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Separating individuals from the crowd

Before we had children, my husband and I thought that the G-word (“gifted”) was funny at best, elitist and misguided at worst.

Then we had kids.

Anyone who has a developmentally disabled child knows that their child is different, sometimes from the day that child is born. Other people know, it, too. While the parents learn to reset their expectations and raise the child they got with love and compassion, the people around them get a quick education in valuing individual human lives. Every decent person learns to accept, at the least, and hopefully cherish the child for his or her own self. Though parents sometimes grumble about other parents wanting “special privileges” for their developmentally disabled children, in general we all abide by the rule of not criticizing the parents for the child they got.

Not so when it comes to gifted children, however.

Parents of gifted kids hear all manner of nasty things, including (but not limited to):

  • Your kid isn’t that smart
  • You’re just saying that to pump up your own ego
  • You’re just pushing him – let him have a “normal” childhood
  • You’re an elitist
  • You think your kid is better than mine

There is very little understanding out in the wider community of families that those of us with kids like this just got the kids we got. It’s not our fault, nor can we take credit for it. And just as parents of developmentally disabled kids got a package that they need to accept whole and raise as best they can, parents of gifted kids have to accept and raise their children to the best of their ability.

I’m not going to debate the ill-chosen word “gifted” here – given that I refer to it as if it’s a swear word, I suspect you know what I think of it. (And if you don’t, read about it here and here.)

What I do want to point out is that no matter what word you use, when you have a child who is different from the norm, you need to raise the child you got to the best of your ability. And sometimes that means that you do, in fact, ask for “special privileges” for your child.

No one argues that kids with athletic ability should not be allowed to play on more competitive teams in order to maximize their learning of their sport.

No one argues that talented musicians should be stuck in orchestras with beginners until they hit the age of 18.

Yet many people argue that kids who have mastered a subject at school should be educated exactly the same as the other children. Not only do people argue this with a straight face, but they tell parents who are looking for an appropriate education for their children that there is something wrong with trying to provide an appropriate education.

Research shows that the United States, never a very comfortable place to be a “smart kid,” is slipping behind in educating our top students. Though in some ways students as a whole are performing better, our top students’ scores are stagnant or falling. I believe this is a direct result of our cultural distaste for separating students based on “intelligence.” As budgets were cut during the recession, gifted programs were the first to feel the ax.

The parents of children with advanced academic abilities are loathe to speak up when their children’s needs aren’t served because of the backlash they feel from other parents as well as teachers and administrators. When money is tight, the argument goes, why should your kids get “special” treatment? So gifted education suffers, few teachers are trained in how to differentiate for their brightest students in the classroom, and families choose from one of the short list of options: homeschool, pay for a private school, or just grit their teeth and bear it. The latter option is the most common, given that most families can’t homeschool and private schools are not necessarily more likely to serve their children’s needs.

I don’t believe that changing the word we use for these students will change attitudes (though I do advocate for changing the word – scroll down in this pdf to find my article). I believe that what we need is a fundamental change in the way our culture looks at intellectual ability. I believe we need to embrace it the way we embrace other qualities in our children. To do this doesn’t require us to believe that gifted children are better in any way – all children are precious, each as an individual human. All that’s required is that we accept that humans come in a range of colors, sizes, personalities, and abilities, and that we need to meet each child where he or she is in order to serve the child’s needs.

Until we make this shift in our culture, I fear that nothing fundamental can be done to insure that we are serving the needs – academic, social, and emotional – of high ability learners. You can’t help someone go the right direction if you refuse to pick them out of the crowd and show them the way.

The g-wordThis blog is 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 at www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_the_g_word.htm

Posted in Culture, Education, Parenting.

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