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.

 

 

 

FURTHER READING:

THE EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT (ESSA)

Letter from NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) about the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act)

“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

 

 

 

17 Comments on “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Gifted

  1. I am a parent trying very hard to understand the points being made here. I am trying not to “hate” you because you are gifted, but I find myself more and more angered by many of the things I read. You claim that truly “gifted” students deserve special enrichment opportunities but simply high achieving students can be left to wallow in the mediocrity of the normal classroom? Don’t get me wrong, I believe that gifted students should have their learning differences addressed. But I guarantee you that every average child would also benefit from having their unique needs addressed as well. You accuse the world of ignoring the special needs of the gifted, but you seem to be making the same assumptions that you decry in the rest of the world. You assume that the non-gifted have no need of enrichment, special attention or accommodations for their individual quirks and deficits. Do you believe that “typical” children never find school boring or frustrating? Do you believe that typical children never feel that they know more than the teacher or that certain questions are not worth answering? I’m sorry, but dealing with frustration and boredom are part of life.

    By your own logic, every child, every single one, should have a special curriculum designed to addressed their own gifts and challenges.

    Perhaps the problem has to do with the unfortunate label. The issues you all seem to be describing sound more, to an untrained ear, very much like the problems of those on the autism spectrum or with other social disorders. I fully agree that such social and communication disabilities should be addressed. Your gifted children should learn, as all children should, to respect others, to do the work that is asked of them and not to be disruptive. They should also, as all children should, be given work that pushes them and challenges them. But not every moment. No one gets that.

    • Jane,

      I appreciate that you are trying to understand the traits and needs of gifted children and I’ll admit, it is difficult to understand because the vast majority of us have always associated gifted children with school, an educational label and high achievement. But, yes, autism is in many ways like giftedness and ironically, many, many gifted children are autistic. Some feel there is a connection between the two.

      First, I can assure you that there is nothing I have written that says I believe only gifted children should receive the education they need. To the contrary, as a former public school teacher, I state over and over in many of my posts that ALL children deserve an education that meets their needs, but our educational system is in a shambles for all children. Yet, the special educational accommodations gifted and twice-exceptional children need are rarely provided. Gifted education in most states is considered special education requiring gifted specialists and is not unlike the accommodations other special needs children require. Gifted education is not enrichment or special attention.

      And you are absolutely right, many below-average, average and above-average students alike have likely all been subjected to a mediocre education, and over-testing, and way too much homework. Again, gifted education is NOT enrichment. Enrichment is a wonderful educational opportunity which should be provided for ALL students.

      If we can disassociate giftedness from education, from schools and from thoughts of academic achievement, we may then be able to see who the gifted child is. But to address education–yes, I do believe every child should have the education he or she needs, but because of federal initiatives like No Child Left Behind, money, time, effort and focus was on lower performing students which did take focus away from average and above-average students.

      Second, giftedness is, simply put, brain wiring. Our kids were born this way. If a gifted child never went to school, he would still have the advanced reasoning skills, the emotional intensities and sensitivities at home. They are children who experience the world with adult knowledge and reasoning, but with the emotional maturity of the child that they are. This is not a disorder, they are not disabilities, but when a regular classroom teacher who has not been trained in the differences giftedness brings, then they may view these differences as pathologies. And some view them as behavior disorders, or simply that the gifted child is disrespectful or arrogant.

      I don’t know how else to describe it, but believe me, I understand where you are coming from–I was there once before I had my own gifted child. I can only give you this last example of a gifted child:

      At 5 years old, your child enters kindergarten already reading. You never taught her to read, you only discovered she had taught herself to read when one day she began reading the billboards you drove by everyday on the way to preschool when she was 3 years old.

      In kindergarten, all five year olds are at different levels. Some cannot recognize letters, some recognize letters and a few letter sounds, but your child is reading entire books. Yes, the children who recognize letters must sit, bored to death, while the teacher practices letter recognition with other students. Your gifted child must sit while the teacher practices letter recognition and letter sounds. When your daughter gets a bit frustrated, she asks if she can read her new book to the class. The teacher has to say no because there just isn’t time—teachers have way more to handle than they should. The other kids start to look at your daughter as being different because she can read already. Your daughter starts to feel like her reading ability is a problem for both her teacher and her classmates.

      Your daughter’s kindergarten teacher does not have time to help your daughter further her reading skills, so your daughter does not progress in reading in school. This same scenario plays out in math, too, and your daughter begins to hate school. She begins to hate learning.

      As her mother, you find yourself trying to coach and bribe your daughter to sit still and do nothing while the teacher teaches the rest of the class skills and concepts your daughter already knows. You try to supplement your daughter’s education at home until you realize she spends six hours at school and then three more hours at home after school and she is just five years old. This becomes a problem for you and your child especially when discover your daughter is starting to hide her intelligence to try to fit in with the rest of her class.

      This scenario happens often to gifted kids. The further ahead they are from their grade level and the more they are held back, the more there will be negative repercussions to develop. Behavior problems, frustration, depression, underachievement and dropping out of school.

      Nobody is asking for their gifted child to be challenged every moment of the day, but expecting a child with the knowledge and skills of a 5th grader to sit still, behave and be happy in1st grade while being taught what they already know the entire school year is completely unreasonable. Gifted education lets gifted children advance at their on pace, addresses the emotional sensitivities many have and provides an environment where they feel like they fit in and are not looked on as being different because of their intelligence or thinking processes or advanced vocabulary.

      Should this be the education all children have? Sure. But if there is only time and money to focus on raising test scores and teachers only have tie for teaching to the middle, which student group should sacrifice their education?

      Sadly, gifted education has a ubiquitous reputation as being a reward for the smarter kids and not understood as the real educational need that it is. Because of this, many states do not fund gifted education and gifted programs are non-existent in many school districts.

      I do understand where you are coming from, Jane, and I truly do appreciate you taking the time to read and voice your concerns.

  2. Yippppppeeeeeeee. … another “gifted” article.

    Wait a minute … where is the “these kids are our future” phrase? God forbid any other type of child hold our future.

    What do we, as Americans, need to do to address this issue so everyone will be satisfied?

    How about one adult take one “gifted” child under their wing and provide the advanced learning they require until they reach college age. Oh wait, there is not enough adults to assign one-on-one nuturing, since there has been an explosion of “gifted” in our nation that we seem to not be addressing. Where did they all come from? THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!

    Maybe China would be a better “fit” for these children … in their educational system these “gifted” children would fall into that nations NORM.

    If you do not like the educational system in America you have an option – STAND UP, become a teacher and CHANGE what you are harping about.

    • I was a pubic school teacher. I have my MEd. I’ve taught in public schools, private schools and homeschool co-ops in several states and in Canada. I am standing up for a better education for all kids. I’ve emailed and used other forms of social media to continuously reach out to our federal and state legislators. I’ve been a part of state-wide committees to improve education. Teachers are banning together to change education, and progress is being made–too slowly for many students. I’ve done my homework and I understand the issues.

      I also know that many in our educational system wrongly view “giftedness” as an educational designation and not the inherent neurodiversity a person is born with. Many gifted people are also born with autism, learning disabilities and handicaps. Giftedness is not at all about being smarter or excelling in school. Even when homeschooled, giftedness exists. Even before a child enters school, giftedness exists.

      And neglecting any child’s education, marginalizing them and expecting them to reach their full potential on their own is wrong. Maybe you need to do your homework, too.

      • Homework? I did my homework and the math is just not working out.

        You are missing my point, yes there are “gifted” children, and yes their educational needs should be met – I’M ALL FOR THAT.

        What I am trying to say is that there are children that are wrongfully taking the resources we do have to advance the “gifted” because their parents insist they are gifted when they are not. These children are not wired differently like a true gifted child. Should we not first get this opportunity to the gifted children? Do they not uniquely have a special need?

        You have all the answers so how do we select children for the gifted program when almost every parent is jockeying for that seat? By the 2.5% of population of children that are gifted, why are 8 children in a class of 20 gifted as I have witnessed at a recent visit to the elementary school?

        Hothousing does not equal gifted. So now we have another group of children that deserve a quality education, THE HOTHOUSED KIDS. Should they also be in gifted programs? This creating a whole new cycle that must also be addressed.

        I can advocate for the gifted their little voices are being squashed by the overbearing parents who insists that their child is also “gifted”.

        So you do the math – because someone with your credentials should be able to see the difference between these two types of learners – by statistics alone, they all cannot be gifted.

        WIRING vs HOTHOUSED – who ultimately deserves that seat?

        • You are right, I did not see that that was the point you were making, but I agree with you.

          The gifted programs at most schools across our nation include students who are not gifted, just high-achieving and hot-housed. In fact, many gifted education programs don’t want some gifted and 2E students because the focus is on achievement, NOT learning. This I know firsthand with my own gifted sons.

          As long as our school systems are the sole institutions identifying gifted students and determining who receives gifted education while the focus remains on high test scores, achievement and excellence, real gifted children will be left out of gifted programs. As long as high test scores, achievement and excellence are the focus of gifted education, then parents will continue to want their children to be a part of the faux gifted programs.

          Thank you for clearing up my misunderstanding of your message!

  3. I think it is safe to say that America hates its gifted children, but it can also be said that America is in total denial that it does hate them. A progressive wind has been blowing in American education for upwards of 70 years. This progressive wind has worked wonders for practically everyone but the gifted, who have more or less been traumatized by it. It’s as though we punish them for their giftedness while striving incessantly to help everyone else outperform them. Gifted children face bullying from both students and teachers. They may know more about a certain topic than their teacher does or they may possess interests and prescribe to certain notions and ideals that seem unusual to the masses. They clearly have more to offer, but no one seems to want what they have to offer. We’ll go right along worshiping our athletes, even if their grades are poor and they won’t behave, we’ll continue to tutor slackers and give them a gold star for their effort, even if no effort was put forward, but the youngsters who naturally rise to the top will always be marginalized, they’ll always be ridiculed and they’ll always be hated.

    • Sadly, this is most often true. Although we do have people who don’t hate our gifted or try to marginalize them, there are far too few of them.

      “It’s as though we punish them for their giftedness while striving incessantly to help everyone else outperform them.” <---This sums up what happens most often in school for our gifted students. Hopefully, the newly-signed ESEA will help a little with the new requirement that ALL children show progress, not just the lower-performing students. Thanks, Jeremiah, for sharing your thoughts--if only they were not the truth about our how society treats our gifted kids.

  4. So, so true – gifted children are so misunderstood. And “don’t hate me if I’m the parent of a gifted child either!” But you’ve already written about that as well.
    Great article, Celi.

  5. Even as an adult, I am pushed away because, “Normal people don’t use words like that. Every time you open your mouth, we know you are weird.” Teachers who insisted I was their favorite but didn’t want anyone to know yelled, while I was quietly helping another student, “You are as popular as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward.” The people who love me live on average 45 minutes away and does not include my immediate family who called me “brain child” throughout my childhood. I have lived in the same house for sixteen years and have one friendly neighbor. The place I have found acceptance and appreciation universally is among other species. The diversity of species who find refuge in our tiny suburban yard brings me intense joy. I’m very grateful.

    • Sadly, this happens far too often. I’m so disheartened when I hear these things happen to gifted individuals, but I am happy to hear you have found a place where you find joy. Thank you for sharing a bit of your experience with us. It helps others know that they are not alone!

  6. This post is spot on. America really needs to change its attitudes towards giftedness as well in a broader sense change its attitude towards intrllectualism in general (it’s no secret that America is an anti-intellectual country).

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