Thursday, March 20, 2014

If All Kids are Gifted, Why Isn't Mine in First Place?

I decided to throw my hat into the ring in response to the “All Children are Gifted” mantra that has reared its head recently. It came about because some parents were upset because their children weren’t identified as “gifted”. Because their children weren’t identified as “gifted” they began to demand that “all children are gifted”, which really means “no children are gifted”. It is a jealous and ill-informed rant, a fear they are being left out of some exclusive club. I honestly think they picture gifted families sitting around on yachts, drinking fruity drinks in diamond rimmed glasses, and laughing as our kids get showered with money, and flowers, and candy. Guess what? That isn’t what happens in gifted families. Take a short trip in my world and I am sure you would thank your lucky stars your kid isn't "gifted".

Let me address the notion that “all children are intellectually gifted”. No one in their right mind would declare that “all children are athletically gifted”. My three, highly to profoundly intellectually gifted children are not athletically gifted. They are, however, athletes. They run track; they LOVE track. My eldest runs quite often against an athletically gifted child, let’s call him “The Rock”. The Rock is a curly haired, skinny, actually pretty short kid that you wouldn’t suspect of being a rock star on the track. All that changes when you see him run the 800 and the 1600 meter dash. Last year they were in the 8 and under category, and over the winter The Rock and my son moved up to the 9 – 10 category. The Rock runs these two races so fast that he has the fastest time for the next 3- 4 age categories consistently. I was so intrigued by his skill I looked up his times and historically, not only would he have made the Olympics if he were running 30 years ago, he would have likely been on the medal stand.

The cold hard facts are that my kid will never beat The Rock. That has not at all dampened my kid’s love of running. In fact, he enjoys running against The Rock, it encourage him to run faster. He likes to lessen the amount of time by which he is beat! I cheer for my kid as if he came in first place. I cheer not to appease, but because I know he is out there giving it his all and when he gives his all that is good enough for him and for me. We don’t need to collect medals or trophies; I just need my kid to do what he loves to the best of his ability. I also love watching The Rock run. It is a thing of beauty to see that kid in action, what the human body can do when it is doing what that particularly body is designed to do perfectly well – is stunning. My other kids like to cheer for both their brother “Speedster” (who is probably dead last in the race) and The Rock – who is running like the wind. They too can recognize giftedness and realize that Speedster and the Rock are two different types of runners. One is showing what giftedness, given an opportunity to shine, looks like. The other is showing that every race is personal, and having the courage to go, and run, and finish – outside of medal contention, outside of being put on a pedestal with cameras clicking, to only the 4 or 5 voices shouting from the crowd still watching you run – an entire lap behind the rest of the field, it is still worth competing.

At no point have I ever asked the U S A Track and Field Associated to ban The Rock. Never have I asked any sports venue to stop giving out medals. Never have I grabbed the microphone and declare that “all kids are gifted runners” because my kid wasn’t on the medal stand. I feel nothing but joy for The Rock. I am genuinely proud that I get an opportunity to witness this athletically gifted child come into his own as a track star. We often talk about how my Speedster will one day tell a group of friends while they watch The Rock run in the Olympics – yeah, I ran against him when he was 8 years old! My son would lose out on so much if The Rock ever stopped running because people got mad that he wins every, single 800 and 1600 that he enters. Oh wait, that isn’t true. The Rock doesn’t win every one. While he is the fastest in our state, he isn’t the fastest in the country. Sometimes he comes in second, or third, or fifth when he gets an opportunity to compete against his true peers. This year summer my family is looking forward to traveling to a national competition. My 3 kids will be participating in a triathlon and they might even get to compete in the national event (slowly they are getting better; sometimes they don’t come in last place). I am quite sure they won’t win, even if they quality to compete. They know it too, but they will run anyway. They are running for themselves, not chasing medals or rainbows. Just like their athletically gifted counterparts are running for themselves, and getting medals and applause because society enjoys seeing how close the human body can get to perfection.

If everyone is “gifted” in everything, then no one is good at anything. Maybe the issue isn’t whether or not children should be identified as “gifted”, but that parents should stop being happy only if their child is identified as some sort of “elite” in everything that they do. Chances are, your 6 year old will never “catch” my 6 year old daughter in math. She finished Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade math in 4 months’ time – at 5 years old. Just to be “sure” she knew her stuff, I gave her a different Second Grade math book – she finished it in 5 weeks. She was adding with binary numbers, just for fun, at 5 years old as well. She sometimes wanted us to read her math books as her bedtime story.  Does your child do that? If not, they are probably not intellectually gifted. To tell yourself that they are is to create unreasonable expectations for your child. Unless we start to define being “intellectually gifted” as being a typical 5 year old. At that point, it will be clear that my daughter is something “other” than that, and before you know it there will be some other title that you will have to find a way to tear down and destroy because you can’t bear to hear some other child get applause.

It is a scary world where people parent in a way that won’t allow their children to still feel comfortable and confident with themselves  if others are better than them at one thing or another. My kids have tasted last place and it still went down like honey because they were brave enough to try, to get out there and run, to give it their all. Sometimes my daughter meets another 6 year old that can crush her in math – she still loves math. See, it doesn’t hurt my daughter to understand there are people out there in the world that are better than her in some things, in a lot of things. My job as a parent is not to go chop the world down to a size that will make my kids always a winner, my job is to help my children find their passions in life and pursue them with gusto. My job is to help my children fly as high as they can. In some things, like track – they may fly as low as a bumblebee. They will fly low, slow, choppy, and won’t be noticed much at all. Other times they will soar like eagles and people will watch them in amazement. No matter if they are having a bumblebee moment or an eagle moment – they will always have a mother and a father there cheering them on, simply because they are flying. I personally wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror if in their bumblebee moment, I got embarrassed and decided to try and destroy the innocent eagles flying around them.