Is giftedness in the eye of the beholder?

I am ashamed to say that when my then 8-year old asked me if he could do the testing for One Day School at the Gifted Education Centre, I thought that he wasn’t clever enough to get in.  I knew he was smart, but he’d always been happy at normal school, he wasn’t a problem in class and he’d never expressed any feeling of dissatisfaction with the education he was getting, and to be honest, I didn’t think he was gifted. But his two best friends were both doing One Day School, his point was that he believed he was as clever as them and he wanted to go as well.

The person who did the testing noted that my son was intellectually gifted (the top 2% of the population for his age group), and also that he was gifted in the area of leadership. And that his conversation was as sophisticated as an adult’s (I’d assumed that was because he was the fourth child of six and we all read and talk a lot, but apparently not). She offered him a place at the school on the spot, and the next term, he started at One Day School.

It was true that he was happy at normal school; it was also true that he wasn’t a problem in class, and that he had never expressed any dissatisfaction with the education he was getting. What can I say – he’s a positive kid and makes the best of most situations. But he LOVED One Day School. He loved being able to explore and build and bounce off other kids who challenged him. He had a teacher whose only complaint about him was that he was too much of a team player – apparently it’s more common for gifted kids to work as individuals. The reverse side of that was that he managed to include everyone in the class in his schemes and plays and could successfully work with any group of kids or any individual – a rare talent. He got to invent and build and do much more challenging work than at school, in broader subject areas. I would pick him and his best friend up after One Day School and rather than being exhausted after a challenging day, they’d be buzzing – bubbling over with new ideas, discussing experiments and concepts – their minds were so open after a day at ODS. But if he hadn’t been insistent about being tested, I would never even have thought to offer him the opportunity.

The rewards for my boy of being at One Day School far outweighed the inconvenience and financial penalty. When his schoolwork and attitude slipped at normal school, we had to have a hard conversation about whether he could continue at One Day School, and he was in tears at the prospect of not being able to go any more. We negotiated and set in place some markers at normal school that he had to achieve each term to continue at One Day School, and never had to have the conversation again. It was important though in teaching him that just because he’d been identified as gifted, didn’t mean he was any more entitled to special treatment than any other child at either of his schools. In fact, I tend not to talk about him (or any of the other kids) being gifted to other parents, because really, you just sound a bit up yourself. At home, we remind the kids that being smart is an accident of birth, and it’s what you do with it that counts.

But then I look at other kids I know. “Normal” kids, not necessarily academically gifted, and I think how much they could benefit from some of the advanced learning techniques and range of interesting subjects there are available at the Gifted Education Centre. Why does it take a special school to cater only for gifted kids? Couldn’t they also teach “normal” kids? Or couldn’t “normal” school offer the same kinds of education? I appreciate that gifted kids often have a range of behaviours that don’t work so well in a standard classroom environment and need something a bit extra.  But couldn’t we enhance the experience for all children by incorporating some of the lessons that are tried and tested and proven at One Day School?

Don’t get me wrong – I am not unhappy with the education my children have received at the state primary school they went to. They have had some wonderful teachers, who have found new and inventive ways to extend them. Their primary  school environment was community oriented, espoused strong family and cultural values and promoted emotional growth as much as academic or sporting prowess. Most importantly of all, they have all been happy there. And they have also been happy and extended at their intermediate schools and now for three of them, their high schools.

But for a gifted kid, do they need that little bit extra? Does it take them from being a reasonably content kid to an inspired, enthusiastic one? And can we provide it at home? Should parents of gifted kids be the ones to go to One Day School to learn how to parent their extra smart child? And should a gifted child be entitled to extra extension? Doesn’t that just widen the gap between them and the children who aren’t achieving (this is assuming that they are achieving – I have learnt from the Gifted Education Centre that many gifted children do not achieve at school).  Should it only be those gifted kids that need the extra help who go to a program like One Day School, or should kids like mine, gifted but coping well in mainstream school, have the same opportunity, but only if I can financially afford it?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I do believe that they are questions the education sector should take a good hard look at. Yes, we need to identify and assist our under-achievers. But we should also recognise that gifted and talented – and  by that I mean academic, or sporting, artistic or leadership gifted and talented – deserve to have extra attention too. And so do the  middle of the road kids. Because although we may think that they will never set the world on fire, who is to say what they would do if they had that extra bit of attention that under and over achievers have access to? Who knows what the potential is of a “middle of the road kid” if they are truly inspired by their learning? And there should be some way to make it financially viable for all parents, although that is probably a Utopian dream.

I’d like to finish with a quote from Dorothy Parker. “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Long may we encourage curiosity in our kids, no matter where they sit on the spectrum! And long may the Gifted Centre for Education continue to promote gifted awareness, so that we can gradually mix it into mainstream, and in the meantime, provide our gifted kids with something to help them get through their weeks with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity. Happy Gifted Awareness Week to us all.

For more information on the Gifted Education Centre, click here. For information on GO- Gifted Online, click here. For more information on Gifted Awareness Week, click here. For the Gifted Awareness week blog tour, click here.

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12 thoughts on “Is giftedness in the eye of the beholder?

  1. CB

    I like your comment about Parents going to One Day School! I’m curious – did you get to observe a session before you decided to let your child test for it? I’m actually not very keen on testing generally, especially when children are young, and I would be hesitant to subject my child to a test for something I didn’t really know about, despite all the raves of happy parents. But it seems a pre-req if you want access to programmes like ODS. I also agree with impressing on a child the idea that being gifted doesn’t mean you are entitled to special treatment. To be honest, that is another part of why I am resisting getting my children tested for giftedness, it really grates against my personal values that some children get access to some things and others not. Note, I am not saying that children should all be treated the same – they are all different, with different needs, and their education should be tailored to them – but what I am concerned about is the access. As you say, factors like chance, knowing/allowing to test, financial capability of the parent, etc govern access. When I look at a group of children, I see such a mix of strengths and so much each child has to offer, I actually personally suspect if there was a test to test the specific strength of each child, all of them would be considered gifted in their particular areas (I know I will enrage some people in the gifted community with that comment, but it is really what I think when I look at a group of children, I always feel so delighted and excited about their potential). So what if my child displays extreme advancement in a couple of specific areas? I really don’t know that that warrants special treatment when some other child with strengths that are not as testable or as obvious doesn’t get extra teaching, extra money, extra resources thrown at developing their strengths. I guess my struggle with actually embracing the giftedness package is that I am ambivalent of the values enshrined in the system of identifying a select few. I also have doubts about the benefits to my own child, to be brought up to think he is different or special or smarter – ick! Anyway, thank you for writing your article. It really made me think very hard (and this is Gifted Awareness Week after all!) about my own thoughts and feelings about giftedness.

    • Hi CB. Thanks for reading my post. I didn’t get to observe a session before we went ahead with the testing, but the I knew the parents of the two children who were my son’s best friends and who had been at ODS for nearly a term. They raved about it, showed me some of the lesson plans and let me talk to their children. Also, the form you fill in is very comprehensive, and after a while as you’re going through, you’re thinking “this really does sound like my kid”, so you get a feeling for it.

      With my two younger boys, I was lucky enough to take them to a Small Poppies peek session when they were about 4 months off starting school. I was a bit concerned about one of them being what they call “twice exceptional” – that is to say gifted but with another underlying condition. This was a gentle way of leading into “do we need to get him some help at school”. The Small Poppies peek was so much fun for us and the boys. They still wistfully say every time we drive past the school “There’s our Small Poppies classroom” and it was 18 months ago that we went. Unfortunately, we both work full time so couldn’t manage to get them there one morning a week. Sue Breen there was fantastic, reassured us about our boy, and let us see how we could be extending them both further.

      Isn’t it interesting the worry we have about the gifted label? If my kid got into the school First XV, or won a swimming race, or showed outstanding compassion for another child, or did well in a speech competition or was chosen for the lead role in a play, or produced some beautiful piece of artwork, I’d be singing it from the rooftops. But because it’s giftedness, I don’t talk about it much. Unfortunately, in this world, a select few are often identified, or rise to the top. For me in the end, as when my older daughter was accelerated a year, the decision was about the happiness of my child. I can’t directly help every other child unlock their potential, but I can help my children to be happy and I can teach them to appreciate the strengths of others, show them compassion, and not be stuck up little snobs who think they are owed the best things in life.

      I really do agree with you that being gifted doesn’t make a child or a person entitled. Every single person in this world has a story to tell, and just because you’re bright, doesn’t mean your story is worth more than the next person’s. But sometimes it might mean they need a little more help.

      Thanks so much for commenting – please do come back again!

      • CB

        I think part of the problem is that a child’s advancement seems to make other parents freak out a little. I just don’t want to have to deal with it. I don’t want to have to reassure, etc. Especially, since the truth is he’s not at all advanced in many other aspects and is just a kid who goes to sleep with a teddy bear! I feel I have the whole picture of my child, not just the one part that people get so agitated about, so I don’t want to emphasise it. It’s also not good for him to hear people getting all excited and babbling about him being a genius, which may skew his self-image and make him think it is more important than it is. Also, I think we’ve lost friends who just can’t deal with it. Overall, I’m not sure at all that the benefits of being labelled gifted outweigh the societal negative – but as you’ve probably sensed, I’m unsure and ambivalant about it. On the other hand, it is a part of him and I think it is probably not healthy to not acknowledge it at all, although we do in the sense that we do let him tackle work that he is capable of. The other day when I found myself actually hoping he wouldn’t do one of his feats of computation when adding up the points of a game with a friend (because I didn’t want the mum, who had just confided in me about some difficulties her child was having at school, to feel bad), it suddenly struck me that no, I should be happy for him to do what is true and natural for him, and it will confuse him if I treat it as something to hide and be ashamed of. It won’t benefit him or lead him to healthy self-acceptance to be furtive about ANY aspect of himself. Just cos mum or anyone else has difficulty with it, isn’t really his problem.

        Anyway, I’ve just been reading “Bringing the Joy Back into Egypt” by Jean Harris, and it was very illuminating how very many problems there can be if you have really exceptionally gifted children, so gifted is is hard for them to really fit into the norm. I think it was Silverman who said there was an optimal level of giftedness – where it just makes things that much easier for you, but not so much that it makes it hard for you to fit into society. I think, with Gifted Awareness Week, the plight of those dealing with such “severely gifted” (the author’s own words in describing one of her sons) children should be part of the message out there. In fact, I feel it is those families that need the most help. When I look at the problems they have, really, I have none.

        None of the children I met at Small Poppies (we also went for a couple of terms) seemed anything like what Jean Harris described – most seemed bright and very capable, but not ususually so (I would even use that to describe my own kid). There were certainly none that I felt were at risk or not able to fit in with society. Everyone seems so keen to embrace the gifted label (my husband said it just makes the parents feel better) but I really wondered if all these resources were going to kids who are certainly smart, and deserve extension, but did they really need this extra help and shouldn’t the funding go to people who, well, really need it?

        Anyway, I want to say thank you again for your post (and your reply). In my forays into the world of giftedness, I’ve mainly found parents who (in my eyes) seem to want to use the resources for gifted education to further their child’s development (I mean, we all do – we all want our child to fulfill their potential) but no where had I found anyone else who seems concerned with the issues beyond their own child.

      • Hey CB, you raise some really interesting points! I’m going to start with one of the end points first, and that is a comment that the tester at One Day School made when I guiltily admitted that a)I didn’t think my kid was really smart enough and b)I didn’t know if I even wanted to know that he was gifted and c)I wasn’t sure I agreed with a gifted school for kids who were happy at normal school. She asked me about my other kids. How did they do academically, socially and so on? After I’d said I had two children accelerated by a year, another who was topping his year and that my husband and ex-husband were both pretty smart (I’m no slouch either) she pointed out that my normal was different from others, and that’s why I didn’t necessarily see my son as being gifted, because he was surrounded by other gifted kids. That gave me conniptions, but when I applied the questionnaire form to the other kids, I could see that they also fit the base criteria. And then she mentioned that I would probably want to consider having my younger children tested – meep!

        I do think that priority should be given for funded assistance to children who are struggling. Whether it’s because they have processing delays, are twice-exceptional, or have any of the other gifted-related school issues. But I also think that there should be the possibility for children who are gifted, but fit into the societal norm, to have access to these programs. And I think for that, the parents probably do need to pay, because there’s just not enough money to go around. It could be means tested, which would mean any of us in that middle class “you earn too much to get any help but not enough to be comfortable” would have to stump up with our cash.

        I’m lucky enough to (probably – the jury is still out on one of my boys) have no kids who fall under that ‘severely gifted’ tag, but I know plenty of children and people who do, and I can’t help but think how good something like the ODS – where they are still required to interact with kids their own age regardless of ability four days a week, but get a day off to relax and explore – is a great solution.

        I’m going to have a read of those books, because they sound so interesting! And you know what? I am just one person. I’m a parent, and a writer. I’m not an educator, I’m not a politician or a celebrity. So please go ahead and disagree! I love hearing other people’s points of view because it makes me think harder!

        Thanks again for commenting – have you considered following the blog?

      • CB

        By the way, I want to say, if you disagree with anything I say, I would really really love to hear it. I’m really exploring how to approach this, and I’m not certain that my view is the right one. It would be immensely interesting to see any counter-views to all this.

  2. Marse

    Hi Lisa Rose, I so wish there was a one day school for parents of gifted children!! I really enjoyed reading your post, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for stopping by Marse!! I’ve loved reading all the blog tour posts and feel like I have learnt so much this week! Stop by again sometime.

  3. Hannah

    Hi Lisa Rose, thanks for your post – I find it interesting.

    ” In fact, I tend not to talk about him (or any of the other kids) being gifted to other parents, because really, you just sound a bit up yourself. At home, we remind the kids that being smart is an accident of birth, and it’s what you do with it that counts.”

    I absolutely relate to the not talking about your kids being gifted for fear of being seen to have an overinflated ego – or special genes or something.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Hannah! I am a complete mummy-bragger when it comes to my kids, but I guess I see that basic intelligence is a nature thing and not a nurture one – therefore something which hasn’t been worked for. I guess in some ways, that makes it not so special in my mind. Of course, the fact that people are naturally athletic, naturally artistic and so on completely invalidates that statement!! I do think there’s a fine line between being proud, supporting your children and judicious bragging, and thinking that our children are worth more than other people’s!

      Do stop by again sometime.

  4. Lisa, thanks so much for supporting the #NZGAW blog tour with this excellent post. I have used part of it for the photoquotes project. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/51965108@N05/7619132364/in/pool-1680413@N20/

  5. Pingback: Jo Freitag ~ Shoes | The Web Hosting Effect

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