A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eminence is a Result, Not a Goal

‎"outstanding achievement or eminence ought to be the chief goal of gifted education."
From Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, et al.

In the world of education, there is little that is more tragic, in my opinion, than seeing a child who has great aptitude turn into one who shuns opportunity and challenge because expectation has created a burden that is too heavy for them to bear. And I reject this goal for gifted education outright - because "outstanding achievement or eminence" is a burden that is too heavy for most of our gifted children.

Someone defined eminence as the child of passion and intelligence. It seems to be a efficacious goal for a group of children who, by anyone's definition, possess high intelligence and quite often a great deal of passion to go with it. 

But what about the child who can't limit her interests enough to find a place of mastery? What about the child who is fascinated by a subject about which nobody else cares? Or the child who doesn't desire a place in the limelight, but simply wants to do interesting stuff and be left alone? 

What does that pressure do to a child who begins to think all he is valued for is his brain?

And, how many people truly become eminent? If we send children through school with the full understanding that we expect them to be like Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Nikola Tesla, or any number of names that go down in history - what happens to those children once they realize how unlikely it is that they will be? Even for those who take all the chances, who make all the right moves - maybe they won't be in the right place at the right time when the light bulb turns on, or the apple falls from the tree. Maybe they go through life always feeling like a failure because they haven't achieved The Thing they were told was their goal, their destiny. What could have been a full and meaningful life turns into a wasteland.

Once you put that level of expectation on a person, can you take it back? What happens when the glass shatters and a fragile ego, built upon expectations put upon them from misguided parents, teachers, or friends, can't be put back together? 

I know a lot of truly gifted people (some of them quite highly gifted) - and I can count on one hand how many of them could be considered eminent. In fact, make that one finger - and I'm being generous with my allocation of "friends" at this point just to get that one. There are some who have localized eminence or a reputation of expertise amongst their friends and colleagues. They are well-respected. But eminence? No. But you know what - they are all doing things that they love. They are contributing to their world in unique and wonderful ways - sometimes through their chosen career, and sometimes through other activities. And, for the most part, they are happy. Are they not gifted because they haven't achieved the highest status in the land in their area? 

We have GOT to get away from making achievement our goal for gifted children. We need to engage teachers and administrators in learning about giftedness so they can recognize it and know what to do with it when they find it. We've got to start supporting our gifted children, not adding demands to their already intense lives. We give them the tools they need to create their niche, their space in which they can feel accomplished and find contentment and joy. If their passions lead to eminence - fantastic! We will support them the whole way there and wherever they go from there. But if it leads to an underground bunker/home/workshop where he can build his inventions and hold a sale every year on his birthday - if that's where his passions take him, what's wrong with that? 


  1. The culture is filled with commercial scavengers right now --- skim the ones who function and achieve already at a high level and trash the rest. No one cares about potential any more, just exploitation, skim those which can immediately be exploited with minimum investment. Development of the whole person (where the strength of giftedness really lies) is the individual's problem.

  2. I like this:

    'We've got to start supporting our gifted children, not adding demands to their already intense lives."

    My 2E kindergartened does not have the energy to fill out homework sheets after a long day at school, especially since he mastered the skills in preschool.

    I plan to remove his homework requirement for next year in his IEP. I am counting the days until I can provide enough structure for homeschool.

  3. This is just so brilliant!! Thank you!

  4. Yes eminence is the result but you must have educators of the gifted be able to recognize the potential and understand that there are pivotal points in each field like mathematics, history, science where the child's spark is poised to burst into flame.
    From the paper "Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science" :" how the person demonstrating talent is instructed, guided, and encouraged—a process too often left to chance rather than to strategic and targeted societal effort This process also involves recognizing that domains of talent have different developmental trajectories and that transitions from one stage to another are influenced by effort;opportunity; and instruction in content, technical, and psychosocial"
    In other words, each field has critical points where you can fan the flame or blow it out. By educating the educators(societal effort) to understand the psycho-social needs along with a best practices knowledge base coupled with encouragement that is unique to each field the potential need not die an early death.
    <"But what about the child who can't limit her interests enough to find a place of mastery?" >and what if because the educator understands that various fields have unique trigger points for flaming the spark that a child may discover where their passions truly lie instead of leaving it up to chance or graduating from college without a clue as to a career.
    Since eminence is not earned until a person is in mid-life, unless you are an athlete, it is probable that most educators will not see the fruit of their efforts in ensuring that the every child has had open-ended opportunities and a solid path in place across all fields. What they will know is that because of them the sparks were fanned. They will know that they were not a hindrance to the child's potential through a lock-step approach to education. They will know that they guided and facilitated these children, with known best practices which allowed these children, these tall poppies, to continue growing and reaching for their own goals unfettered by educators that did not believe in them nor understood them..
    <"If we send children through school with the full understanding that we expect them to be like Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Nikola Tesla, or any number of names that go down in history - what happens to those children once they realize how unlikely it is that they will be?" >The key word is "we". In all my years in gifted education the most pressure "to be something” comes from the parents. How often I hear students say "my parents will be so disappointed as they had such high hopes for me?" "Or “my mother wants me to be a doctor and I want to build cars" .How many parents pour considerable amounts of money into a child's early talents only to have that child feel tremendous guilt when they are no longer interested in that area? There is no reason to believe, that the goal of an educator in providing an education that sets a child up for success, will also place a burden on that child of expected eminence. I think every educator deep down wants to believe that they were the ones who made a difference in a child's life and provided them with the scaffolding to stay motivated and excited about learning- true grit. All teachers know that children, gifted or not, have the potential to do great things. Will they be eminent? Probably not as very few people reach that level. Will the gifted child become eminent? Most likely not, if history is any indication. But if eminence is a goal then they know they had best do their job well. When I was a child, much of our reading in school were biographies of people who made a difference in the world. Were we led to believe that this was our destiny? No, but we were given permission and hope, by lofty examples, to reach for the stars.

  5. Sorry to be totally unrelated but after a day battling a school for my moderately gifted, hugely OE strong willed 5 year old I was feeling shattered and very alone. I have spent the last few hours pouring over your blog. The tears are stinging my eyes, not because I am sad but because someone else gets it. I am not alone in my exhaustion, frustration etc of my beautiful boy. So thank you from this Aussie mum who will be checking in regularly.

    1. Awww, Karen... it's so important to find your "tribe" - those people who get it. It's hard work being a parent of these kids, and others just don't see why your kid is so different (must be bad parenting, right? - sigh!).

      You might want to also check out: http://giftedparentingsupport.blogspot.com/2012/05/emotional-intensity-and.html and http://laughingatchaos.com/

      Glad you have found your tribe! We're here for you when you need us! :)

  6. Thank you so much! I shall remind myself when feeling alone that I have a tribe all to myself (well kind of). K