About Face: the image of Gifted

What does the face of gifted look like? If there were a definitive answer for that question life would be much simpler for parents and educators. Sure, there are similarities, characteristics, and a handful of tests which measure cognitive ability; but what gifted actually looks like, which features, colors, images, and actions combine to create the gifted child… these are not questions I have seen answered in a way which sates my need for concrete and conclusive; nor have they, at the very least, been answered in a way which sates my love for language and helps me express what it is to be my children or myself to Joe and Joanna Public.

On the contrary, everything I read, everything I learn, every step I take on my journey transports me slightly further away from final destination: Gifted Defined. Every face of gifted I cover in my portrait series and every family’s story I read about only reassures that nagging fear that we as a collective whole have no real idea how to phrase, paraphrase, capture, and release the image of giftedness.

Why does it matter? Well, it matters because stigma and jealousy live in the undefined. Misunderstanding lives in undefined. Something undefined quickly becomes one thing or the other; and one thing or another begets very little knowledge, impatience, and inexperience with the in-between. Loneliness, isolation, elitism, and separatism… they and their many friends stake their claim in everything dichotomous. Gifted or Not Gifted. Black or White. Right or Wrong.

So what does Gifted or Twice-exceptional look like on a child’s face? Is the gifted child’s face studious, quiet, thoughtful, pensive? Is the gifted hand first in the air or last to come to the answer? Is the gifted child successful, CEO, MVP or dropout, burnout, and addicted? Is the gifted child a tiny adult or an immature grown up? Is the gifted child the teased or the teaser? The talker or the thinker? Which habits, behaviors, and outcomes combine to represent the gifted child…. the answer is Yes.

If you are thoroughly confused then we are at a wonderful starting point. From here we can recreate what we imagine and what look for when we identify and support gifted children. We have to revel in the grey where our Gifted children reside. We have to trust instincts and look for nuances. So much cognitive ability lies in the nuance of a day, an action, an emotion, a gesture, or a fight back. Look for it, teachers. Dig for it, administrators. Stand behind it, parents!

We have to let loose of the term Gift and Gifted to the extent that the public, the lawmakers, the administrators realize what gifted children have and need to thrive in educational settings has as at least as many facets as it does moments and children in the class. One size, accelerated or not, does not ever fit all.

I believe we need to redefine our parameters for definition. We need to admit verbal defeat. We have to say, “okay, you got me, there is no perfect word or phrase which successfully encompasses that which we are trying to define when we label a child gifted.”

Does there have to be testing? Sure. Does it work in every instance? Of course not. It is a pricey and therefore none-existent option for low-income and impoverished families. Survival, we can all agree, is more important than testing; while this is true, it is critical to remember that the percentage which deliniates the gifted population does not stop at geographic, economic, or budgetary lines drawn on paper. For the many, many children who can’t find the way to the means, let’s pave a path to the Gifted end. Let’s use our words to define Gifted in a way that when the shaky, the questionable, the untested, and the Ungifted look in the mirror, the reflection they see matches our words.

I have looked in the mirror at Gifted my entire life and I still don’t know with any real certainty what it looks like. I have prepared, educated, and advocated for myself and my children; and still, I have no real answer, no grouping of words, no perfect way to encompass all that my children are and all that they require and deserve. But I need to. I need to hurry up and write it out in a way that I can rush in old-school, sweat on my brow, and slap the finished copy onto the world’s desk and watch with a hopeful and exhausted smile as the world’s editor pushes a fedora back and lets out a low whistle. “My word, you sly fox, you! you’ve gone and done it! You’ve cracked the code, figured it out, and by god, this is front page tomorrow!”

The newspaper bundle flops down on the sidewalk the next morning: Extra!!! Extra!!! Read all about it! Parents of gifted and twice exceptional kids have figured out how to convince the world that their children are not better than everyone else and yet still deserve the services, funding, and specialized instruction they require to thrive in educational settings!!

Front page news. That is where I want to see the face of all Gifted Children. I know you do, too, so let’s put them there! Let’s join hands for strength, combine words that are impactful, make sentences which matter, and create a soft web of definition to catch all Gifted children and then, when all Gifted kids -every face and every image- is not defined as much as they are genuinely and unabashedly expressed, we can share them with the world and that, I believe, will leave us all at a loss for words.

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