I read a rather sad post the other day on this topic. In the comments, the author elaborated on how she thinks and learns that sounded like classic gifted: asynchronous learning, imposter syndrome, and not meeting internal/external expectations. And yet, she stated that she is not “gifted” and the assorted baggage of the word was distressing to her in the way that it was used.
I’ve 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 gifted because of all of the baggage that it entails. Like most parents of gifted, I refrain from using the G word unless I know the person I’m talking to understands what it means. Especially because the Engineer doesn’t look like any sort of stereotypical gifted kid because he’s twice exceptional.
Gifted gets a bad rap. It’s loaded with negative stereotypes, it’s misunderstood, and it’s a red flag for knee-jerk “all children are gifted” responses from people who feel threatened. All children are gifts, all children have talents. Not all children are gifted.
It’s like saying all children have brown eyes. Or all children can read at age 5. Children are not all the same and it does them a disservice to claim otherwise. Just like not all children have special needs, not all children are asynchronous and advanced.
Gifted doesn’t mean special. It doesn’t mean better than everyone else. Gifted is wiring. Gifted is a brain that doesn’t think like the standard brain – that doesn’t learn the same way, see things the same way, or act the same way. Gifted is different.
That’s highly important in an educational setting, because just like special needs, gifted needs a different way of learning than the mainstream classroom. Not meeting those needs can have really detrimental effects on kids, and contribute to the achievement = gifted fallacy that is so hard to shake.
So just what is the “real” definition of giftedness anyway? The National Association for Gifted Children states that
“Children are gifted when their ability is significantly above the norm for their age. Giftedness may manifest in one or more domains such as; intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, or in a specific academic field such as language arts, mathematics or science.”
What Is Giftedness? NAGC
The National Society for the Gifted & Talented uses the 1993 U.S. Department of Education’s definition:
“Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.” – US Department of Education, 1993
I don’t particularly like the NSGT definition because it focuses a lot of achievement – and the school systems certainly focus on academic achievement too. I think the definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica probably covers the subject a little better:
“Gifted child: any child who is naturally endowed with a high degree of general mental ability or extraordinary ability in a specific sphere of activity or knowledge. The designation of giftedness is largely a matter of administrative convenience. In most countries the prevailing definition is an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 130 or above. Increasingly, however, schools use multiple measure of giftedness and assess a wide variety of talents, including verbal, mathematical, spatial-visual, musical, and interpersonal abilities.”
Gifted Child, Encyclopedia Britannica
Put that way, it makes more sense – a “high degree of general mental ability.” Some would still feel threatened by that, which is beyond me. There will always be people smarter than I am, and people who aren’t as smart as I am. There will be people who blow me away with their abilities that I do not have, while I can accomplish things that others can’t. That doesn’t make me less or more than other people, it just makes me unique.
I think a lot of the anti-intellectuallism we see in America especially, comes from a misunderstanding of the term “gifted.” I truly wish that we could find another term. Label it something else. But to be honest, whatever term we stuck with would quickly have just as much baggage as the term gifted.
To many people, gifted means stuck up. Snobby. Braggadocious. It’s ok to brag about your child’s accomplishments in sports or clubs, but don’t you dare claim they’re smarter than their peers – because that’s snobby. Gifted also means special treatment – differentiation in the classroom, pullout classes at school, or grade acceleration. Despite the fact that children who thrive in a mainstream classroom don’t need these accommodations, gifted is still seen as problematic. Teacher’s pet. Snowflakes – I hate that term.
And even to gifted folks, adulthood seems to negate giftedness. I’ve heard “I was a gifted child” more times than I can count. Guess what? If you were a gifted child, you’re now a gifted adult. The way your brain works didn’t substantially change when you hit the magical age of 21. I still think the same way, see things the same way that I did as a child. My husband uses his abilities in similar ways as an adult as he did as a child, and possibly in a more applied way than he used to. It doesn’t go away.
I’ll keep saying it – gifted is wiring. Gifted is different. And gifted is an important label for our kids, because labels are like beneficial stereotypes. They provide a quick, easy-to-understand synopsis of what the child is like, how they learn, and what challenges they face. But unless the label is accurate and fully understood, it’s a handicap. A problem. Unless we all comprehend what a clinical definition of something means, we’re doomed to constantly disagree with each other. If I say X and you hear Y, then we’re not discussing the same thing.
Language is important. Definitions are important. And labels are astoundingly important for us to function well.