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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Still a Square Peg and a Round Hole

There's been a lot of discussion recently about how to define giftedness. It's an important discussion to have, because in order to effectively advocate, inform, and educate for and to gifted children, we need to first have common language so that we are speaking with a unified voice. We will be better heard if we are speaking together. So this is an important challenge for us to face.

There seems to be a divide on the issue, however, between educators and parents. Having said this, it's no surprise that educators seem to be more interested in a child's education and performance, and parents are concerned about whole-child issues. It's our job(s). And we're pretty good at them.

I wonder sometimes, as we are discussing back-and-forth the value of the whole-child approach to gifted education - do these same conversations happen in regular education? Or other types of special education? I know that every parent is interested in whole-child, but do they expect educators to nurture the whole child in the same way parents of gifted children expect it?

Maybe it boils down to the level of intensity in gifted children - my kidlet, for example, cannot be understood (nor taught) without having some basic understanding of asynchrony and the social-emotional effects of giftedness. And, as we learned at our last school, bad things happen when those aspects of his personality are not carefully nurtured in addition to the intellectual side. As his parent, I recognize this and would love it if a school (anyone? anywhere? well, anywhere near us?) could take on the challenge of supporting him emotionally and cognitively. School (traditional and non-traditional) seems to be able to handle one, but not both extremes.

How does he fit into the current debate on the definition of giftedness?

He won't perform. Recently, a friend who had met him for the first time got a glimpse of his mathematical brilliance, and then set about trying to elicit a little tap-dance of mathematical problems from him. The kidlet just glared at him and walked away - sigh, another lecture from mom on being polite. It's not about stricter discipline, or him learning who is in charge, etc. He's not a computer, he's a child. Yeah, he's pretty amazing at that stuff, but performance anxiety makes his brain shut down when he feels like he's on the spot. He's really not trying to be stubborn - he's panicking. This goes for regular schoolwork, too (I've learned this as we are homeschooling - he needs lots of opportunities to go outside and walk around to process in between subjects, or even when he comes up against a problem that is hard - he will come back in ready to tackle it again).

His sensory and emotional sensitivities ratchet up very quickly, and learning will not happen in those interludes. Everything stops. You cannot get in his face and try to get him to learn when his brain is in full shut-down procedure. One classroom full of noisy kids is enough to keep him on shut-down all day; an assembly with the whole school sends him into a rocking fetal position and tears. And you expect him to come back to class, sit quietly at his desk, and write for 30 minutes? Sorry - complete mental shut down at the same time the body is revved up. That is not a recipe for self-control. Nor "performance" on any measure or standard.

Any discussion of "talent development" has to recognize that performance cannot be standardized for all gifted - and especially 2e - kids. When we talk about potential, we have to understand that how we determine potential for one child isn't going to work for determining the potential for another - it's so subjective I don't know if there is any way to make it "fair" for all children. So I get scared as we talk about "potential" and "talent development" - because I see my kidlet falling through the cracks. If we don't want to lose our most gifted children, we've got to give them the freedom to express their giftedness in ways that are appropriate to who they are. Because, they are children and should be valued for all of what they bring to the world, not just their brains.

I realize that educators are in charge of the brain part, but I don't think we can be quite so dualistic about it. No child should be seen as just a brain, but our smartest children often get treated like that's all there is to them. They are complicated. They are intense. They are whole persons who care, who love, who dream, who imagine, who create... We should treat them that way.


"Stop Short-changing Our Most Gifted Students" by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, president, National Association for Gifted Students [sic], article for The Hill

"A Defining Moment" by Jim Delisle (response to NAGC's Bold Step).


  1. I swear I feel like I'm living your life. I so look forward to your blogs, as I don't feel so alone. My daughter is 11 and we had a meltdown at school due to OE. At least the folks at this school try to be understanding, but you can still see they don't really get it.

  2. Exactly. I just don't think schools can do 2e - even if they "get it". They are not set up to deal with a) that end of the bell curve and b) learning difficulties coupled with a gifted mind. It's hard enough at home - virtually impossible at school.

  3. Thanks so much for your blog Mona - I completely agree. This encapsulates perfectly why we've chosen to homeschool. I believe that our daughter's OEs would only have got her into trouble in school. Most teachers wouldn't understand that the 'good' (her potential) comes with the 'bad' (her OEs). I still have a theory that it's the OEs that drive the giftedness, not necessarily the other way around!

    I suspect that many of us with very bright, 2E kids end up homeschooling at some point.

    Our daughter's response to general classrooom hubbub was never going to be conducive with her actually learning anything (or coping for that matter!). Too. much. stimulation.

    So glad we have people like you and others out there blogging. Thanks.

  4. Another fantastic blog Mona where once again you hit the nail on the head.

  5. Between the NAGC statement and the new way more restricted funding is being doled out to the schools, it's pretty clear where this is headed. Children are pretty much treated like a crop. The receive the minimum of what they need. Then the harvester comes along. The "corn" that was harvested is sorted. Corn that happened to come out sweet is put in premium packaging, normal corn in normal packaging, and all the rest in the animal feed bin. The corn that came out as premium didn't come out that way because it raised in a special way. It just happened. By the way, as one sitting in Silicon Valley, I can see this process doesn't just happen with gifted students in school but it also is happening more frequently with gifted adults at companies. Increasingly, more adults are getting tossed into the feed bin, especially gifted adults. If this all seems to be dehumanized, then you have gotten the right impression. What is really happening is derecognition of giftedness as a type of human, as a human minority. Here are some humans who happened to come out in a certain way and we can use them (displayed talent in spite of the education system). And used they are (like a pocket calculator). Sadly the whole child is not being addressed because this is a reflection of what is going on adult culture and it is backwashing down into the schools.

  6. I just love you so much. LOL So well said.