The Special Snowflake Lie


I have to admit, if someone calls me or my child a “Special Snowflake,” I see red.  It’s so dismissive and condescending.  And gifted kids get called that a lot, because people snottily assume that the kids think they’re something special because mommy and daddy made such a big deal about them.

The latest video from Jo Boaler at YouCubed never actually uses the word “snowflake,” but the idea is there.  The disdain is there.

For those who haven’t seen the video or don’t care to waste their time, it’s very simple.  She picked a few college students who were identified as gifted early on and uses a few comments to demonstrate why the gifted label is bad.  Then she asked a few 4th grade children very pointed, nuanced questions about how they would feel if their friends were gifted and they were not.

The whole point of the video is that the gifted label does harm, hard work can trump ability, and labels are bad.


Now, I have a LOT of problems with this video.  It took me a few days to even be able to articulate them without getting angry all over again.  I feel this is harmful ignorance spewed by someone with a personal vendetta against gifted folks.  I’m particularly annoyed that she tried to dismiss giftedness by using the primary negative traits found in gifted individuals: imposter syndrome, perfectionism, the struggles of unchallenged gifted individuals who meet a challenge, and the high achiever assumption.


Here’s the problem: labels help us define what individuals need to succeed.  If you remove those labels, you don’t change the person.  You don’t change their needs.  All you do is make it more difficult for them to get the help they need.


If all of the adults interviewed in this video had been educated in an environment that challenged them, taught them to persevere, and explained what gifted actually was, they wouldn’t be struggling so much.  Why?  Because their idea of gifted isn’t real.  It’s made up.  It’s fake.

  • Gifted isn’t being a high achiever.
  • Gifted isn’t about being better than others.
  • Gifted isn’t about being smarter than everyone else.
  • Gifted isn’t “special.”

Gifted is wiring.  Gifted is intense.  Gifted is asynchronous.

Gifted doesn’t make you better than everyone else, but it does define how you learn.  And gifted has its own set of issues.  Overexcitabilities that can make it difficult to relate to those around you, for example.  Gifted is co-morbid with anxiety, sensory issues, and other medical diagnosis that make life difficult.  Being gifted is not a gift.


All that aside, the video did make one very important, unintentional point.  We need to tell our kids they are gifted.  We need to explain what that truly means: explain the positive and negatives, explain the strengths and weaknesses.  They need to understand that gifted isn’t about the unrealistic demands others put on them.  Gifted doesn’t mean perfection and high achiever.  And gifted doesn’t negate the need to work hard and persevere.

Just like everyone else, gifted individuals need to learn to work hard.  They need to learn to struggle.  And, they need to learn to fail.  To fail over and over again until they finally succeed.  That’s a life skill that the adults in the video didn’t learn well.  For whatever reason, they didn’t have the opportunity to learn from failure and hard work.  So Professor Boaler is correct in one thing: anyone can learn.  That doesn’t conflict with natural ability, it just enhances it.


I think that Professor Boaler is doing a good thing trying to make math accessible and open.  I also think that she should stop spouting nonsense when she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s harmful.  It’s negative.  And it’s hurting our kids, who need to know what gifted really means.


Want to know more about what gifted really is?  Go here for a loooong list of articles that help define giftedness.  Some of my favorites are Linda Silverman and the TedEd talks, and the classic Cheetah article by Stephanie Tolan.



  1. I just presented findings at NAGC of gifted students not being vulnerable to fixed mindset beliefs compared to advanced and typical students (to be published in GCQ). They actually had slightly higher growth mindset beliefs…and other research studies show that overall, gifted students enjoy challenges and adopt incremental views of intelligence.


    • That sounds like a great piece of research – I would love to see a link when it’s published so that I could share it. Thank you for commenting!


  2. Thank you for this, I was so mad after watching that video! My daughter is gifted, and we’ve told her. She has already noticed the difference between herself and her peers. She knows she is different. So we’ve explained it to her, and helped her to understand her own strengths and weaknesses, to understand why she is so bored in class, why doing grade 1 math is so ‘hard’ but doing grade 3 math is easy/exciting. She needs to understand herself in order to grow. She needs to learn not to accept that our school system doesn’t cater for gifted kids, so needs to be patient with them and just do what they ask and then when she comes home we’ll provide her with everything she needs in the afternoons until we are in a position to homeschool. At the moment she calls school a playdate and only goes to be with her friends. She must understand herself so that she doesn’t see herself as an outsider.


    • I love what you said – “She must understand herself so that she doesn’t see herself as an outside.” Very true! I’ve found that if I don’t explain his differences to him, my son thinks he’s weird. Bad. Abnormal. And that breaks my heart!


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