Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When did giftedness become a bad thing?

In the USA, being gifted isn't deemed acceptable. People don't like giftedness and they're none to subtle about it. Parents of gifted kids are continually accused to pushing their kids, of spoon feeding them facts, or of not letting their gifted kids be kids. And you know what? There ARE plenty of parents of very bright kids who do all of those things. Notice that I said very bright. I did so because you can't spoon feed a gifted child facts and figures. Their odd little minds don't work that way. You can't force them to be anything other than what they are, learning machines. Gifted kids don't necessarily learn more, but they do learn faster. Much much faster, which means that along with their giftedness comes impatience (everyone is so slow....) and their minds rush along so fast that they often think well before they speak, making them difficult at times to understand.

But the sad truth about the public perception of gifted kids is that they are not allowed to have friends, forced to memorize facts like spelling and geography to take part in the various national bees, and are pushed to attend college early. All of those things do happen. In fact they happen way to much for my taste. But those children aren't always gifted, they're just force fed fact after fact until they have memorized what they need in order to perform.

Sometimes, people just don't get it right at all. In the US, talk show hosts like to have force fed little kids 'perform' their 'talent' on stage. So we see the little girl that knows all the Presidents at a very young age. But what else does she know? This isn't giftedness. This is, at best, asynchronous learning, and more plausibly a type of savant learning. But we revere these kids because they seem smart and they're taught to be personable by parents who often live their own lives through their smart kids.

My friend Claire and I were talking about this today on the phone. Claire has 3 very gifted kids, including her eldest son who is frighteningly smart. He's also unmotivated, lazy, depressed, and not in the least bit sure what he wants to do with his life. Her middle child is the same age as my kids, and she's also extremely gifted, but she's also a very social kid with a bunch of friends, and a Facebook page that would certainly surprise her Mom if she read it. The youngest child, well, she's just the cutest thing you've ever laid eyes on, smart as a whip, but is too young yet to really know exactly what school has in mind for her.

Anyhow, yesterday the Girl was watching Millionaire and the contestant was a kid both Claire and I were very familiar with, Michael Kearney. He's known as the kid that graduated from college at 10 and had his Masters Degree by 14. Michael and his sister are infamous amongst the gifted listservs and so many parents want to beat his records. But you know what? He wasn't that great on Millionaire, and the Girl actually knew more of the hard answers than did he. So I was telling Claire that I wasn't impressed and she, who has met Michael and his family in person, said neither was she. Michael, it turns out, was a hothouse flower, one of those kids pushed by his parent to perform and perform. But at 23, he's just a regular old guy. Nothing special at all. Cute, personable, smart, but a hothouse flower nevertheless.

As the parent of a profoundly gifted child, I used to be accused of pushing my kids. Nothing, and I mean nothing can be further from the truth. I wanted my kids to get a decent education in school, as do we all, but beyond that we didn't join all those special Kuman classes or take violin lessons, or Russian math. We didn't need to, because my kid learned on his own. He just sucks in information from anywhere, and once it's in his brain, it's in there forever. He doesn't really need to be taught much. You show him how to do something and he's got it down. When I was homeschooling him, he did a full year's curriculum in math (Singapore math, the top curriculum in the world) in 6 weeks. Honestly, I couldn't hold him back. He did 3 years worth of English grammar, vocabulary, writing, and literature in about 3 months. Right now he's doing SAT prep. He sits down and just runs through the book. It's how his brain works. Believe me, I do not force him in any way to learn any more than he will tolerate. Remember, we're talking about the laziest kid in the world, here.

But even though the school system knows how bright he is (anyone that spends any amount of time with him is pretty clear that his brain works a bit differently than the rest of us), they STILL think I'm pushy. And they still think that I'm on him to get the best grades possible. OK, I do want him to have good grades, but he's already on high honor roll. How much higher can they get? I'm fine with his grades. He's working to his potential now, for a while, anyhow. He wants to get into a decent college, so he's making somewhat of an effort. My expectations, while very high, have been dashed so many times that whatever he does is fine with me. Ditto for his sister. I just want them to be happy.

It galls me, however, to know that there are people both in and out of education that can't accept giftedness, or confuse it with the pushy parent syndrome. We all know those parents who live for their children's exploits. Even when I was a kid our neighbor was nuts about his kids swimming triumphs. The poor kids didn't love being pushed, but dad wanted the next Mark Spitz. I know what pushy parenting looks like. I've seen it my whole life. Those kids, the ones that are pushed to be little performers.... they often don't make it. They just don't have it in them to be successful parrots as older kids and young adults. Nobody really cares about the 14 year old that can recite all the Presidents.

I don't get what parents need that they do this to their kids, but please believe me, parents of really gifted kids aren't pushing. Mostly we're trying to teach our kids how to apply the brakes. So confusing trained parrots and gifted kids seems unfair and unwarranted. If your child is very gifted, allowing them to lead their love of learning will be so much more valuable than feeding names and dates. Of course, this is just my opinion.

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Blogger Daisy said...

I have a tougher time with the gifted kids who refuse to work and then go home and complain of boredom. I enjoy teaching gifted children, and they usually respond well to me and the challenges I present. This one? won't lift a finger, but blames me when Mom says, "Why the boredom?" Bleh.

29/4/08 8:25 PM  

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