Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is Every Child Gifted?

The picture above is a box of "giftedness". Apparently all children have this magically box, some are just told they can't have theirs just yet. Is that helpful or just plain cruel?

Every few months there comes about a blog post or a FB meme stating "Every child is gifted." The latest one rolling around in social media land states, "Every child is gifted, they just unwrap their packages at different times." These memes never answer the question of what do we call children that learn and absorb information at a much higher rate than what we would expect to find in the human population? What should we do with those children? Should we require them to sit in the same class as all the other children (since everyone is gifted) and stare at the wall while everyone else tries to learn what they mastered two years ago? Should we require them to help the teacher get the other students up to their level, using them as unpaid tutors and teacher's aides? Should we give them extra work as punishment for finishing early? Should we tell them "you aren't so smart" and try to find things they suck at in order to embarrass them and bring them down a few pegs? I ask because, these are ALL things that happen when people with the premise that "every child is gifted" are put in charge of the education of gifted children. It becomes a mission to prove that kid really isn't that bright.

If everyone "unwraps their package at different times", why do we make the kids that have already "unwrapped their package" sit and wait while other people try to figure out how to unwrap theirs? Even worse, do the kids who haven't "unwrapped their package" sit around frustrated because everyone is telling them, "You're just as good as Little Johnny, just get that package unwrapped!" while they struggle with concepts that are appropriate for them to be struggling with at that time. Telling EVERY kid that are just as "gifted" as the math genius sitting next to them, or the spelling whiz in the class next door, or the kid down the hall that just got the patent for an invention then sets the precedent that EVERY kid is actually expected to be a math genius or a spelling whiz or a peer reviewed published scientist by the time they reach middle school. What happens when they aren't, but everyone keeps telling them they should be? Have you seen the pressure being put on kids today? Thank the "every child is gifted" folks for that.

Here is the point I think is missed with these "everyone is gifted" commentaries - most people aren't gifted - and they are doing fine in life! Not every leading scientist if gifted. Not every mathematician is gifted. Not every prima ballerina is gifted. Not every spelling bee champ is gifted. A non gifted child can STILL graduate with a 4.5, get a full ride scholarship to a top university, and lead a happy and fulfilling life. Being gifted may put a child ahead in "school" (sometimes), but it by no means puts them ahead in life. What is the point of telling a child they are gifted, just a "late bloomer" when there is absolutely zero lifetime advantage from being gifted? For every Einstein there are thousands of gifted people that became scientists whose names we never, ever read about - because they never did anything "notable". Just like for every Michael Jordan there are thousands of athletically superior basketball players that never played competitively after high school, or just did "okay" in college, or never made it off the bench in the NBA. And then you have the scores of people that played the hand they were dealt and we know their story as well. We know their name because they did something notable in this world.

The problem is - we assume EVERY successful scientist, mathematician, engineer, artist, playwright, etc. is/was "gifted". We have determined that in order to be amazingly successful one must be "gifted". This is the greatest tragedy in the entire debate of whether every child is "gifted". Instead of the conversation being "every child is gifted", why can't we say, "Not every child is gifted, but given the most appropriate tools, attention, experience, and opportunity - every child can be amazing." Gifted is not a one way ticket to an amazing life, it isn't even a head start. Gifted children need different things in their education simply because the way they process information and navigate the world is different. If not provided with those appropriate tools - we limit their chance at being "amazing" - whatever that means for them. It is also true that by trying to force fit children that fit the normal curve of human intelligence into a gifted box and push them in ways that work for gifted kids, but don't work for others - we limit their chance of being amazing - whatever that means for them.

The next time someone finds themselves spouting that "every child is gifted", ask yourself why. Maybe you should think about how harmful it is to a child to tell them they are simply "waiting to unwrap their gift". You are telling them they aren't good enough right now, the way they are. You are telling them they are incomplete and their true self is in a box somewhere - waiting to be let out. You are telling them that they don't currently have what it takes to be good, let alone great. You are telling them the ability to be amazing is somehow off limits and out of reach for them until this mysterious box of "gifted" is unwrapped at some later time. You have, in fact, done the opposite of what your whole "gifted" meme was trying to portray. Instead of telling every child they are special, you have told 90% of all children (because only around 10% of the population would be clinically classified as gifted) that they are behind, stunted in growth, late to bloom, inferior, and in a holding pattern for intelligence and success. You have told them that who they are, today, right now - isn't good enough. And, with the premise that they are the ones who "unwrap" this gift - you have told them it is all their fault.

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  1. *mic drop* <- You forgot to mention that part. ^_~ Spectacularly stated, Dr J. Now pardon me while I share the blazes out of this.

  2. Well, to be fair, I think that those who share memes like that are using a much different, broader definition of the word gifted. They're not thinking of "a particular exceptional intellectual ability," they're encouraging the world to look deeply for other sorts of strength, other attributes, other specialness, in every child... and to nourish and cherish whatever it is that they find. And if you take the "everyone has gifts" meme on that basis, it implies none of the stuff you suggest.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. The memes didn't say "every has gifts", they specifically said "everyone is gifted". Gifted is a clinical and educational term with a specific meaning, a specific set of parameters. If I ever see a meme that says "everyone has gifts" I will gladly post it and share it and help to shout it from the rooftops. However, in this particular instance, that isn't what the memes said. I looked through hundreds of comments on 2 different memes with the same wording (just different pictures) posted throughout FB and the vast majority of individuals responding were speaking specifically of "gifted", not a more general "gifts".
      Again, I did not see a meme that said "everyone has gifts", I saw a meme that said, "Everyone is gifted, some people just unwrap theirs sooner than others." In fact, it would be an entirely different premise to say, "everyone has gifts" - because we know that everyone does, in fact, have gifts. No one needs to wait until some magical moment in the future to "unwrap" said gift - they are special and amazing and unique in their own beautiful way. So, why would we tell a unique being that they are waiting to "unwrap" something we should be pointing out that they already possess?

    2. I just don't think they're using the term 'gifted' in the clinical educational sense. I believe it's being used in the common dictionary sense of having a special ability or talent. You and I tend to assume the word is being used in its clinical sense because that's our world, our life. But I don't think that's necessarily true for others.

    3. Whether or not they're using the term appropriately is, in fact, part of the problem. #1, "gifted" as-is already has a lot of blowback because of the nature of the word. #2, doing nothing to correct the misuse of the word does not help the actually gifted - much like failing to correct misuse of "literally" has led to literally meaning both literally AND figuratively, and now it's a mess. #3, even if they're trying to be nice, that last point of "you're not special enough, get that box open!" still stands. o.O;

    4. And, as has just been pointed out to me by my personal peanut-gallery, these memes are being used, conflating "has gifts" with "gifted" as a starting point for removal (or stopping the implementation) of gifted programming and funding in public education programs - if *everyone* is gifted, then we quite obviously don't need specialty programming for those elitist kids over there who think they're better than everyone else - after all, we're ALL gifted. No good.

  3. Is it a misuse though? It's a colloquial use. Yes it lacks clarity, but I don't think it's a misuse. But then again I'm not seeing defunding of gifted programming where I live, nor am I anywhere that there's an elitist sentiment concerning the business of intellectual giftedness.