Gifted Advocacy–Owning His Story
Being a gifted advocate on any level, whether advocating for your child at school or advocating for all gifted children on a global level, requires generous amounts of diplomacy and patience. Giftedness is a topic rift with controversy, misunderstanding and polarizing emotions. The myths and misunderstandings of giftedness have created an environment of shame, fear, confusion, and distress for gifted individuals who need our understanding and compassion. More importantly, they need our advocacy efforts. Gifted advocacy – the turning point in my son’s story about his educational journey as a gifted student.
The Miseducation of Our Gifted Learners
Most commonly, advocacy efforts are focused on gifted children who are often misunderstood, miseducated and underserved in our traditional schools. Parents who are trying to make sure that their gifted child receives the appropriate education which meets their child’s specific learning needs are often met with resistance from schools. Worse yet, when the parents of those gifted children who are underachieving in school because of an inappropriate education try to advocate for their child with a sense of urgency and concern, often leave school conferences feeling disheartened, confused and alone. Their miseducated gifted child is left feeling bored, neglected and worthless– this is when we see these gifted children give up on school, and many subsequently suffer with severe emotional repercussions from the entire painful experience.
How do I know this?
From the experiences of many of my close friends who have gifted children, through the experiences of the hundreds of parents who have written to me privately and who have shared their stories in comments on my website, and from my own experience as the parent of three gifted children. Just by reading the multitude of professional gifted education articles, studies, research reports and books, one can clearly see that gifted children are being left behind educationally and suffering the consequences.
The dark side of giftedness is a real phenomenon proven many times over through professional research studies, the many books written by professionals in the field, and the many articles written by international and national gifted organizations. I myself have a master’s degree in education and I understand our educational system well, both historically and currently. The adverse state of gifted education and the struggles gifted individuals face is not just some declaration I’ve made using my own anecdotal evidence–it’s real, and it has been proven many times through numerous educational research studies, evidence provided by psychological professionals in the field, and analyses of relative data.
But Doesn’t Giftedness Equal Smart, and Smart Equals Success?
Does being gifted always equal being smart, and does being smart always equal to future success? No. And the reasoning here is not at all a logical assumption, especially when much-needed gifted education is not considered a priority in so many of our countries, states and school systems.
Do all gifted children experience such negative educational experiences of which I speak? No, many do not, especially in countries, states and school systems where gifted education is a priority–well-funded and well-implemented.
Many families of gifted children live in areas where gifted education is as much a priority as an appropriate education is for each and every child. Many gifted children have never experienced or will never experience negative situations due to their giftedness because their needs are understood and they are well-supported in school. This is how it should be for all children–for all gifted children as well.
Yes, there are many cases where being gifted equals being smart and leads to future success. Should that be a problem?
Why Would We Want to Deny Any Child the Support He Needs to Succeed?
Education should adequately prepare each child for his future and provide all the tools necessary for his success. But this isn’t always the case–the downhill slide of our educational system is a major global and national issue with the slipperiest slope being gifted education.
Gifted education and access to appropriate gifted programs for gifted students has seen a tremendous decline in many areas across America and throughout the world in the last few decades. Budget cuts seem to primarily be aimed at gifted education programs as the first line item deleted to save education dollars. The tools gifted children need to succeed have been slipping through their hands for many years, and with this is the fading away of the understanding and acknowledgement that gifted children have unique learning needs which MUST be met … and cannot be met in the regular classroom or with honors classes.
My Family’s Experience
When my family experienced the dark side of giftedness, I passionately began to speak out about it by becoming a committed advocate for all gifted children. My goal was, and still is, to try to prevent other gifted children and their parents from experiencing the same preventable struggles my family had. Perusing through most of my posts, you can see that my youngest son’s educational experience was especially hurtful–caused by the very educational professionals we trust to educate and care for our children. Instead of hiding in the closet about my son’s negative educational experiences as a gifted student, I chose to speak out about his situation, an unfortunate situation which happens to many gifted children much more often than most people realize. And this common situation is difficult to speak out about because, although it can be quite serious and changes can make a huge difference for gifted children, it is a little-understood as well as contentious topic to voice publicly. You see, giftedness is most often perceived to be a superior, envy-worthy trait, and not one often thought of as being fraught with various educational and emotional struggles.
Bravely Owning His Story
I’ve been questioned about my choice to share the educational experiences of my youngest gifted son and the subsequent struggles he has had as a neglected and underserved gifted student in the traditional schools he attended. My commitment to gifted advocacy has on occasion given me pause out of concern for sharing my son’s experiences as a gifted student. However, my son knows full well that some of his experiences are shared publicly on my blog, and are shared to help others experiencing the same painful situations he had. But after the hundreds of comments, private messages and emails I have received over this last year regarding my advocacy efforts, my son himself has benefited from the realizations which these messages have shown him. He knows that his experience was not an isolated situation–sadly, not by a long shot. He is gratified and heartened that his story inspires others, and that it helps families and their gifted children to know that they are also not alone on this sometimes difficult journey. And we are all encouraged and inspired to see that there can be happy endings on our gifted journeys.
My son has gained immeasurable wisdom and confidence from his sometimes-rocky journey of being a gifted student in an educational system which no longer seems to understand that gifted students are very unique learners with specific traits and learning needs. My son and I have both gained an incredible understanding of giftedness and a sense of peace through my public gifted advocacy efforts–it has been a critical element of healing for both of us. My son understands through the hundreds of comments, emails and private messages I have received that his painful educational experience as a gifted learner has also been experienced by many gifted children everywhere. He knows he is not alone on this journey, and he is neither afraid nor ashamed.
My son knows that the negative situations he experienced were not because of any weakness of his–he knows the fault lies squarely with the schools and their inability to provide an education that met his unique learning needs as a gifted learner. Instead of hiding from embarrassment or cowering in shame from his painful educational experiences, owning his story has given my son the power and strength to overcome the repercussions of his negative educational experiences. Owning his story has taught him to be proud of who he is and confident in his strengths, and it has shown him that gifted children do not need to hide in the shadows out of shame for who they are. Sharing his story, understanding that his educational experience is a common hurdle for many gifted children, and experiencing the gratefulness of those our advocacy efforts have helped have all been the unparalleled silver lining for my gifted son. As a young teenager, he is not taking from his world, he has been bravely giving back.
We could have chosen to quietly take our painful educational experiences home and kept it to ourselves out of fear of what others would think of us, but as a family, we personally felt this would be socially irresponsible. As a parent, I want my children to be confident, successful and happy which means they need to learn to overcome the unavoidable hurdles in their lives in a positive way. By cloaking my son’s hurtful educational experiences as a gifted learner with shame and fear would have only shown him that he should not be proud of who he is. By allowing the fear of others’ opinions to control us and my son, I would not have helped my son grow his strength and resilience. By letting a painful experience control our family’s actions and reactions in negative ways, I would have denied my son the tools he needed to be successful in life. After all, life is what you make it, and adversity makes us stronger.
Though my gifted advocacy efforts have been an emotional journey for both my youngest gifted son and my family, we have no regrets. My son has suffered due to society’s gross misunderstanding of the many sides of giftedness and from the neglect of gifted learners in our traditional schools, but his spirit, resilience and strength of character through it all are truly inspirational.
Every time he was knocked down, he valiantly rose up, wiser and more determined. With each new hurdle and hurt, he learned to lean in and face it head on. Fully understanding and acknowledging his story gave him the encouragement and understanding he needed to confidently move forward. His difficult journey has strengthened him, but helping other gifted families by wanting his story to be shared has proven to be his most significant accomplishment yet.
Owning his story – because no child should be ashamed simply because they were born gifted.
This post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page October Blog Hop: Gifted Advocacy. Gifted advocacy is such an incredibly important topic, so please check out all of the gifted bloggers who are sharing their story in this blog hop.
Or just click this button at the bottom of each post in the hop to bring you to each and every wonderful participating blog!