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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.


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