teacher to push him further. I want him to work hard, and I want him to *want* to work hard. I tell him that it’s not enough to be smart, it’s what you do with it.

mareserinitatis - February 3, 2011

Finding that thing that sets a kid like that on fire is kind of tough, but making them sit in a classroom where they’re bored certainly isn’t going to do it! My son has only had one good friend outside of the gifted school he attended last year, so I know how hard it is to watch kids go through that.

2. sandyhu26 - February 2, 2011

And there’s more, why did you stop? How about the area(s) in which gifted students don’t do as well as their other areas, their “low” area which may still be above grade level but they feel they are “dumb” in math or science or whatever? What about the gifted kids who go into hiding because they do want to fit in? Your beginning was well-written. I was afraid when I read the title. Well written, thank you.

mareserinitatis - February 2, 2011

Oh my…I’ve been blogging about these issues for over six years now, but mostly at my old blog. And a lot of it was rants about how I’ve been frustrated trying to navigate the system with my children. But yeah, there’s just SO much there to deal with.

3. clairehennessy - February 3, 2011

Brilliant post. Thank you for this.

4. Emmy - February 3, 2011

So true! It is annoying when parents brag about their kids being gifted. I usually try to avoid having to mention it, which is not always easy when your kids go to a school out of district.

Another reason for me personally to choose for gifted education among peers was to take my kids away from the competitiveness that sometimes rules the classroom in a regular classroom. But my main reasons are mentioned in this article: being challenged and being able to develop socially among peers!

5. kevin.r - February 3, 2011

I have a couple of kids. The boy is Adhd and struggles academically. The girl could easily skip several grades and still be star student

The public school they attend devotes a lo

t resources to my problem child but little or nothing to the gifted kids. That is a federal issue more local issue. It is also a sure way to limit our best and brightest from excelling.

mareserinitatis - February 3, 2011

My older son is both gifted and LD. Traditional schools want to focus exclusively on the LD and don’t want to deal with is giftedness at all. So frustrating! And yes, gifted kids are definitely held back.

6. kathee jones - February 9, 2011

A nice post. Gifted education is about having needs met. It’s important for children to not have to wait to learn, to not think they never have to work (or think that they are strange because these kids will notice they never have to work and other kids do…)

7. It’s not quite Hogwarts but it’ll do… « Claire Hennessy - March 22, 2011

[...] I just couldn’t live with myself if I did, I’m going to link to a great piece here on the presumed snobbery of gifted education. Because as much fun as the classes are, they’re also doing something – ensuring high [...]

8. Funny about Money - December 7, 2011

“…the notion that their kids are so bright that everything will come easy to them and they’ll never have to work at anything.”

Got a kid like that this semester. He’s in honors physics and ended up in my freshman comp 101 course — Arizona doesn’t let kids test out of the inane Eng 101/102 requirement. He’s bored stupid and openly says so. He’s getting a B in the class. Not because he’s annoyed his honored instructor (he hasn’t: he has my sympathies), but because he figures he can slide through without doing the work.

He’s not alone. He’s more vocal than some of the others, but he’s far from the only student who has learned he can drift through most lower-division courses because the rest of kids are so undereducated or so slow the instructor is forced to rehash sixth-grade material all semester long.

{sigh} There’s a simple solution: educate the rest of the kids adequately so they all perform as they can and should. But of course…that would require educating an entire generation of teachers adequately. And that’s probably asking a bit much.


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