Monday, October 19, 2009

Why the Labels?

And why this one in particular?


It sounds so snobby, so elitist.  Isn't every child "gifted"?  What makes this one so special?

Does any of this ring true?  You may have heard these comments, and you may have thought them yourself.  Of all the labels that we have in our society, in my experience, this is a particularly difficult one for folks to accept.

I have parents on campus come to me all the time, wanting me to affirm that their child really is gifted.  I have many parents who choose never to tell their children that they are "gifted".  I have had many parents ask me not to mention it in the classroom, or share that with their child.

But I refuse this last request.


Unfortunately, in our society, this is the accepted term for children with high intelligence.  While we no longer use the term "retarded" for those on the other side of the spectrum, no new term has been coined for our equally special population.  Until we can come up with something new in order to identify this population group, I will stick with what we have.  While many people dispute who it truly applies to, the majority recognize at least a vague understanding of the meaning behind it.

Why do we need a label?

Identification is the key to change.  In our current achievement and assessment heavy educational climate, those who have been identified are those who receive services.  Those test scores mean something.  They mean your child is entitled to an education that meets their educational needs in the same way that children identified in other ways are entitled to an education that meets their needs.  Those scores, and that label, are your evidence in the battle you fight every day to make sure your child gets what they need!

That label also enables you, and your child, to be an advocate.  In my classroom, we talk about being gifted.  We don't sit around patting ourselves on the back (hello, they're six), but we talk about knowing and accepting both our strengths and our weaknesses.  The kids in my class learn to recognize how they best learn.  They learn to accept the different ways in which others learn.  They celebrate their successes in their stronger areas, and they receive as well as provide encouragement in more challenging areas.  They talk about some of the quirks of being gifted, and we practice how to combat those in daily life.  They leave my classroom knowing how to tell next year's teacher that they are spatial so their desk might be messy, that they need to have structure in their personal routines, that they would like to put concepts to a song, that they need a quiet space to process, that sometimes they get frustrated but they know what to do when it happens. . .  Who else is better equipped to tell those around them about their special and specific needs?

I am going to be brutally honest here.  Very few people are going to advocate for your child.  If you are not advocating for your child, and if you are not teaching your child to speak up for themselves and their needs, no one else will.  And sadly, their needs will not be met. 

It is not worth it to me to try and appear humble, or to avoid stares.  When people ask me what I do, I don't say "Oh, I'm a teacher," or "I teach 1st grade."  I proudly tell people that I teach a self-contained classroom of the profoundly gifted.  When they stare or their mouths drop open and they begin to ask questions, I just as proudly answer them.  I challenge their preconceived ideas about giftedness, I brag about my students (the future of our world) and I push the envelope in order to be a voice for a population that is often battered, bruised and ignored.

You work just as hard parenting the gifted, and you deserve a medal or a badge of honor.  Do not be ashamed!  Your child did not ask to be created this way anymore than a child asked to be dyslexic or physically handicapped.  And you work just as hard at raising you high needs child.

Be proud of the hard work you do every day- and use that pride to speak up for all the rest of the gifted. . .


  1. I think the public receives the discussion of giftedness better from an informed teacher than a parent. It’s great that you are open. Many people have misconceptions; I've heard "easy" or a "prize".

    The social-emotional issues of an EG/PG child are a bigger concern for some families than academics. Their needs are different, but not pathological.

  2. I don't like the term "gifted." I think it contributes to the view that programs for these kids are elitist. But as you point out, it is the accepted term. I use it, and I try to make sure that my students understand what it means and how it affects their life.
    However, I do wonder about your statement, "I brag about my students (the future of our world)." I don't think the research bears out the contention that gifted kids are the ones who grow up to lead the world - Terman's studies, for instance, show great variation in the adult success of his gifted sample, and the eminence literature suggests that a gateway IQ of around 120 (not high enough to qualify as gifted in most programs) is all that is required to achieve greatness in a field. More important, I think that kind of "with great power comes great responsibility" language can be paralyzing to gifted kids, many of whom, as you've pointed out in other entries, already struggle with perfectionism. Pressure to achieve great things, even in the future, can make gifted kids unwilling to make an effort because they don't think their work can ever live up to expectations.
    I enjoy your blog, and I don't mean to be critical. It's just an attitude I see in many parents and teachers that worries me.

  3. So nice to hear someone speak up for gifted children. I'm a parent of a gifted 8 year old son and I do tell people about my child when they ask what grade he's in (he skipped 2nd grade was in a regular 3rd grade class and is now in a self contained gifted class for 3rd and 4th grade).
    Your post was well written and we need more people to make their voices heard to support gifted children and their education. Thanks for the job you do!

  4. I was under the impression that if I I just let my child believe she is highly gifted as the teacher told the students that everything would be okay.

    Nope. My child is PG and doesn't fit in. Oddly some kids start thinking there is something wrong with them or they are less smart because they can't fit in.

    So we now talk about the "why" of the strong feelings. Why someone is driven to work at something for many hours when other kids think it is stupid.

    When we read about someone's life or a character in a book I now ask do you think they are gifted? How do you know?

    It is really important for HG+ kids to know. They are our future, just because there are less of them, they are still our future.

    And some psychologists believe 120 is mildly gifted and different enough from the norm that they do need some subject acceleration. But the thing about 120 kids is that they are usually close enough to the norm in interests that they are still looked up to by peers. That's why maybe they have had different outcomes. But for goodness sake Terman. He is still sited because he was a pioneer, but there is newer research out there by Ruf and Miraca Gross, and others that show a different perspective and different outcomes.

  5. i really enjoyed this post...
    very encouraging..
    I find in circles I roam, that people have a lot of opinions of my children, mostly they are very well liked and enjoyed...
    but, no one EVER asks what they are learning or doing in school... Once at an event someone asked my daughter then just beginning 4th grade, if she liked some little book or other, and her response was that she hadn't heard of it but was very much enjoying the complete unabridged version of Robinson Crusoe, and had loved the Counte of Monte Cristo... had they ever read these? (Sunny faced, so eager to chat about books) there was no reply.. infact No one in THAT crowd ever asked her anything about her learning again...
    What did she take from that...
    what DOES she take from it each time we are with these people? that she is dumb...
    Because she'd never heard of the twaddle they inquired about... because they chat endlessly about themselves and other children but NEVER wish to know about her or her brothers...

    Thank you for encouraging PARENTS to be bold in equipping our children with knowledge of WHO they are, how they've been created, and confidence to be very comfortable in their OWN skin....
    felt like I got a hug :)

  6. My son is aged 6 and his giftedness is the white elephant in the room. No-one likes to talk about it. All parents seem to hear when they talk about their childs development is "my child is better than your child". His infant school is supportive but as my son also has social development needs it's in their interests to stretch his intelligence (he creates chaos when not engaged) yet they prefer not to talk directly about him being gifted.

    I admire your strength to not hide what you do but being a mum in the playground I prefer to concentrate on what works for my son rather than have to deal with any aftershocks from jealous parents (who have no idea of the reality of it all!!!). I agree that a child should know they are gifted but I'm not yet ready to deal with other parent's prejudice.

    One day perhaps. :)


I love to hear your feedback! This website is intended to be a welcoming and safe space for parents and advocates of the gifted. All wholesome and encouraging questions are invited, as well as questions or concerns relating to gifted topics.