Dear Good-Bad Dad,
I read your article the other day, “My Son Is Not Gifted And I’m Glad” and I agree with your title. You should be glad. But probably not for the same reasons that you wrote. You see, I have a gifted son. Actually, he’s twice exceptional, which means we deal with disabilities on top of the whole gifted enchilada.
Your post made me sad. My son isn’t better than your child. He might be smarter, and that’s ok. Higher IQ doesn’t mean a better person, a better character, or even a better job when our kids are adults. I know it feels like your son was rejected and that’s disheartening. As a parent who deals with rejection on a daily basis for my son and myself, I know that feeling. It sucks.
Being gifted isn’t about being better. My child is gifted, yes, but most of the time I would happily settle for him being bright or just plain neurotypical. Raising a gifted child isn’t easy. Raising a twice exceptional child is pure nightmare at times. Being gifted isn’t about getting straight A’s, it’s about a different way of thinking. When our child was a toddler we didn’t ask the doctors “is he gifted?” No, we asked them “what’s wrong with him?”
Let’s be real
Being gifted isn’t about smart kids having loads of fun. It’s full of challenges, tough decisions, and trying to overcome a one-size-fits-all school system. Gifted kids often have overexcitabilities: intense behaviors that are often over-diagnosed and medicated to help them succeed (i.e. sit down and shut up.) Gifted kids are wired differently, and that wiring can make it difficult for them to function in a typical school setting.
I agree that there’s way too much testing going on in schools. But, to argue the other side, how should the school identify children who need a more challenging environment or a different learning style? Testing for the gifted program isn’t to determine who learns, but rather how they learn. As the parent of a 2e kiddo who would surely fail the test for different reasons than your son, I agree that testing isn’t ideal. But, without tests, schools would be forced to rely on human opinions to place kids in the gifted program; arguably a more fallible method.
To your second point about pushy parents: I am a pushy parent. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t advocate for my son that his needs are ignored. His sensory behaviors are labeled “misbehavior” instead of disability. His learning needs aren’t met. I would love to sit back and let the school do their job, but that didn’t work for us. Even being a pushy parent didn’t get my son the IEP (individualized education program) that he needed to be able to function in school. So we decided to homeschool instead.
Choosing to homeschool meant sacrifice for us. Time, money, sanity… all of that. It’s difficult. I won’t lie. But it’s a great way for kids to learn, especially for those who don’t fit in a neat little box like my kid. One day we study the Great Wall of China, the next we cover human body systems: all while his age peers are doing typical letter-of-the-week activities in Kindergarten. I’ll admit, we spend a lot of time doing enrichment activities like those you mentioned because my son learns best with hands-on activities.
Boring isn’t cool
I completely agree that enrichment programs for gifted kids shouldn’t exclude neurotypical kids. Schools should promote more field trips and hands-on learning as a routine tool for all students, not just gifted. That said, it’s important that gifted kids get the kind of challenging environment that they need to thrive. Sitting bored in a classroom because they’re doing algebra when the rest of the class is still on subtraction is a waste of time.
Honestly, the school your child attends sounds amazing. In our local school system the elementary gifted kids get an extra 45 minutes every two weeks in a gifted class. Past second grade, they receive 45 minutes a week. It’s hard to see how that amount of time can positively affect a gifted child. Even 45 minutes a day wouldn’t be enough for my kid.
Please, don’t treat gifted kids with disdain. Just like special needs students, they have different learning needs than your son. That doesn’t make them better or less, just different. I’m teaching my son that it’s ok to be different. I hope that you are too.
[…] talked about this before, obviously. I’ve used this blog to respond to other posts about it. I’ve even stated that I don’t like the term […]
I feel like I could have written this article, as it’s so eerily close to our situation. We also have a son who is 2e. We also tried school, first (both private and then public.) We also, after a year of consistent and extreme effort, were unable to get either an IEP or 504 for our son. He had an amazing teacher in a good school in a not-so-great district. Yet even with that amazing teacher he was “that kid:” the one who can’t sit still and has trouble regulating his emotions, and puts his hands over his ears. He struggled and struggled and we finally took him out. I homeschool him now and it’s ever so much better, but it is HARD. It’s hard even with an environment that is tailor-made to him. But that said, it’s equally wonderful. To see him light up and get passionate about something we’re learning is phenomenal. We get the judgment from some about homeschooling, and we get judgment about his special needs, and we get judgment about his giftedness. It’s just how it goes. I wish there was much better knowledge by the general public about what giftedness really is, and what it’s not. Since our son was a preschooler, every teacher has commented that he always wants to go deeper with answers; that he asks different questions and gives different kinds of answers. But he resists reading and is not an accomplished reader at present. He’s a whiz with numbers but still writes many backwards. He has almost no frustration tolerance but he has a heart of gold . He’s all over the place: up and down in different areas, and not some kind of moviesque ingénue who is brilliant all around. He talks a lot about space: about time and dimensions and why are we here? He asks about spirits and is enraptured by archaeology. He has intense fits or rage and frustration and is very hard on himself, but he tells us that we’re all here to love one another and meanness is the thing we must try to remove from the world. So….it’s about depth and coming at things from a different angle. Not a better angle: a different one.
Wow, our kids do sound a lot alike! “That kid” is a great description lol 🙂 You’re completely right – not better, just different. Thanks for commenting!
I thought of you last week while at a conference.
I heard Hollywood Director, Marc Webb, speak about his upcoming movie called “Gifted” – a story of a little girl impacted by her extraordinary scholastic gifts. I thought your audience might enjoy a sneak peak.
I hope you’re well.
Thanks Tobin! I linked it on my facebook feed so that more people could see it. One of the GHF bloggers’ child is an extra in this film, so we’re all interested in seeing how it turns out. I appreciate you thinking about us 🙂
I feel I failed our daughter, we always knew she was bright. But in kindergarten, first grade I never said anything to the school just thought they don’t see what we see at home . We struggled with her to do her homework always saying I already know this .
Then in second grade we had this amazing teacher come to us to say , I don’t want your child to be bored . We had her tested yes she is highly gifted. That teacher gave her a different spelling list , gave her challenging assignments. It was amazing, like a new world opened up she went to gifted class every day.
Well wish I could keep writing this amazing story . But this year new teacher , we are right back to where we started. The happy excited child is gone . The work is too easy , and she is at the point where she doesn’t even want to do it. We asked the teacher can’t you give her harder work . No she won’t, also we have told our daughter you have to show what you know . And on the point someone made about parents wanting all A’s . Not me the gifted teacher said see saw where 8 kids in her class got A on spelling test said our daughter should of got A too . Yes she could of got A but I am not going to be upset about missing one or two words . We tell her your not always going to get everything right .
Had meeting with teacher and principal . Asking if we could try a new teacher . When we said about her great last year principal said her teacher last year had all slow kids . And that probably made our daughter feel good . Which wasn’t true because I know how many kids was in her group . They will not change teachers . To end our story , next Friday is her last day in school . Going to cyber charter school . Feel BM school is holding her back .
That has to be so frustrating for you and your daughter! I’m so glad that she’s able to switch to the cyber school – I hope it goes well. Thank you for sharing your story!
As a public school teacher of gifted and advanced (and general ed) middle school students in an affluent area, I find this post very interesting. I certainly cannot speak for all gifted classrooms, teachers, students, assessments, and psychologists; I can only share what I have observed. Also to note, I worked for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program for 6 summers.
Screening processes need to improve.
Teachers can tell the difference between truly gifted students and those who are motivated and/or high achieving (or whose parents want them to be). Increasingly, parents are having their children privately tested. For a fee, a psychologist can use a screening tool that fits your child’s learning preferences and he/she can be gifted. Private testing is not inheritly bad, but it results in flooding gifted programs with students who just happen to have a IQ right at the cut-off point for gifted. Again, I’m not a psychologist, I’m just speaking from observation.
Gifted students are not always the highest achieving or the most well behaved. I think this stems from several sources. The elementary school model of a once or twice per week pull out program sets up an exclusivity and lack of academic focus that is determiental. I am very familiar with the state’s gifted standards. Simply having gifted students build robots or bake cupcakes (this was part of the fifth grade gifted class that I observed) does not meet these standards. I’m not saying that is bad or unneeded, but there needs to maintain a focus on meeting the state academic and gifted standards (such as authentic research and presentation), because gifted students still have to take the state assessments. Such a gifted model also sends the message that gifted=fun and exclusive instead of rigorous thinking and self- driven learning.
In middle school, some gifted students then feel that the gifted classes are their entitlement. They can’t be sent “back” to general ed classes like advanced students can. Students who should be the most motivated, engaged, curious, and self-directed are generally the first (and only) to complain and teacher blame when they don’t make an A- the teacher didn’t teach the concept well enough, there wasn’t enough time to prepare, etc. My advanced students accept their grades and vow to do better next time. My gifted students (and parents) want the A and will say they “failed” if they receive otherwise. My advanced class consistently academcially out performs my gifted classes.
From elementary school, they were not challenged to have a growth mindset. Everything was easy and fun… until it wasn’t and then that’s the teacher’s fault. Gifted students should develop realistic self-perception. They need to focus on personal growth rather than perceived perfection.
Sorry if I went a bit off topic. Thank you parents for advocating for your children.
Thank you for commenting! It’s interesting to hear the perspective from inside the system. I think your comment truly speaks to the need to identify gifted students before they enter the school system, and then have a truly challenging academic setting that pushes them to their limits of learning. When they become accustomed to far-outpacing their age peers and never having to struggle, that sets a very bad pattern for the rest of their time in school. My son isn’t used to struggling to grasp concepts and that’s a huge part of my challenge in teaching him. I don’t care about straight A’s, I want him to learn to learn, even when it’s a challenge.
A different part of your comment caught my attention: “My advanced class consistently academcially out-performs my gifted classes.” While this may be the case, it’s important to point out that gifted =/= achievement. My own husband is a prime example of this. He has a genius level IQ (high 140s range) but consistently got low grades, barely scraping by. He tells me that he was bored out of his mind in school and hated doing work that he mastered years before. His teachers tried to advance him, but were unable to focus on his needs beyond handing him the next level textbook. This was a kid who was highly interested in particle physics in first grade. No teacher in a neurotypical class could keep up with that! At that time, there was no gifted system set up for kids like him remotely similar to what your program is like.
After I wrote this article, he told me that he wishes he had had the opportunities that our son has. And that he wonders what his life would have been like if he had been greatly challenged – what he would have been capable of. The system failed him – and he’s lucky that he was able to recalibrate when he reached college and found true challenges. Not all gifted kids can manage that feat.
Gifted children rely on us – parents and teachers – to expose them to the possibilities and opportunities available. That’s a lot of responsibility that keeps me up at night sometimes!
Maybe our husbands are long lost brothers!!! Except my husband is a physicist now and our son is following in his footsteps ( although he’s hit a robotics phase). I, too am a teacher (career change from ethology after we noticed our son was also 2e). I felt like my education classes didn’t prepare me to teach such a child. It wasn’t until reaching out and finding other resources helped guide me along a better path. I do admit, I’m still flustered from time to time with all of the challenges. It’s still a learning curve on my part and I’m only 3 1/2 years into it.
Oh, you missed so many things in your response, it makes my head ache. And you are a public school teacher?
1) No, most teachers can NOT tell the difference between high achievers and gifted students. Perhaps your training has allowed you to be able to see the difference, but the average teacher does not. And unless teacher training has drastically changed from what I remember, they don’t learn it in college, either. (Yes, I have an education background. And yes, I’m pretty good at spotting gifted versus motivated versus high-achieving … but that has come with years of experience, and it’s not something I see in a lot of other educators.)
2) If a private tester uses the just-right test for a student and it suddenly makes that student gifted, has it not occurred to you that perhaps the student was gifted all along and just needed the right tools to be able to show it? Same as 2e children need a chance to have both their giftedness and their disabilities tested, and one test generally won’t cover both … you need the right tools. A one-size-fits-none school test won’t show that. Private testing may be the only way some of these children get that label, and that voice, and a chance to show what they can do.
3) Yes, gifted children and young adults need to learn about a realistic worldview and not get hung up on perfectionism (some of them, anyway). But instead of blaming them for whining about grades, can you be doing something about that in your classes? They are students, and you are a teacher. Teach them. Mentor them. They NEED you to help them learn this. It doesn’t come easily to anybody, and to those who’ve spent years struggling with the wrong level of work in elementary school, middle school and high school are a shock. And they’ve been trained to think they must get A’s or they are no good. So they have to be shown a better way to think … and that’s where you come in. They’re going to learn the subject matter; you know this. Even if the grades are less than A+, they will learn it. So focus on teaching them HOW to learn, and how to be calm about it. Different class, different students, different focus. If you have worked with gifted kids for as long as you say, you should know this. If you don’t see this, then you are in the wrong line of work. Because these young people need compassion a lot more than they need the academic challenge you may or may not be providing.
I totally agree! I’m an educator and my son is twice exceptional. My son has been in a gifted program outside of his general classroom and not once did they make cupcakes! They had to do projects, which included essay writing and higher level thinking as well as a hands on project to go along with it, while still completing all of the work from his general classroom. He worked hard, got frustrated, but loved the challenge. I think teachers do not understand children who are gifted, unless they were/are gifted themselves. Children who are gifted are different and individual. There needs to definitely be more programs for children with exceptionalities, all types.
It’s not being trained to think that way. Perfectionist is a pervasive personality trait that is very common in gifted individuals. No one taught me to see less then an A was a failure, anything less then perfect was a failure. It’s just the way I’m wired.
If it’s not perfect it’s not good enough. Usually you see two things the person beating themselves up over it and the person who will refuse to try because they can’t achieve perfection. It’s hard to explain unless you have experienced it yourself. We do it to ourselves, no teacher or parent taught that.
About perfectionism … I see your point, and I stand partly corrected. I’ve seen it both ways. There definitely are some folks who seem to be hardwired to perfectionism, but I’ve also seen kids trained by their teachers and peers to think that they are somehow a failure if they don’t achieve an A on a test or assignment. (Indeed, I had one teacher who made it her year’s goal on one weekly test to TRY to get me to earn less than a perfect score, and had the whole class rooting for her. That was a lot of pressure to live up to. And I was in high school then, where I was already comfortable rebelling against the system and could handle it.) One of my gifted program classes, the one place we’re supposed to feel ‘safe’ in our giftedness, did a spectacular job of making me feel stupid all the time if we were learning things outside my particular range of gifts and talents … a setting ripe for ‘imposter syndrome’. I’m not a perfectionist by nature in most activities (some, but not most), but school tried hard to train me to feel like a failure if I wasn’t perfect, and I saw it happen to other students too. And I still see it happen. It’s sad. Those kids need help, and the ones born with the tendency need help. Probably totally different approaches, too, which takes another special teacher to be able to tell the difference.
What kills me, is when I was a child the G.A.T.E. program was an all day class in elementary school and specialize program of study during Jr high. I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me.
My oldest who is now 16 G.A.T.E. was a hour or so a few times a week. Both my girls have been denied IEP and 504s because of being “Not delayed enough”. Thankfully we’ve had wonderful teachers in their lives who have helped me advocate for those services. Our gifted education programs pale in comparison to the ones my husband and I were able to experience.
I should add that the I.B. program has been a God sent for us. It’s the first time my oldest had had to work hard to succeed. Lol and trust me it was a big shock to her. But it’s helped her to learn those skills and coping mechanisms her peers who aren’t gifted learned much earlier.
Yes! Like you, we discovered our son was gifted not because of his intelligence, but because we didn’t know how to parent him! Schools are simply not set up to meet the needs of children who diverge from the average. All kids could benefit from an educational overhaul, but the answer isn’t taking services away from gifted children. It’s recognizing all children and their needs and meeting them.
I like your term “educational overhaul,” – it’s true without pointing blame. Love it! You’re completely right – recognizing and meeting learning needs is the answer – and the requirement, too.
I was in the same boat. However, my husband also has a high IQ and “thinks” like our son, so I’m thankful that I have quite an advantage. This doesn’t mean we still have challenges (power struggles because my son has a tendency to manipulate things around until he actually has me second guessing myself).
Thank you for an amazing post. You make so many excellent, well-researched points. I am grateful for your advocacy.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts – many of them well taken.
I’ve gotten a bunch of feedback from parents regarding this article on both sides – advocates of the merits of (and need for) gifted education and those who would rather see such programs abandoned.
My larger point, I hope, is that schools should, indeed, help those that need to learn differently- but organically instead of being forced by parents, contrived by testing or defaulted by privilege.
I’m glad my work compelled a well thought out response like your’s.
I’d love to collaborate again on school-related, kid-centric issues both of our readers are passionate about.
Tobin Walsh (a.k.a. The Good-Bad Dad)
Thanks for commenting! I agree with your larger point, although I don’t see how it could be easily implemented in our current public school system. I’ve been researching Sudbury schools lately (one is opening up near us) and it sounds like a great model for all kids, gifted or not. It’s a radical change, but allows kids to take responsibility over their learning. Looking forward to collaborating in the future! I truly hope that your kids don’t feel rejected, no kid deserves that.
Best of luck in the school journey!
Referring to gifted identification through testing as “contrived” is harmful to students with needs which are often missed without testing. I urge you to take the time to delve into some of the research on gifted identification, academic acceleration, social-emotional characteristics of the gifted, and gifted program design — and to consider revising or updating your post, which perpetuates myths and can harm students in need of services. Testing is designed to identify specific learning differences, allowing for evidence-based interventions. Children with above-level differences often cannot learn in school without curriculum modifications. I also strongly suggest you do some reading on gifted underachievement and twice-exceptional learners: you will discover that an “organic” process of identifying gifted needs often does not work for gifted individuals with disabilities, or for gifted students from culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse backgrounds. Teachers often cannot see those abilities without testing, needs are invisible in the classroom, and students can be mislabeled and misdiagnosed (two good articles: http://hechingerreport.org/outrage-pipeline-prison-gifted-students/ and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/saving-normal/201303/giftedness-should-not-be-confused-mental-disorder). Testing is not perfect, but it is a necessary piece to the puzzle of meeting all needs in school. Would you suggest eliminating services for students with learning disabilities simply because you see other unmet needs in a school? It is possible to advocate for *all* students and unmet needs without targeting an already vulnerable population of students. If you truly wish to help all students who learn differently, please take the time to learn how and why giftedness is one of those learning differences, and please take the time to learn about the services and modifications necessary to meet those needs.