Sunday, October 18

Giftedness Misunderstood (yet again)

Yet again, ignorance about the experience we call "giftedness" (for lack of a better and more all-encompassing word) is being propagated on a learning-oriented blog. It's always particularly sad for me when that sentiment comes from a teacher! The gist of the particular post in question is not new; essentially it goes like this: because "giftedness" is not a perfect word, giftedness as an experience must not exist and therefore kids we call "gifted" should not receive any special services or attention.

This writer's post, and others like it, contribute to the many misunderstandings about the population we describe with that flawed word. As Suki Wessling points out in her articulate response to the article, "a better term for the kids we're referring to is “neuro-nontypical.” As has been pointed out so many times before, kids who are wired differently and in some cases, operating as many standard deviations away from the norm as a developmentally challenged child, are not served by such misinformed attitudes and beliefs.

Thankfully there are growing numbers of parents, educators and other professionals who are committed to serving the unique needs and challenges faced by gifted kids and their families. Most of us in this position understand that, while the label is problematic for a variety of reasons, the needs and differences are very real.

Most of the parents of the gifted kids I know are working overtime to raise happy, self-confident children who are able to use their gifts, thrive and grow into contributing adults. Achieving this task is a compelling, and sometimes challenging task, and misconceptions about giftedness do not serve us, our kids, or the population at large.

The author uses terms like "exceptional musician, a brilliant mathematician, [and] an outstanding basketball player" without pause but takes issue with the use of the term "giftedness" and wonders what the cutoff might be for the usage of that term. While giftedness does have (albeit, socially constructed categorizations) I can't help but point out the irony of her comfort with those other terms even as she's dismissing advanced intellectual ability.

It's true the "intellectual" is often dropped because we live in anti-intellectual society; sadly children who are different in this regard are expected to hide it because it might make someone else feel that their own special gifts are less-than.

To the author's point about advocating for every child, who could ever disagree with that? Of course, every child deserves to have his needs and abilities addresses and supported. The reason so many of us feel the need to advocate for the "intellectually gifted child", the "quick learner", the "asyncronistic child whose learning range spans 6, 8 or 10 years", the "kid who is intellectually 3 standard deviations away from the norm", the "child whose is emotionally like his peers but has a vocabulary and humor they don't understand and so is ostracized by them", the "child who intimates his teacher" etc etc is because these are, contrary to popular opinion, the kids we are leaving behind. Our culture already teaches to the mid-range (granted I'd argue, as she seems to be, that we are not doing even that very well) and we have no problems talking about and funding kids with learning and physical disabilities. It seems to many of the parents I know, that it's the kids on the intellectually high side of the variation that are ignored and expected to be fine with inadequate and inappropriate support for their gifts.

I will argue passionately that it is not the field of study of giftedness or the people who are up-close-and-personal with our kids that are at fault. On the contrary, there is a vast network of intelligent and committed parents, educators and specialists who understand the complexity and beauty of this particular grouping of learners. Sadly it is misunderstandings about gifted learners as illustrated by this and other posts, which undermine the possibility of meeting every child's need.


ps. To the writer's credit, after receiving close to 20 passionate, informed and intelligent responses to her original post in less than 19 hours, she acknowledged the fact that her original posting was not an accurate reflection of giftedness, that parents of gifted kids are not necessarily pushy, that kids who are advanced should be encouraged and that ALL kids including well-advanced kids should be given what they need. Kudos to those willing to speak up on behalf of gifted kids!!

pps. Further credit: Here is the follow-on conversation between Tracy Steven's and Suki Wessling. More kudos to Tracy Steven's for taking the criticism as an opportunity to dialogue learn and grow!


  1. Thank you for ranting, Mama. Better to remain non-normative by referring to neuronontypical because that seems to set off some sort of defensive mechanism. It is not to say every life on this earth is not its own genius, but rather that some kids are ready to and want to plow through geometry, algebra, trig, calc, etc at a different rate than their age peers. All children, regardless of their alacrity or lack therof deserve access to educational stimulation that suits their developmental needs.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Thanks for the note MonaLisa.