When I was young I was so hungry for information, so inept at social constructs, and so over-stimulated by the slightest nuance in my day, that by 8 years old I had dropped out of school emotionally, by 10 years old I had dropped out of school academically, and by 15 years old I had dropped out of school altogether. At the time, I reasoned with my sensible side on sleepless nights filled with insecurity, it wasn’t really dropping out because that would imply there was something in which I was intentionally, physically, or logically involved.
My mother, with much gnashing of teeth, would ultimately persuade me to take the G.E.D. exams and I acquiesced so long as it was on my terms: no studying, no classes, just drive me there, and I’ll take it, pass it, and Boom! Done. That’s just what we did. I would eventually thank my mother (thanks mom!) for insisting on this small bump in my road so that I could register for community college at 16 and then work my way to a private university, study abroad, and ultimately earn the degrees I always wanted but was too emotionally, intellectually, and academically gifted to achieve.
I feel I’ve suddenly caused a collective (sharp) intake of breath from people who read that last sentence and said, “Did she just say too gifted to achieve!?!”
Take out that pesky gifted term and you have a perfectly acceptable tale of woe and angst from a troubled child who overcame adversity and was able to thrive into her future. Add the G word and you’ve changed the trajectory of the conversation from empathy and admiration to contention and exasperation. I’m sure a few parents of gifted children can attest to this fact as well. “Yes, I understand it is very frustrating that Sally hasn’t slept in three days because she’s awaiting her tagless shirt order from Amazon, but she can do Algebra and she’s nine… so get over it!”
Imagine how it feels to be the child expressing the difficulties and frustrations. I can’t remember the last time I said over a cup of coffee, “I am exhausted after staying up last night trying to find a hole in Greg Craven’s viral video which presented global warming in a grid and I’m considering taking up karate or maybe opening a meditation studio after that Folger’s commercial last night.” No, it’s quite certain you would find very little in the way of empathy and understanding.
The term gifted implies smart and smart implies good decisions and good decisions beget success. To simplify: if all gifted students are smart and all smart students succeed, then all gifted students are successful. Is it safe to assume that only gifted adults, parents of gifted students, and gifted educators know this to be a faulty argument?
I realize that people expend a good deal of energy to demonstrate just how faulty and misleading this conclusion can be and it may seem like a losing battle. I propose that the fault lies not in the conclusion but in the premise. The premise that gifted and smart are synonymous in any form is false. It’s my experience that if you want to change a conclusion you must change the premise first.
The premise is where these children reside. They are planted and begin in premise and the message we send to them is that their lives have a forgone conclusion. We tell them to grow apples and when they produce pickles we say it’s not possible and tell them to try again. We remind them that all apple trees grow apples and all kids are apple trees; and therefore, all gifted kids should grow apples. We give them what we give all of the apple trees, we make sure they are in a nice straight line, but the conclusion is always the same: pickle.
Titles are the point which most segregates and stratify a child entering school. We call an intellectually-advanced, asynchronous, and overexcitable child gifted based on myriad criteria and test scores; that is, we use myriad criteria if we are presented with a child who is willing and able to show us his or her abilities. For every standard and measure, there is an equal or stronger counter within the child which presents as four possibilities: willing, able, unwilling, and unable. And in between feel free to gradate as much as possible and add as many subheadings as necessary to fit your particular circumstance.
Assuming we are able to identify the right criteria and offer a diagnosis or label of gifted, and we apply this to the child’s premise, what do we do then? Surely we can’t tell them that all of the amazing, frustrating, enlightening, emotional, intuitive, and downright awesome that makes them who they are in this world is a gift. It was a gift from whom? What sort of gift? Can I give it back? Can I regift it? What if I don’t want this gift? And so on and on and on and on (because let’s not forget, questions are the foundation for building a mind which can’t stop).
A gift implies something given to another without any exertion and my experience is that everything around us is absorbed, every shade, every idiosyncrasy, every variance, every success, and every single failure, and it takes such an amazing and resilient effort from the receiver that it insults the outcome to say it was a gift. It was not a gift I was given and I am not gifted; though it is safe to say I overcame a gifted childhood. My children are not gifted; they are are stretching out into the sky and growing in a world where they can’t help but absorb it in its entirety while trying desperately to self-regulate their responses to appear more normal within it.
So what can we do to change it? We have to allow a child’s premise to be whatever it is they need it to be so that they can come to a unique conclusion. Growing up under a faulty premise with a forgone conclusion is lonely and unnecessary. We have to reevaluate the way we identify these children with special needs and help people see the faulty logic which assumes that A equals B when you or your child are P. The funding for and education of those who are prepared to take on the challenge and allow these kids to grow without ceiling is the new argument which needs to be redefined and presented to everyone who will listen.
If you thought you were getting apples and find yourself in and with a pickle, there is so much to discuss, so many pickle pie recipes to swap, that this blog is for you and yours. But I really must go now… I have a meditation studio to think about.