Not the Underdog, Yet, the Underdog

It’s only human nature. When faced with having to deliver a subjective judgement or choosing one person over another, we humans often decide with our hearts and not with our heads. Providing feedback to an earnest, but struggling co-worker may cause us to temper the negative and stress the positive. Choosing between two deserving students to bestow one award—one student who seems to need more emotional support over another student who seems to have it made—may have us choosing the underdog because…well, because he needs that emotional boost. The other student is smart, mature and self-confident, and just doesn’t seem to need the recognition although he may have earned it. Sympathy can play a role in our choices sometimes.



Aaron, a 16 year old high school student, is extremely articulate and he has been highly verbal since he was two years old. His advanced verbal acuity casts him as highly intelligent, self-assured and very mature for his age. But, this poised appearance really belies Aaron’s strong emotionally-sensitive side, and it also hides the fact that Aaron has a debilitating fear of failure and a significant lack of self-confidence. Being intensely sensitive, having a chronic fear of failure, and having very little self-confidence are traits Aaron takes meticulous measures to hide, but they do negatively impact his life.

If truth were told, Aaron is in reality someone we may consider in need of encouragement and emotional support—he would be considered an underdog in many situations. Yet Aaron is rarely if ever seen as an underdog. To the contrary, Aaron is thought of as highly intelligent which many believe relates to easy success and an advantaged life. Paradoxically, Aaron is not at all advantaged or assured of success—remember his fear of failure and lack of self confidence?

The crux here is that Aaron consistently is treated by teachers, coaches and peers as though he is advantaged, has it made, and not in need of any sympathy or support. When Aaron proved again in third grade that he was an excellent speller and had won the previous years’ Spelling Bees in first and second grade, his third grade teacher asked him to sit out that year’s spelling bee to give someone else a chance to win. This was the first in a long list of instances where Aaron was to take a back seat to others who were seen as more in need of positive reinforcement or a chance to be on top—a chance that Aaron was assumed to have on many other occasions, but that was always the wrong assumption.

Surprisingly, Aaron was and still is an underdog, but he’s never seen as an underdog. Not being recognized for his efforts and being passed over for deserved honors or awards taught Aaron that life is often unfair, being smart was a bad thing, and striving for any position or achievement is not worth it because he will not be recognized for it—all because he was seen as having an advantage.



Ruth excelled in elementary school, her advanced intelligence was obvious. She was a conscientious student who threw herself into pleasing her teacher by making exemplary grades. Ruth was identified as gifted—having an IQ in the top 1% of the population—and she was then placed in the once-a-week pull-out class for gifted students. Undeniably, Ruth was smart, academically successful and a model student—that was until she began to be passed over every month for the monthly class awards she clearly earned and deserved, but which were all being awarded to other classmates.

Ruth’s mother questioned her daughter’s teacher about this when the emotional effects this was having on Ruth were becoming a concern, and Ruth’s motivation in school and her eagerness to learn began to wane. Ruth’s teacher explained that although Ruth had technically earned many of the monthly class awards, she, unlike her classmates, had the privilege of being in the weekly gifted pull-out class. Ruth’s teacher subjectively determined that the other students, even though they had not completely earned a monthly award, were the underdogs in this situation and needed the award and encouragement more so than Ruth who was never seen as an underdog because of her intelligence.

Unfortunately for Ruth, she was also passed over for end-of-the-year awards—Principal’s List, Speller of the Year and Hardest Worker—were all given to other students because as her teachers continually told Ruth’s parents, “it is the other students who need the encouragement.” Ruth’s motivation and earnest efforts in school were never recognized. More so, Ruth knew this was unfair yet it repeatedly happened so she quit trying, she gave up and learned to hate school. Ruth had become an underdog.


Gifted Children the Underdogs?

Aaron and Ruth are both highly-intelligent and identified as being gifted. To those who do not understand giftedness or know enough about the emotional and social traits common among gifted individuals, Aaron and Ruth would be considered privileged, advantaged and likely not in need of anything more than their already fortunate gifted designation. Sadly, this is a common misconception, but it is tragically flawed and often affects how highly-intelligent children are regarded, educated and the type of feedback they receive at school and from society at large.

What Aaron and Ruth have experienced can be considered a type of unintentional discrimination, but it needs to be recognized. For Aaron and Ruth, their seeming gift of intelligence has been used against them, and the assumed advantages of their intelligence are stripped away by those who feel that the playing field needs to be leveled for all. For many of us who understand giftedness, it is known as cutting down the tall poppies.


Cutting Down the Tall Poppies

Cutting down the tall poppies does not level the playing field; it promotes an unfair and inequitable situation. What many seem to forget is gifted children are human and they are children—children who have feelings, who have flaws, and who can also have physical and learning disabilities. Gifted children, like all children, need positive feedback, encouragement, and they need to be nurtured and supported like every other child. When support, encouragement and positive feedback is denied to a gifted child based on the assumption he or she probably does not need anything more, they grow up feeling left out and shunned. Gifted children become the underdogs and fall far from reaching their potential. For what others assume is an advantage has essentially become a disadvantage for gifted children. Not the underdog, yet the underdog.


Not That Parent

Continually being the underdog is emotionally devastating and it prevents any child from reaching their full potential. Like the majority of parents with gifted children, I am not that parent who wants my child to always be the top dog, I just want my child to be able to have a dog in this fight—a chance to be supported, a chance to be rewarded, and a chance to thrive, fair and square.

As a former public school teacher and the mother of three gifted children, I recognize the advantages of above-average intelligence. I have also seen firsthand these advantages crushed and destroyed in an effort to level the field, to support those seen as less advantaged. And I’ve seen the real and devastating effects this has on gifted students and on my own gifted children when they’ve been denied the support and encouragement they need to thrive because they are seen as a victor, never an underdog. Yet, they become the underdogs.



Has your gifted child been denied encouragement, positions or recognitions because he or she was seen as already advantaged? Have you experienced your gifted child treated differently because of their giftedness? When has your child’s giftedness proved to be a disadvantage? Please share your story in the comments below.

45 Comments on “Not the Underdog, Yet, the Underdog

  1. Such an important post, Celi. Gifted kids are forced to wait and take a back seat much too often. Setting up an environment where there are awards and contests forces this dilemma. If schools are concerned about the emotional fall-out, then they need to eliminate this situation, or group kids into ability cohorts so that the competition is more even.

    I have seen kids suffer on both sides of the aisle. It is hurtful and unnecessary. But gifted kids are kids and shouldn’t have to swallow their feelings for the good of all just because of their abilities. Thank you for highlighting this important topic, though. I will PM you about more of my thoughts on this.

    • It is such a complex situation when it comes to giving out academic awards, and it is difficult to avoid hurt feelings. I think this is where gifted kids may have become the scape goat because so many feel they are already “rewarded” by their advanced intelligence so they are seen as one less student to have to consider for an academic award.

      Gail, thank you so much for your feedback. Your thoughts and opinion are so important and insightful!

  2. Competition, as it exists in public schools, has the ultimate goal not fairness nor personal excellence (much less excellence in an environment of fairness), but bettering the school. The school exists for ITSELF first, and everything else comes after. That includes the students.

    What does the school get out of spelling bees? Praise, recognition,and glory for itself – NOT for its students, much less the one student who makes it possible. The Aarons of America need to understand that. They are dispensable and interchangeable. The school’s reputation is not. It does make a slight difference whether the spelling bees are intramural (which I suspect) or extramural. The perception of “fairness”, as opposed to technical skill, matters even more in the first case.

    The time has come to ask the question, who decides the reputation of a school? Parents and pop-leftist educrats, that’s who, under the all-American belief that everyone can be a: superstar, brain surgeon, fireman, leader. etc. This goes quite beyond intellectual dishonesty and into delusion. The motto of teachers’ unions should be “EVREEWUN can be a ——, if they get enough LOOT and SELF-ASS-STEAM.”

    Finally, I would like to point to the difference between fairness and equality. Fairness means that everyone has what they need, within reason. Equality means the same for everyone in neat cut and dried packages, with no regard to actual need. Fairness means hard work on someone’s part. Equality means only laziness and cheapness.

    • I very much agree with your assessment of the difference between equality and fairness, especially the effort each takes. Of course, given the one situation or instance, not everyone would agree on whether or not there was fairness meted out.

      Also, I think we can all agree that schools struggle with equality, equity and fairness for many reasons when doling out academic awards, but the gifted child as the underdog comes into play on robotics teams, sports teams, and many other after-school activities as well.

      Thanks so much for your insights, Ahriman!

  3. If someone (who is a top athlete) is asked, “How are you doing in the High School /College / University athletics program?” and the person responds with all their accomplishments, people beam at them with positive pride, and a sense of satisfaction that that person has “made it”. If someone in business is asked, “So, how’s business?” and they respond “I just made a killing on the stock market and in my real estate holdings; I could retire tomorrow if I wanted!” then people are impressed; they want to associate themselves with such a person. In North America (mainly Canada (I’m Canadian) and the USA, but also Mexico (my wife is Mexican)), accomplishments outside of academia are hailed, beloved, adulated, and worshipped.
    Try being a top student, or worse yet, a very highly intelligent underachiever, and just watch now people shun and ostracize such a person, many times in adulthood, but far more so in childhood and adolescence. North Americans hold to a double-standard: top athletes, top business-people, top employees (as in, “How’s work going?” “I won Employee of the Month for the seventh time!”) are valued and venerated. Top ‘brainiacs’ are looked at with suspicion, distrust, and many — usually wrong — assumptions are made about such people (“She’s so brilliant; you know, brilliant geniuses like her often become psychotic!”).
    So who’s the underdog? You say, Celi, that *some* gifted persons are treated as the underdog. I’ll go further and argue that ALL gifted persons are treated as the underdog. Let me be really clear. I am NOT suggesting that gifted persons are victims. Sometimes they are, sometimes not. If they are, it’s because of things like bullying , e.g, by other students, by teachers, by employers and supervisors, and/or by fellow employees as an adult — but not always, and not everyone who’s gifted falls victim to bullying. Other ways in which there is a sort of victimization is when teachers try to be “fair” to all students and thus confuse fairness (“Fairness is the quality of making judgments that are free from discrimination.”) with parity (“the state or condition of being equal, especially regarding status or pay; synonyms: equality, equivalence, uniformity, consistency, correspondence, congruity, levelness, unity, co-equality”), or worse yet, sameness (“lack of variety; uniformity or monotony”). Or when teachers try to forcibly create a regression-toward-the-mean scenario, in which the very best are passed over in order to encourage lesser lights who apparently “need it”, as you say, Celi.
    But that drive towards a regression-toward-the-mean scenario is entirely understandable, given that public schools (as we call them in North America; in England they’re called ‘grammar schools’) were first developed as a result of legislation that was passed by the British Parliament of the day, over 166 years ago! Back then, the goal of grammar schools was to turn out literate, obedient adults who could function effectively in the very hierarchical Victorian society of the day. And frankly, not much has changed; the system is still designed to “teach towards the middle”, failing to recognize in its very nature and philosophy that not only does the education system deal inadequately with those not in the middle (i.e, the gifted and the disabled), but it doesn’t even do that great a job of “the middle”. This is because in the 1850’s educators really didn’t have the wealth of psychological and educational research we have today, so they assumed every one of their students was largely “the same”, and if there were differences, it was due to moral wickedness on the part of the student. Not until Alfred Binet was asked to come up with a way of evaluating and differentiating the least intelligent students from the average and highly intelligent students — and thus was born the IQ test — did anyone even begin to realize that children (and adults) weren’t just a much-of-a-muchness, but had individual differences that could have profound effects on the student’s academic outcome.
    So here we are, a century-and-a-half later, and do we teach as though students are individuals, with different learning styles, different interests, different abilities (and different levels of ability between students), and, yes, different levels of intelligence? Do I need to answer that question? Many of the more enlightened, competent teachers do make serious efforts to tailor their teaching plans and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to the individual student. But too many teachers, either due to classroom overcrowding, school underfunding, and/or the fact that teachers like anyone else have great ones, average ones, and the deadwood in their ranks. These factors make ‘teaching toward the middle’ a necessity, in the case of classroom overcrowding, and school underfunding; or an easy ‘out’, teaching to the minimum expectations required of a teacher, in the case of incompetence on the part of the teacher.
    And even the nature of the “underdog” status of the Gifted is a backwards one. Normally, the underdog is considered the “come-from-behind winner”, or the disadvantaged person or group for whom standards and expectations should be lowered (in the modern, Liberal-left interpretation of how to treat underdog groups). But because gifted people are already considered to have superior advantages, too many people think that the answer is to “level the playing field”, which usually involves cutting down the tall poppies, and simultaneously over-valuing the contributions of the actually …. um, it’s politically very incorrect to say this, but the actually inferior.
    Kurt Vonnegut wrote a wonderful story called Harrison Bergeron, in which society so valued parity/sameness, that beautiful people had to wear “ugly masks”, the physically graceful had to dance with a ball-and-chain around their ankles, and where the TV sets let out a sound so intrusive and so disturbing that one could not begin to question how society was arranged. I won’t reveal how things turn out in the story, but as best as I can recall, let’s just say the outcomes aren’t pretty.
    All this in a severely misguided effort to “level the playing field”. And I can tell you who I blame. Since the 1960’s the baby-boom generation (or at least the leftist radical part of it) believed in a ‘new Marxism’, and university education departments started to recognize the “value”, such as it is, of what I call radical egalitarianism, or the idea that any differences between individuals can be virtually entirely explained by differences in socio-economic (social class) status differences, racial, ethnic, and gender differences in terms of how such people are treated relative to the second-worst thing ever to hit the universe, the Straight White European Male (apparently, Dead White European Males, or DWEMs, are more dangerous, because their ideas have been given pre-eminence in the school curricula, though I have to admit I can’t understand how dead people are more dangerous than living ones, zombies excluded).
    This idea is so pernicious, and so wide-spread, that many otherwise sensible people will tie themselves into intellectual Gordian Knots, trying to explain away the simple and obvious fact that smart parents tend to have smart children, and, conversely, not-very-smart parents tend to have not-very-smart children, the operative word being “heritability”. If heritability of talent is true, that would undermine one of the fundamental pillars of Marxism, the concept of the “perfectible (hu)man”.
    It’s funny when I went to university (full disclosure: my father is a [now-retired] biologist, eminent in his field, and a committed Evolutionist, as am I); I found that a great many Leftists said that they accepted the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, though I suspect they did so because it was ideologically required of them (politically correct), if only so as to serve as a poke in the eye of those darned Evangelical Creationist Conservative Christians they so loathed. Yet whenever I’d start sneakily and subversively suggesting that maybe Evolution could explain gender differences, and even gender differences in behaviour, OH. MY. G0D! did the feathers fly! OF COURSE gender differences (among other differences) could ONLY be explained by Nurture (environment), not Nature (genetics). Sociobiology, which seeks to explain human behaviour using principles of modern Evolutionary theory, and which is now widely accepted, was fought tooth-and-nail by the social scientists who believed in the Marxian notion of the “perfectible [and thus infinitely malleable hu]man”.
    Yet on one of my favourite sites, to which I am a frequent contributor,, many otherwise intelligent people go out of their way to attempt to blow away any notion of “genius”, giftedness, individual differences a la IQ, and their opposites, mental handicaps and low IQ. Why? Because of the perniciousness of this Marxian ideal of the perfectible/malleable human, to which any manner of social engineering can be applied to produce a “better” human being.
    So how does that relate to underdog status for gifted people? Well, clearly, according to radical egalitarianism, the “only” reason (at least, the only reason that such people can accept without almost vomiting) why gifted people are the way they are is because of “privilege”, which is the new code-word for why radical egalitarians hate Heterosexual, White European Males (especially the Dead ones [not just the deceased but anonymous; no, in this case the ‘Dead’ demarcation applies only to the evil DWEMs who had any influence/power/privilege, hence “Dead”, rather than merely ‘dead’]).
    So if gifted people are as they are, it “must” be because their parents are bourgeois, overprotective, helicopter parents who started teaching their precious little ones advanced calculus while the budding little “genius” was still in utero.
    Of course, to make that explanation work, one has to ignore several difficult facts — but hey, why let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a great theory?
    The first and biggest problem is two-fold: {almost} no matter what the ethnic group, racial group, or gender, it’s a reality that giftedness is equally distributed as the top 2% of all the poputation, and that giftedness is nearly equally distributed between males and females. If “privilege” were true, we’d expect to see a severe slewing of the numbers in favour of White Males; yet that simply isn’t the case. The reason I said “{almost}” is because of this, and it’s terribly controversial: Jews and Asians (specifically Japanese, urban Chinese, and South Koreans) tend to show an average IQ that is **one standard deviation higher than average, as [a] group[s]**. The effect is more pronounced among Ashkenazi Jews (Eastern and Central European in heritage and culture), but also holds true among Sephardic Jews (Arab Jews, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Jews).

    HOW COULD THIS BE? If true, it throws the Radical Egalitarian pronouncement that giftedness is ‘merely’ the product of privilege into doubt, if not utter refutation.

    Well, why would it be the case that morphological and physiological characteristics would be subject to evolutionary pressures, but behaviour — and consequently intelligence — wouldn’t be? That makes no sense, but it does show that the Left’s commitment to Darwinian Evolution is a mile wide, but a millimetre thick. If giftedness is a product of privilege, why do inner-city Black and Hispanic kids show as much evincing of Giftedness as do White Suburban children of overbearing “helicopter” parents? And if privilege, which so “privileges” males over females is true, why are around 50% of gifted persons female? Surely, it should strongly skew towards white male students — but it doesn’t.
    So because of this malformed and obviously untrue notion that giftedness is ‘merely’ the result of privilege, people now bend over backwards to practice what they *think* is fairness, but in actuality is parity, or its nastier (and stupider) brother, sameness.
    I had a professor in university who refused to let me, a person with a known disability (dyspraxia) that made hand-writing painful in very short order, to use a computer to write my exams in his class. Why? He said that it would be “unfair” to the other students, and that “if I let you write your exam on a computer, I have to let the rest of the class write the exam on computers too.” Even after trying without success to explain to him that what a computer does is bring me up to the same level of ability as everyone else, he was having none of it. He thought he was being fair; in fact he was insisting that parity was the rule, and that meant that everyone had to be treated exactly the same, but that was no fair to me, a disabled person. (I still got a B anyway, but I should have gotten much, much better). I have many other examples in my life where parity was applied when people thought they were applying equality (which they equate with parity, without realizing it) or a very bizarre notion of “fairness”. But what it interesting is that like several other commenters, in my elementary school and High School experiences, I NEVER encountered this “encouraging lesser students” phenomenon.
    I didn’t experience this weird form of being-forced-into-underdog-status until the 1990s. When I was in elementary school and high school, on the rare occasion I did win an award (rare because I am twice exceptional), I won it, fair (truly fair, not the faux idea that passes for fair today) and square. No B.S. about “other students needing encouragement”. If students — usually my bullies — complained that I won something they felt they should have, they were told, either, “the reason John won that is because he is a very smart boy, who earned it” (by teachers who liked me), or “Then work as hard as John seems to do” (by neutral teachers); the few hateful teachers said, “I know it’s unfair that he wins these spelling and math bees all the time, but learn to live with the fact he’s too smart for his own good, and yours and mine”. Lovely professionalism, eh?
    The fact is, this forcing of gifted people back on their hind legs, forced to defend their right to be excellent and rewarded for it, is a Politically Correct, Radical Egalitarian notion, nothing more. And it’s limited, largely, to publicly funded academia.
    Think about it; Sure, at times gifted people (especially what used to be called “geniuses”) get workplace bullied out of a job or promotion. But without blaming the victim, that’s because gifted and genius people don’t flourish as “worker bees” in most companies. They need to be independent of most supervision, allowed to work on projects that interest them, not just the one some idiot self-over-estimating crappy-MBA boss thinks the gifted/genius person should work at. Gifted people do best as professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, etc.), and in an environment where they are given a large degree of free rein.
    So, assuming the environment is one in which a gifted/genius person can flourish without the bullying of mediocrities as you find in most bureaucracies, excellence in the workplace IS rewarded.
    Nobel Prizes aren’t awarded to scientists or writers or human rights activists, or politicians who “need encouragement” (the one exception to that was the awarding of a Nobel Prize to Barack Obama, just eight or so months after becoming POTUS). In general, in 99% of cases, Nobel Prizes are given to the VERY BEST, not the SECOND BEST.

    When businesses win ‘Employer of the Year’, or ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’, it never goes to the runner-up. It ALWAYS goes to the best of the best (or usually does, barring influence-peddling and other chicanery).

    I don’t quite know how to end my rant, except to say that I think that the idea of the gifted (all of them) being forced into underdog status is an unfortunate result of Radical Egalitarianism and the mistaken notion of the “Perfectible [Hu]man”, limited mainly to the Educational realm. And it is made worse by the most pernicious effects of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and all of the No Child Left Behind (except for the Gifted) Act.

    In the “Real World” second-best doesn’t cut it. But bizarrely, in school it’s fine to reward second best and teach children that mediocrity and not trying your best will be rewarded anyway.

    And that’s a damned shame, because when the mediocrities hit the real world, they’ll find that normally, barring nepotism/chicanery, second-best doesn’t get hired, second-best doesn’t get the promotion or the raise, second-best doesn’t get you a Nobel Prize (Barack Obama excepted). It’s a pity; the education system, rigged this way is being unfair not only to the gifted, but to the other students who quickly learn that excellence isn’t always needed to succeed, nor is it rewarded.

    • John,

      Again, your explanations and the points you have made give us so much to think about–the deeper reasons why gifted people are pushed into being the underdogs. Excellent! I can’t comment much because I agree with nearly all the excellent points you made, but I do have a question for you–one I have pondered for a long time.

      You brought up the fact that athleticism and success in business are examples where society accepts superiority. I would add that most any other inherent talent, except maybe beauty–musical talent and artistic talent to name a few–are accepted, applauded and don’t often bring about envy and resentment. My question is: Why do you think intelligence–superior reasoning and creative thinking–is the lone inherent talent which society resents and envies. Why does radical egalitarianism only affect intelligence and not artistic talent or athleticism or exceptional musical ability?

      Thanks so much for your exceptional insights, John!

      • As always, thank you so much for the incredible positive feedback, Celi. It’s incredibly important to me, given my recent history with adult bullying aimed at attacking me for “acting smart” (as though one has a choice to be gifted?), that I get feedback that tells me my recent critics are wrong to say that I’m (a) boring, (b) dull, tiresome and pedantic, and that (c) the only thing that my brand of “genius” is composed of is what one childhood bully called “Stupid mental magic tricks” and nothing more.
        They say that because I’m not a “stud” with the ladies, or because I don’t have title to a house or a big fancy expensive car, or because I have a neurological disability, or because I am not a tech billionaire, and/or any other utterly irrelevant criterion, I can’t possibly be a true “genius” (my IQ is four frigging standard deviations above the mean, which is exceptionally rare, and an unusually high IQ that I was BORN with– I’ve no choice in the matter.). What utter rot they propose, but that’s the sort of pseudo-intellectual brickbat my detractors enjoy clubbing me over the head with, over and over and over again, until what actually happened was that I broke down in the face of harassment, insults, ridicule, and public humiliation, and “admitted” that I am not a “genius”, but my detractors — all of average intelligence and considerable mediocrity — ARE the “true geniuses”; behaviour toward me that landed me, as you may recall, in hospital twice with exhaustion and severe water-weight gain due to extreme stress. In other words, thanks for being one among several who INSIST on dis-confirming the idiocies of the bullies, Celi. It helps the healing process. Thank you again.
        So you want to know why I think that in North America it’s the case that “most any other inherent talent, except maybe beauty–musical talent and artistic talent to name a few–are accepted, applauded and don’t often bring about envy and resentment. My question is: Why do you think intelligence–superior reasoning and creative thinking–is the lone inherent talent which society resents and envies. Why does radical egalitarianism only affect intelligence and not artistic talent or athleticism or exceptional musical ability?”.
        To answer your second question first, I don’t think that “radical egalitarianism only affect[s] intelligence and not artistic talent or athleticism or exceptional musical ability.” To the contrary, I do think that radical egalitarians target exceptional excellence of any sort. But their solution, though damaging, isn’t anywhere near as pernicious as the treatment they mete out for the gifted child, adolescent and adult. The treatment they dole out to the gifted is to quietly suggest that the very best and brightest students should be passed over in favour of lesser lights, in order to “encourage” the lesser students; but the real intent is that if everyone isn’t born equal, radical egalitarian education policy planners will engineer things so that everyone ends up being, or rather, feeling equal.
        Doing this attacks the sense of self-worth and self-confidence of individual students. The solution of the radical egalitarians to the problem of excellence in areas outside of giftedness, such as superior athleticism, or artistic ability, or musical talent, is to stop giving the very best the only rewards, and instead reward every child in the class for “participation”.
        We all, you and the commenters, have all discussed the crappy outcomes of the forced and unintentional beggaring the gifted into underdog status. So I won’t go over that again. But I will say this about giving every child a “participation” medal or reward for having simply shown up to school and sat in class as something happened, done (usually) by somebody else.
        It’s a feel-good policy by which I mean that the people who feel most good about the participation policy are the radical egalitarian educrats, followed closely by students, who have a false and distorted sense of their own magnificence, again, for having simply shown up to school and sat in class as something happened, done (usually) by somebody else. One of the unintended consequences is that misleading, self-delusional sense that just showing up can earn a reward; only later in life, either at their first job, or at university, they discover that “just showing up” isn’t rewarded, except in the sense that they’re “rewarded” by getting to keep their jobs. Another unintended consequence is the watering-down of excellence to its lowest common denominator. Have you ever wondered just *why* the radical left “celebrates” the working man or woman, “celebrates” the homeless, “celebrates” the poor, “celebrates” the developmentally disabled, and on and on? It’s because the radical left gets its support from the average to below-average voter. And the whole of the Marxian Ideal (Workers, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!) is the uplifting to god-like status the ordinary working person. The radical left is the true antithesis, an anodyne solution to the difficulties most leftists feel about the way classical liberal / capitalist society venerates the very best in almost all endeavours (not the gifted, and not criminals). The leftist’s natural inclination is to see the groups I mentioned, the working man or woman, the homeless, the poor, the developmentally disabled etc. as victims of capitalism who need to be defended. And in so doing, what they celebrate is averageness, even mediocrity. The result is a deep-seated ideological refusal to celebrate excellence and high achievement, because that leaves out too many ordinary folks.
        When applied to the educational realm, the radical egalitarian educrat (and the ‘useful idiot’ teachers who aid and abet them, thinking they’re doing something positive, not what they’re actually doing, which is harmful to the students, and to society at large) wants to bypass the very best, the gifted, and reward second-best, the second-string achiever. They also wish to make everyone feel included, rewarded, valued; these are lovely feelings and impulses for a distorted sense of “fairness” and “equality” which actually equates to parity and sameness, respectively. And in so doing, they damage people’s desire to achieve.
        In Cuba, right now, a doctor is paid the same, roughly, as a street-cleaner. So someone who busts their butt studying in university, sweating over books late into the wee hours of the morning, ends up being paid just 20% or so more than someone who completed high school. That’s seen by the Communists (a type of radical egalitarian) as being “fair”. But is it? What’s fair in MY view is rewarding excellence, achievement, hard work. Sure, it’s hard on the average child to realize they will never be an Einstein, but literally BILLIONS of people throughout human history come to terms with their, well, ordinariness. But how truly fair is it to hold back the very best or brightest in a misplaced and distorted desire to make everyone ELSE feel good about themselves? I’d say, not very.
        Now, as to your first question: “Why do you think intelligence–superior reasoning and creative thinking–is the lone inherent talent which society resents and envies?” Well, as I have commented in other responses to your blogs, I believe it’s unique to North America. You have to remember, that in Europe, the settlers did so hundreds of thousands of years before modern Europe, or Asia, or Africa came about. (Africa’s a special situation, and I don’t want to get bogged down discussing its problems with education etc.). So there’s been long-term human habitation, in Europe and Asia, such that these areas long ago gave up any settler mentality. What’s a ‘settler mentality’? It’s the idea or ideal of the hardy immigrant, the person coming from a place of persecution to seek the freedom that America (and quietly, Canada too) offers. Such people are functionally (as opposed to politically) conservative, because being a settler in a harsh environment like North America (sans air conditioning, remember) means that you tend to be risk-averse to a considerable extent. The one risk the settler takes is immigration to the new land; and considering that there wasn’t welfare and the welfare state until post-WWII, a settler had to sink or swim on their own. So a settler does and uses what works, doesn’t take a lot of risks, and works so hard, they don’t have time for idle speculation (“The Devil makes work of idle hands”). As a result, given the vagaries and intense difficulties of being a settler/migrant, they tend to be intensely religious, and thus somewhat conservative in their world-view. In Europe and Asia, the land had been settled for millennia, so the need for a settler mentality wasn’t necessary.
        We know what gifted people are like. They are the opposite of the settler mentality. They are unconventional thinkers, and ‘actors’ (the sociological type, not the theatre type). They engage in ‘idle speculation’; they don’t want to settle the land, or work it, they want to learn, and explore the universe, the world around them. In short, they’re thinkers and dreamers, not so much doers. That makes them a liability to a person with a settler mentality. Considering that if you don’t bring the crops in, don’t bring the herds into the barns for winter, you could starve and die, dreaming, speculating, exploring, experimenting and learning (beyond the minimums needed to keep society functional) is anathema, not to be trusted — because if everyone was a dreamer, who would bring the crops in, bring the herds into the barns for winter, do the chores?
        Even in modern-day North America (moreso in the USA, less so because of the Francophone influence in Canada), that settler mentality, so much a part of American and Canadian folklore (Les voyageurs; immigrant settlers in the Canadian prairies, etc., vs. Cowboys, homesteaders, ranchers, prairie farmers, and of course, the ultimate settlers, the Puritans on the Mayflower), that the culture has a strong natural prejudice against those who can’t do, but only think. It’s part of the culture, and so it’s central to the stories North Americans tell themselves and each other, and it’s a story, despite all the excellent science technology, engineering and maths that America does, despite the fact that the USA is the #1 winner of Nobel Prizes, that has no real “home” for the gifted, unless they can ‘do’ something. That’s why the tech billionaire is valued, but the techie who actually did the work, isn’t. Athletics has a demonstrable outcome, and it’s pretty easy to understand; quantum mechanics isn’t. Few people understand why scientists do what they do, or even if the work done by dreamers has any actual practical application; again, the settler mentality. But quantum mechanics has led to the development of the quantum computer, which is super-tremendously faster than classical computers, and will soon lead to nuclear fusion, the cleanest, least dangerous, and zero-carbon-footprint miracle energy. But making the connection between decades of basic research that appears, at first face, to have no relevance to anything, is a hard line to connect between that and a later applied outcome that may not appear for years or decades, for many people.

        In short, it’s in the culture, Celi.

        • North America has a very unique culture, some good, some bad, all of it – unique and lucky. It was a land of low-hanging fruit that benefited a handful of European colonists arriving at just the right place and time. Luck, money, and a modicum of physical labour founded America (and that includes Canada too).

          John pointed out the settler mentality, and I agree. There is also the fact that America can afford to be a Disneyland, and have a shallow/stupid/puerile Disneyland mentality. They had the money to make a whole new social system run by money and saccharine optimism. America left behind the grim history of Eurasia along with its kings, popes, emperors, feudal lords and class struggle. Eurasia struggled along with all that, plus war, poverty, imperialism,. revolution, fascism, and communism. In other words, it got reality – and human nature – rammed down its throat. America the rich eternal adolescent vs. Eurasia the wise.

        • “despite all the excellent science technology, engineering and maths that America does, despite the fact that the USA is the #1 winner of Nobel Prizes, that has no real “home” for the gifted, unless they can ‘do’ something. That’s why the tech billionaire is valued, but the techie who actually did the work, isn’t”

          1) It’s not so much “doing something”, but making money out of it.

          2) I suspect a larger proportion of STEMM activity in America is being done by immigrants steeped in excellent pre-secondary education – not to mention the best possible family attitudes.

          3) America does have small enclaves of Gifted people in academia and a shrinking private R&D sector. I envy those children lucky enough to be born into one. OTOH, academia is a ghetto of overwork and underpayment, suiting only those persons with a genuine labour of love.

          4) Many of those above enclaves started out from the Space Race and other legacy Cold War related projects.

          5) The USA of today is not the same USA that put a man on the moon, nor the USA that produced Josiah Willard Gibbs. Then again, the truly horrid 80s and 90s have also passed. There are also “new” technologies such as the Internet that have been a true boon to Gifted people.

    • So are you saying that the “inferior” should be… put out to pasture? Eliminated in some respect? That We should degenerate into a survival of the fittest?

      • Douglas, I am saying nothing of the kind. Citing Darwinism (the idea that organisms change and adapt over time, and that those changes are heritable) is not at all akin to what you seem to think I’m suggesting, which is Social Darwinism ( I don’t think that society should favour the best and brightest at the expense of the less fortunate. Talk about leaping to a conclusion. And this happens far more often than you’d think whenever I bring up Evolution, someone invariably — and wrongly — accuses me of being a Social Darwinist. They are NOT the same thing. Another very good discussion of the idea of Social Darwinism can be found here (
        Frankly, I don’t wish to be put in the position of (a) either having to defend something I never wrote in favour of (or even mentioned), or (b) having to prove why I’m not a Social Darwinist.
        Can you take my word for it, that I reject, whole-heartedly, the principles of Social Darwinism? Or are you going to demand that I trot out my politics (economic libertarianism) and then show why libertarianism is NOT the same as Social Darwinism?
        I’ve been sucked into such an intellectual maelstrom before, and from past experience, it’s me who comes out the worse, because if I start to do either (a) or (b), it gives my opponent the opportunity to go after me hammer-and-tongs in an effort to prove that I do believe something I don’t believe in, and due to their own confirmation bias (in this case, conflating and confusing evolutionary theory with Social Darwinism), will look to “discover” the smallest fibre of “truth” — actually, opinion — as they interpret it, not as I state my actual opinion. So as they say, “I’m not going there” with you on this Douglas. Nor will I honour a demand from you, should you issue it, that I must show why libertarianism is NOT the same as Social Darwinism (
        Should you choose to read the links I provided, they will answer why I am not a Social Darwinist, in any way shape or form. The one thing I will tell you is this: My ethics are guided by Jewish beliefs around Tikkun Olam (Healing the World), Tzedakah (charity), and compassion for the poor. that’s hardly the ethics of a Social Darwinist. In fact, they’re the direct opposite.

          • Hi Douglas; thank you for approaching my comments with an open mind. The story I mentioned, Harrison Bergeron as originally a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut. i’m not aware of it being made into a movie, however. Nonetheless, I will check out the link you provided me. Should prove to be interesting.

      • Just like Gifted people are put out to pasture – ghettoized, marginalized, exploited, separated from each other, forced to fight each other for useless junk – right now in the richest, supposedly most civilized nation on this planet?

        If any ethnic group was treated the same way, in schools, in big business, by the law – won’t the bleeding hearts be crying “genocide” at the top of their lungs?

        • Exactly… the gifted as a minority (and they are both an identifiable minority in theory and sure treated badly like one by folk who don’t like ’em in practice) are the only minority the politically-correct left/liberal progressive crowd ideologically rejects as “having too much” for “social justice” unless, of course, they’re useful for lending “credibility” to the cause.

          • Wow, just wow. Before you get too comfortable pinning “politically-correct left/liberal progressive crowd” theory labels on…

            We took our highly gifted child out of a small-minded, proudly anti-PC, anti-progressive (in practice not theory) conservative brick and mortar school in middle class suburbia Pennsylvania. Teachers /admin were mono-culturally white, mostly evangelical Christian, right wing conservatives. The student body was much more diverse. We had 4 kids in the gifted program and at least 60 kids in the special needs program.
            Gifted testing was strongly discouraged, I had to fight through a lot of personal insults to get it. Surprise! My kid was in the top 1% even though the teacher insisted she knew from 30 years of teaching experience, he wasn’t gifted and I “just wanted to stroke my ego with testing my special little snowflake – all children are gifted.”
            The gifted kids were routinely ignored by teachers. The times they weren’t invisible was when they were expected to be the teacher’s unpaid class aides. This was a school that made a very strong effort to raise the self-esteem of special needs, which is great. Unfortunately, it was at the cost and marginalization of the gifted. Because “they (gifted) didn’t need it, however special needs kids felt frustrated and needed more encouragement and attention to feel better about themselves.”

            I tried over and over to work with the school to get them to provide actual enrichment for these kids, volunteering and giving them resources at little to no cost. The other gifted parents had either given up and were moving or were too cowed by some latent bigotry power played over them. The negative, ignorant, bullying attitude of the school to is still astounding to me to this day. I was told by the principal, in her 40 years of experience, that all gifted children would eventually plateau and the school would not expend any unnecessary resources or time for them.

            Sorry too mentally tired to try to develop a better discussion for this forum.
            Currently my child is accelerated 2 grades and is a MUCH happier, actually learning honor student in public cyber-school taking outside enrichment classes to his hearts content.

            Thank you so much Celi, I appreciate reading your work. Love the cutting the poppies analogy!

  4. Katy and Douglas,

    This came to mind as we are discussing the academic awards:

    Yesterday, I was purging through some of my decades-old school papers my mother had saved. I found a journal or scrapbook I had kept of my elementary years and it was really just a listing of all the school contests I had entered and awards I received–cooking contests, Easter Egg decorating contests, bookmark contest, poetry contest, elocution contest, songwriting contest, as well as many academic awards. I remember being driven to enter every competition, and some I won and some I lost, but I don’t remember ever being discouraged.

    This may be due to the fact that schools back then had time to offer these many school-wide contests to all students, and all students had a chance to shine in an area that they could excel. I probably didn’t get discouraged because I knew there was always another opportunity to excel or get recognition. Schools today are forced to focus only on academics which is where most people assume gifted children will excel–that’s not always the case for 2E kids though.

    Some children will never excel in academics, for example, if they are a solid 90% B student, but if they are verbally advanced, an elocution/speech contest would help them find an opportunity to excel. If only our schools today could stop giving so many standardized tests on academics alone and provide all students the opportunity to use their talents to shine.

    For me, the many opportunities to enter a contest and to shine taught me persistence, taught me how to lose, but also how to keep trying. Our kids today see that you are either smart or you are a failure–there is no in between.

    I just had to share this as I was thinking of both sides of this conversation.

    • I agree and think this is very well said. I remember many types of contests and such when I was a kid in school. We had chances for every type of talent, gift, student level, etc to participate and excel. I wasn’t discouraged when I lost. I was often given ideas for the next time around. I never thought about it that way. Very good food for thought. I don’t agree with keeping a child out or not giving a child the award if they met the qualifications for the award, but maybe it’s more of a “do we really need this in school” or “do we need to do it this way” that should be looked at in the education sector.

  5. Too many teachers kids or favourite kids due to parents involvement at schools. This leads to them receiving all the attention and awards. It is rare to find a true teacher in private schools. The 2e kids are often destroyed emotionally by this especially when they are sticklers for fairness. I have seen them completely give up and often become depressed to the point of requiring medication.
    How does the world change the attitude of schooling and enforce the realisation and responsibility of the teachers. They have the biggest influence of kids lives. It is one of the most important jobs in the world.

    • Trish,

      From a former public school teacher, I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of the job. Teaching is not just about filling children up with knowledge, skills and ideas, it is also about nurturing and supporting the emotional and social skills of all children. The latter is rarely a topic in teacher education programs. It takes a rare person to knowingly go into teaching with the understanding that it is a low-paying job (with many classroom expenses coming out of your personal bank account), it will be stressful with little support from parents and the administration, but you will still need to have the energy to invest in your students emotionally and socially. I often felt like it was a volunteer position.

      I’m glad you brought up 2E children. They are the ones more likely to be the underdogs for many reasons. And yes, you are right, they do give up and may suffer more serious psychological problems.

      The only way we can change the world is to be brave enough to talk about giftedness and advocate for all gifted children. The more voices we have, the better our message will be. There will be pushback and people who will refuse to believe that gifted children are nothing more than privileged kids with pushy parents. It won’t be easy, but the lives of gifted children really need to be understood.

      Thank you Trish for leaving your thoughts and concerns!

  6. Last year the teacher gave a weekly award for most pages/minutes read. After many weeks of my daughter winning by a long shot, the award was changed to some nebulous “greatest effort.” I then watched my poor daughter go from a love of reading for its own sake to a crazed drive to double her already lengthy reading time. She even admitted to trying to complete other things over the weekend and save up her reading for the week nights when it “counted.” I tried to explain to her that it didn’t matter how many thousands of minutes she read–the award was going to go to someone the teacher thought needed “encouragement.” I tried to emphasize how much pleasure reading brought her–but she was so determined to get that award again. At that age, they still think the world is fair. Same teacher gave out “end of the year awards.” My daughter got a writing award for “improvement”–but the math award didn’t go to my daughter or the other top math student. Meanwhile my dd’s “improvement ” in writing mainly came down to discussions with me. I say this as an educator–some teachers are rewarding the growth they believe they facilitated. If a child is already gifted, the average teacher can’t point to the “value-added.” Fortunately my dd’s teacher this year is a truly gifted educator who has checked his ego at the door. He helps where he can or gets out of the way…otherwise we’d be homeschooling her with her little brother.

    • Hi Candace,

      As an educator, you made a compelling statement: “I say this as an educator–some teachers are rewarding the growth they believe they facilitated. If a child is already gifted, the average teacher can’t point to the “value-added.”” This, to me, is an example of the underdog issue. We all love to see the underdog win and especially if we had something to do with it.

      Awards at school are so difficult to implement fairly and the pendulum swings back and forth, and side to side, when it comes to how to reward students for their performance and effort. But to offer an award with one goal–such as best math student–and give it to the student who put in the best effort to improve in math causes confusion and hurt feelings. It does take a special teacher to make sure each student is supported, nurtured and rewarded in a fair and diplomatic way!

      Candace, thank you so much for sharing your experience with the underdog issue, especially as an educator. I especially appreciate your insight about the rewarding of student growth teachers feel they facilitated–that is something I had not considered, but I do agree. Thanks again, Candace!

  7. I agree wholeheartedly with this article and my experience with both of my kids (ages 9 and 12) is that every time a teacher refuses to meet their academic needs and pushes back at me and won’t acknowledge their high abilities I feel like they are denying a major part of the child. It can’t be a nice environment for a child to spend time with someone who doesn’t really, truly know them. The giftedness also comes along with a high emotional and mental sensitivity and the environment at school can be harsh when the adult responsible for teaching them doesn’t even know about these traits.

    • Hi Grace,

      What you said here– “I feel like they are denying a major part of the child.”–is so important. Our gifted children, in so many ways, find that there are negative attitudes and actions towards their intelligence, and it is like you said, telling our kids that a part of them which they have no control over is unacceptable. That is why underachievement, dropping out, depression, PTSD and suicide is such a concern for parents of gifted children.

      Grace, we all need to keep talking about the needs and misunderstandings of gifted children. Advocacy is the only way we can start to change things for the better for our gifted children.

      Thank you, Grace, for leaving your thoughts! <3

    • Yes, they are (and strangely ignorant of Abraham Maslow, whom they probably revere) denying a major part of your child: “Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used… Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is necessary for growth. The unused skill or capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy or disappear, thus diminishing the person.” –Maslow

  8. My daughter is not yet old enough to experience it, but I sure have, and so did my father (he’s a “Grandpoppy.”) When he attended boarding school in England in the 1940’s, the headmaster didn’t even make an attempt to hide from him the fact that, despite getting top marks in math every single year, he would not be graduating with the math award. It would go to another fellow instead who they said, “needed encouragement.” In high school, I lived and breathed drama, was in every school play, did extra-curricular scene study classes, community theatre every summer, carried my Ute Hagen book with me everywhere, got marks in the high 90’s in drama, and everyone knew I would pursue it in university. But the high school drama award went to a girl who had only choreographed one show and had a bit part in another. My feelings were so hurt. I figured the teacher must have had a personal dislike towards me to do something like that. It felt awful, especially considering I’d already endured and overcome so much bullying in primary school. Just when I finally grew to feel some sense of security in my identity, it was a painful KICK out the school door. My mentally abusive, non-poppy boyfriend enjoyed the fact that it brought me down a peg, too. I went away to university and dropped out within the first two months. Self doubting. Zero self-esteem. A wreck. Ended up in therapy. The following year was a slow, arduous climb out of that hole. So, yes. I guess you could say I was an underdog. And no, I doubt if anyone would have guessed. A girl who can get up in front of crowds and perform with gusto…how insecure could she possibly be?

    • Susanne,

      I am so sorry. As heartbreaking as your story is, it sadly describes exactly how it feels to work hard and deserve an award, only to have it given away to someone who was deemed as in more need of that boost than you.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experience with being pushed into being an underdog. All children and adults are in need of encouragement and positive feedback no matter how advantaged we may seem to be.

      Thank you, Susanne <3

  9. My frustration comes with the perception the world has of gifted kids. If your child carries that title then they must know it all or get it all on the first shot. If that child dares need a few extra minutes, have some questions, or have a tough time with any subject or idea, then eyebrows go up and people think, “so, they aren’t really gifted after all” as if gifted means knows everything from birth and doesn’t truly need an education.

    • Yes, Katy, yes!

      I wrote a post about that because I’ve seen that, too. The post is Gifted Children: Mistaken Expectations.

      Becoming an underdog and being expected to be perfect comes from the same wrong assumption about gifted children and gifted adults: they are perfect in every way. But, gifted people are not superhuman.

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Katy! <3

  10. I can certainly see your point and I think Aaron being asked to sit out the competition to permit someone else to win was not fair to him at all. I would like, however, to play Devil’s Advocate and ask, if Aaron and Ruth received the continual recognition that they deserved would that not be a discouragement to their classmates? If I was in their classes and I saw these two winning award after award I would either think, “Teacher’s Pet” or “Why Bother?”

    I am not saying that what their teachers did was right but it’s easy to demand recognition for Aaron and Ruth and yet not explore the impact how such spotlighting might impact the rest of the class.

    The “Teacher’s Pet” response would, to my mind, speak of jealousy which you have addressed in various posts before. So then we come to the “Why Bother?” response. To not acknowledge that continuing recognizing top performers and possibly even holding them up as models to shoot for could have a detrimental impact on the boy or girl who tries their very best but is passed over because Aaron or Ruth yet again excelled. It’s easy to say that Aaron and Ruth need the recognition but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum and unless it’s a group effort recognizing one means someone else is not recognized.

    I went to school with a girl who knew the answer to the teacher’s every question. I don’t know if she was gifted or not but the teacher started to say “Who can tell me” and call on students directly. The girl complained but the teacher’s response was they did not want her doing the work for her classmates. A wrong answer was still an answer and would enable the teacher to assist that person.

    While I can completely agree that Aaron and Ruth’s treatment were unfair, I cannot agree that support them at the expense of an entire class would be better.

    • Douglas,

      You are right to play Devil’s Advocate because this is a tricky situation–definitely not black or white. You are absolutely right that one child winning all the awards can discourage the rest of the class. And we all have to teach our kids that life is not always fair.

      I think an empathetic and caring teacher or mentor could find a way to make such a situation more diplomatic and less hurtful. And I don’t think that it is an overly-prevalent problem, but it can be a problem just the same. The giving out of awards or choosing who gets the recognition is really a symptom of a deeper issue: that gifted, highly-intelligent people may never be seen as an underdog. They may never be seen as someone who needs support or encouragement, or someone who really can’t take the disappointment on the chin because they are so smart and mature.

      My youngest was like the girl you went to school with. Every year through elementary and middle school, he would often hear the familiar statement from every teacher: “Does anyone know the answer besides Tom?” (not his real name)

      Thanks again Douglas for extending the conversation and making us look deeper at the issues.

      • “You are absolutely right that one child winning all the awards can discourage the rest of the class. And we all have to teach our kids that life is not always fair.”

        This is an issue I have with the scenario. If you set up a contest, award system, whatever, and set the parameters for how to obtain the prize/goal, then it shouldn’t matter who wins. If you have a child that accomplishes the goal each time you have a few choices. You give the child what they earned (because, in the real world, that’s how it usually works) or you stop having these contest type situations.

        If I am sellling cars and work on commission, I don’t sell 10 cars this month and then, next month, sell 10 more only to be told, “you know, you got the biggest commission check last month, this month we are giving to Harry who only sold 5 cars because we want to motivate him”. No, Harry can step up, he can find a new job, or he can be happy with the commission check he gets. Why would schools teach a different way just because a child seems to win more often than others? It’s not fair to the child that actually does the work/requirements to meet the parameters set. We yell “it’s not fair” when someone doesn’t win but don’t yell “it’s not fair” if someone does and is overlooked? (not us on this page, meaning society as a whole)

        If you win, you win. If you don’t, you don’t. Life isn’t fair. There will ALWAYS be someone better than you in any given field. So, you choose. Step up your game, find another field where you excel and can reach that goal, or be happy where you are at. Giving you something you don’t earn when someone else did earn it is wrong. I have watched that happen in our family before and it’s hurtful to the person who worked hard and honestly achieved the goal.

        • Katy,

          Yes, I agree with you. If my child deserves to win the Spelling Bee every year, then he wins the Spelling Bee every year. And that is the way it works in the real world, too. You are right, “If you win, you win.” And there will be children and adults who are hurt or discouraged. And “Giving you something you don’t earn when someone else did earn it is wrong” promotes a false sense of confidence. It is deciding who gets hurt and discouraged that is sticky, especially when it is children in consideration. This is where diplomacy, fairness and empathy is needed. I see both sides though.

          I admit, it is such a complicated issue, but I find that our gifted children do become the ones who lose most often–they’re the underdogs. But like so many things in life, despite the rules, sometimes concessions need to be made and lessons learned. I’m a centrist by nature and feel there are instances where we should sometimes share the glory and share the discouragement and pain. But, gifted children do seem to be the ones who have much more than their share of experiencing the discouragement!

          I see both sides and personally, I’m tired of seeing my child being the one who “needs to understand” that he didn’t get chosen because someone else wasn’t the best, but was in more need of getting chosen.

          Katy, thanks for pointing out some important points. I don’t have all the answers, especially not for this issue, so I think we all benefit from hearing everyone’s ideas and opinions! Thank you!

        • “Step up their game? Would you please explain how a non-gifted child can “step up their game” to be academically with a gifted child.

          This is the type of argument that makes me want to not care about gifted children. It’s the same as saying: my child is better and more valuable because of their giftedness and therefore non-gifted children’s self-esteem and self-worth must take a back seat to the emotional needs to the “gifted”.

          As I stated in my original post, it was wrong for Aaron’s teacher to tell him to not compete because he was winning the award too often. It was wrong for Ruth to be treated the way she was. At the same time if I’m in their class why should I work as hard as I can and never “step up my game” to Aaron and Ruth’s level?

          in my original post I specified two responses. The “Teacher’s Pet” likely comes form jealousy. The other though is “Why Bother” and this is where a teacher can have an impact. I am not advocating that the Aaron’s and Ruth’s of the world be sidelined. But I’m saying that to give them the recognition that hey crave to the exclusion of others because they are “gifted” and thus somehow more valuable, is wrong.

          Yes a sales man can “step up their game” or perhaps find a more promising career. But to ask a child to “step up their game” and be as “gifted” as their gifted classmate is unrealistic and could be psychologically damaging. Given your remarks though I can’t help but think that wouldn’t matter as long as the gifted student got their award.

          • I said more than step up their game. That is not the only option. Teachers can set up scenarios that allow all students to shine. A child can use this as motivation to step up their game. A parent can help a child find an area they excel in apart from those few items. The list goes on. Don’t stop caring due to 4 words from my post. There were other words that gave other options.

          • And know, I am coming from this as a Mom of a child who is gifted and as a Mom of a child that rarely wins anything and watches his brother have a much easier time in life with so many things. So I have the kid that has to lose often and find his niche. Don’t assume like you did in your last part. You don’t know our life circumstances.

          • Don’t penalize the gifted kids for who they are as “fairness”… really, things like this are one of the reasons for grade-skipping and tracked education– being with mental age peers (and educated appropriately according to mental age) is how education’s supposed to work for everybody, when you get right down to it.

    • I think there is a big difference between making room for all kids to participate in a classroom versus changing the rules for an academic contest or asking a child to sit out. We don’t see this in other competitive arenas, just academic contests. And that is why these kids can be seen by others as “always winning” but see themselves as underdogs–the rules only change for the games they are equipped to play. I am not a fan of awards that are just related to regular classroom work–because we should be trying to create communities in the classroom and these extrinsic motivators usually strip away intrinsic motivation. There are better ways to recognize the talents students bring to the classroom community, whether those talents are academic or otherwise. Spelling Bees, Math Competitions, scholarship awards, science fairs, etc., are different should be like sporting competitions or theater tryouts or first chair in the orchestra…may the best student win. That may mean some kids will win every year. Just like the same kids are always scoring the goals or getting the lead in the play.

    • While less important in elementary school, the instinct to give motivational awards to students who tried hard while ignoring gifted students’ efforts and achievements has real consequences when they get to high school and begin applying to college. You can see this most clearly in the scores for the writing section on the ACT. The longer your essay, the better your score. Period. It’s a subconscious bias, but it has been proven to be true ever since the writing section was implemented. A student with large handwriting can write an exact copy of the essay of a student with tiny handwriting. The large handwriting essay takes up two pages. The small handwriting takes a page or less. Guess who gets the better score? The student who “wrote two pages.”

      Secondly, honors and awards are an important part of college applications, particularly to the more highly-selective schools. A gifted child who has not received any awards because she was eligible for too many has very little to show for her application to Harvard. I’m working with a student right now who was given only an “Honorary Mention” in her school’s creative writing contest because her work so far excelled standard high-school-level fiction writing that she would have otherwise won all the awards, which wouldn’t be fair to the other students, who [ALSO] worked very hard. However, the colleges reviewing her applications only see “Honorary Mention” not “Blew everyone else out of the water.” So how are they going to evaluate her achievement? They’re not going to be impressed, I can assure you. Admissions committee expect to see very high levels of achievement from gifted students. If they don’t see those awards, the gifted student is penalized in her application process. One might argue she is yet again penalized, since she was already penalized by not be awarded a prize she had clearly earned.

      • I think if she was excluded from receiving an award because she was gifted is wrong.

        Your arguments don’t move me to support the idea that every gifted student always getting the award is a good thing. In my initial response I pointe doubt two possibilities. I will set aside the one coming from jealousy and focus instead on the “why bother” aspect.

        If I am in a class with a gifted student who always outshine everyone else what’s my motivation for even trying? Is this the fault of the gifted student? No. It’s the fault of how the award requirements are structured. But I’ve been told to “step up my game” or that it’s a Darwinian issue and that people only are interested in the best of the best. I will never support the notion of excluding someone form an award because they win to many. I think awards should be geared to be more inclusive. I also believe that having a gifted individual always winning can be detrimental to their classmates. That’s not the fault of the gifted student, nor the fault of the non-gifted students. It’s the fault of the criteria required to win the awrd.

        This discussion has made me really consider if it wouldn’t be easier to just stop trying to understand the difficulties that gifted people face and hold onto my old beliefs that gifted had it made.

        • I think you are missing the many ways in which neurotypical individuals win all the time. I agree that a lot of these class/school awards are nonsense, highly subjective, and not fulfilling the purpose the educators intend. Effort should be reinforced but not with a printed certificate. However, when it comes to academic tournaments, especially national ones, it makes no sense to ask gifted kids to bow out. Imagine a gifted kid who has trouble (and I am about to list things that are not across the board for gifted kids but certainly do seem to pop up at the very highest end of the IQ spectrum) making friends (not invited to parties, no one to play with at recess), maybe has executive function issues (homework doesn’t get done, or isn’t turned in when actually done), hearing incorrect or overly simplistic information (and has learned that correcting or adding the information is not welcome)…this student every day goes to a school and is told “you are too intense,” “slow down,” “you are sloppy and forgetful,” “no one wants to sit with you,” “stop daydreaming,”…ONE day a year, there is a contest that plays to that student’s strengths…but that kid won it the last few years and we “need to give everyone else a chance.” Plus, if is a larger competition, maybe that kid got to states last year and this was the year he was going to get to nationals…or maybe the other kid who “wins” instead is creamed at the next level. None of this helps anyone. From the perspective of a gifted kid, this is just another example of how neurotypical kids get to win at everything in life.

        • “If I am in a class with a gifted student who always outshine everyone else what’s my motivation for even trying?”

          I hear what you’re saying and I agree. I work with students who are twice-exceptional or otherwise struggling in school and it’s very demoralizing to know that they don’t have a chance at winning a class award. If anything your argument serves to highlight why ability grouping is so important. A gifted child who has been mainstreamed into a classroom of mostly typical learners is not benefiting by being there. The other students are not benefiting by the gifted student being there. Ability grouping guarantees that students will be able to fairly compete for class awards, etc. So why is it such anathema?

    • Hmm. It’s tricky, I guess, like most things in life. Equity vs equality is tricky, and I can see how, when there are competitive awards involved, there is a blurring.

      And yet.. and yet. I don’t see the same ‘leveling of the playing field’ happening in sport, or music performance, despite those being two very important, popular and well regarded areas of life. Why is that?

      Surely there are other approaches to help maintain motivation and recognition. An easy one is to expand the “winners” to the “top three performers”, or recognition for all who “Achieved over 95% result.”
      That avoids the trap of “everyone gets a prize”, while also avoiding the destructive singling out approach.

      Seems like it doesn’t have to be a choice of “Who Gets To Be Discouraged.”

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