The Curse of ‘Gifted’.

Since I have some super-smart friends, and they have some super-smart kids, and I, myself, have been known from time to time as super-smart, I’m writing about it.

Being labeled ‘gifted’ can have huge ramifications for a student, largely because of other peoples’ assumptions and misconceptions. The label can give a kid a lot of confidence, but it can also be a burden.

Some people seem to feel that if a child is gifted, it means he will act exactly like an adult, only shorter. A gifted child is still a child, and will respond as a child to different situations. Just because he is far above grade level in reading or math does not mean that he is emotionally above grade-level. Adults (even educators) who cry, “But you’re gifted!” as a protest to age-appropriate reactions are cheating the child of his chance to be just that-a child.

Some people expect a gifted person to be exceptional in all subjects. That’s not the case. I got slapped with the label, in terms of language development. Yet I had to go back to high school for math 11, because it took four tries to pass it. I could legally buy beer, but I was too busy studying for math tests. Kids who have that kind of “You’re not living up to yourself” pressure on them will really struggle with self-esteem, because “their best isn’t good enough”.

Sometimes there are backlashes in the classroom as well. If a gifted child is forced to learn only at the speed of his peers, he’ll get bored. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does a kid who wants to be occupied, find things to occupy him. That causes problems when he disturbs or distracts other kids. And with 30 kids in the room, and the teacher trying to accommodate all other learning speeds and styles, if that teacher doesn’t have a contingency plan in place with the gifted kid, hijinks ensue.

Kids who get these labels often find their own coping strategies to get through their schooling. The label shows, and they’re aware of it. The label can cause grief through ostracizing and bullying. For some reason, however, some parents still want their children labeled this way.

I have taught those children, and grown up with them. Their lives are a misery. I call their parents Label Chasers, because they will hound and harass their children and their childrens’ teachers ad nauseum just to get that label. Some Label Chasers will go so far as to encourage their children to cheat to get into Honours classes. And when the kids can’t handle the pressure, it’s a huge time-sucking blowup for the teacher and the administration.

The children of Label Chasers can suffer even after their education is finished. After a childhood and adolescence being pressured to do more than they are actually capable of, they often find the relief of not being pressured too seductive. So they drift, working joe jobs, unconsciously rejecting the years of “FasterBetter,GetTheLabelOrYou’reNothing” conditioning. And that’s really not fair.

In an ideal education system, there would be no labels, but accommodation for every student, of every ability, with the resources, training, and staffing to help every kid understand that who they are is okay, and no better or worse than any other person.

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