Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Gifted
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Often when I think of the perception most of society seem to hold about gifted children, I am always reminded of an old shampoo commercial I used to watch back in the 1980’s. A beautiful actress starts off the commercial asking listeners not to hate her because of her beauty since she was not always pretty—at least not her hair. She once had terrible hair despite what one would have otherwise believed. Her hair, however, improved with effort and the right shampoo. The philosophy behind the commercial, the moral of the story, was things aren’t always as wonderful as they appear on the surface. The grass is not always greener and it just isn’t always as good as it seems—there is usually more to the story.
The commercial reminds me of the common misperception many have of gifted children—that gifted kids are smart and have it made, and the gifted grass is always greener. But, the gifted grass is not always greener, and sometimes that grass is completely lacking the proper nourishment it needs. What’s more, gifted children don’t always have it made. Things aren’t as wonderful as they appear on the surface.
“Don’t hate me because I’m gifted.”
Being gifted isn’t as easy or as wonderful as it seems, and likely the right shampoo is not going to fix the social, emotional and educational issues gifted children experience globally. Most of us can survive and thrive with bad hair, but not so with a life rife with misunderstanding, misperceptions and negative attitudes. Gifted children sometimes struggle in a life full of the misunderstandings of what giftedness is, the misperceptions of who the gifted are, and the general negative attitudes many have towards gifted children.
Most people may not hate gifted children although some believe this may be true as the title of an article in Newsweek, America Hates Its Gifted Kids, suggests. And why would we see an article on a parenting-focused website entitled, I hate hearing about your gifted child? Will society ever understand the reality of being gifted? Will gifted children ever be able to be understood? Will all of these misperceptions and misunderstandings stop leading to an inadequate education for gifted children? Will all gifted children, not just the lucky ones, ever be able to receive the education they need to thrive and fulfill their potential?
But is it animosity towards giftedness or something else which influences the all-too-common educational neglect our gifted children experience and which keeps them from receiving the level of education they need?
The pervasive misunderstanding of giftedness and all of its coexisting cognitive, social and emotional traits can be a major hindrance to the education and success of gifted learners. Too many see the gifted label as an educational designation which anoints those few special students as being the smarter ones. But giftedness is not about being smarter in school and it is not just an educational label. Giftedness is a lifelong condition—a medical, psychological and educational diagnosis, if you will. It is a neurodiversity exhibiting itself in and out of school, often with atypical thought processes, intense emotions and sometimes extreme sensitivities. It is so much more than grades, achievement and school performance. Giftedness is who these children are and how they experience the world in a different way. As many parents of gifted children say, “Giftedness is not better, it’s different.”
Yet, despite all that has been written about giftedness, and all the research and data shared publicly, most people, when asked, will tell you gifted children as well as gifted adults are better off than those who are not gifted. Most believe gifted people are intellectually wealthy and would never need our concern, consideration or our help. “You’re gifted? Well then, with your intelligence, you have the world by the horns!”
Gifted children don’t have it made, and because of the pervasive misunderstanding of giftedness, they can be worse off in many situations. It is human nature to help those in need, to side with the underdogs and to support those who have less. Will gifted children ever be seen as a population of students who have historically had less? Less education? Less consideration? Less understanding? Will gifted children ever be understood and seen as needing the same consideration we give any other group of people who find themselves in need? Will society ever come to see that gifted children don’t have it made? That the gifted grass is not always greener, but can be dry and brown?
“Don’t hate me because I’m gifted since being gifted is not what you think it is.”
Most will say gifted children are better off than all other students and do not need a specialized education to be successful, but nothing is further from the truth. Yet that belief seems to be why our gifted children have been educationally neglected and have shown the least year to year educational progress than other students. Most efforts at working towards providing the level of education gifted children need, whether within a single school or at state and federal levels, usually fall flat because the non-typical education required by a gifted student is often considered optional, a luxury afforded to those who seem to already have more than enough—until now.
With the revision and reauthorization of the federal K-12 education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top), we now have the Every Student Succeeds Act which has some relative provisions for gifted learners. (Read NAGC’s explanation of ESSA and how it will affect gifted students here.) The Every Student Succeeds Act seems promising for gifted students who had been left behind for years in previous revisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but gifted advocates—parents, educators and other professionals—need to remain watchful while the implementation of ESSA unfolds. The devil can be in the details.
My hope is that the ESSA will bring a long-needed focus, possibly only a small focus, on the educational needs of gifted children and that we will see more of our gifted children thrive in school. I would also like to believe that the ESSA and its few provisions for gifted students mean the gifted grass will begin to get the nourishment it needs so it can be as green as that of any student—because every student should succeed.
Will the ESSA be the right shampoo to improve the education of our gifted children? We can only hope.
Personally, I dare to imagine that maybe, just maybe, this new but small focus from the ESSA on the education of high-ability and gifted children will be the start of a positive change in the misunderstandings, the misperceptions and the negative attitudes towards gifted children. That once our gifted children begin to experience success in school again, many will come to realize who our gifted children truly are and that their educational needs are real. Maybe. Hopefully.
“I know you don’t hate me because I’m gifted—now that you understand me.”
We can hope.
THE EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT (ESSA)
“Questions and Answers about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)”, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)
“What Does ESSA Mean for Special Education?” Christina Samuels, Education Week, December 10, 2015
“ESSA and the Dismantling of Programs for Students with Disabilities and/or Gifted Students”, Nancy Bailey, Nancy Bailey’s Education Website, December 4, 2015
NEGATIVE ATTITUDES TOWARDS GIFTED
“America Hates Its Gifted Kids”, Chris Weller, Newsweek, January 16, 2014
“The dark side of being the ‘gifted kid‘”, Marcello Di Cintio, Calgary Herald, February 1, 2015
“Watching Prodigies for the Dark Side”, Marie-Noëlle Ganry-Tardy, Scientific American, April 1, 2005
“The poor, neglected gifted child”, Amy Crawford, Boston Globe, March 16, 2014
“What About the Gifted Children Who Got Left Behind?” Celi Trepanier, Crushing Tall Poppies, April 13, 2015
“Ending Our Neglect of Gifted Students”, Chester Finn, Jr., Education Next, June 3, 2014
GIFTED STUDENTS, GIFTED EDUCATION
“The Bright Students Left Behind”, Chester Finn, Jr. and Brandon L. Wright, Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2015
The “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” video