Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? In fact…
It turns out that choices lead to habits.
Habits become talents.
Talents are labeled gifts.
You’re not born this way, you get this way.
I count myself as a Seth Godin fan.
In fact, while working on my own book forthcoming from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press, I read a couple of his books to fire myself up. I was a little intimidated to tackle a topic (how to work and homeschool) that no one has really tackled before, but Seth lent me confidence through his words.
I’m afraid that Seth has made a mistake in a recent blog post–reproduced in its entirety above. He has made the all-too-common error of confusing “gifts” with “gifted” and “giftedness.” I’m not even sure it was intentional, as I agree with him on his larger point that persistence, hard work, and passion are bigger predictors for long-term success than perhaps any other variable.
But, when I read his essay, I wanted to shout:
All people have gifts but not all people are gifted.
Alas, it’s a common mistake among people who do not live or work with gifted adults and gifted children to assume that any asserted claim to be “gifted” is a way of saying “I’m better than you” or “I’m superior.”
In fact, many adults–perhaps including Seth himself–struggle with publicly acknowledging their giftedness because they don’t want to appear like they’re saying: “I’m a more worthy human than you are.”
Oh, sure, there are pompous jackasses in the gifted population who like to brag… that’s true of any group of humans.
But most of the time gifted people that I know walk around feeling “different,” “quirky,” and even “uncomfortable”–but not superior or more worthy.
Gifted. It can be an awkward state of being, especially in a world where “normal” is prized. To come out as “gifted” means to embrace the out-of-the-ordinary state of being. Some feel cursed.
That unease is not unfounded. A lot of us gifted people get the message from friends, neighbors, teachers and others that we need to “dial back” any discussion of how we feel/process/think differently pretty early on. There’s a term “cutting down the tall poppies” in some countries to signify “a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticized because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.”
It happens here in the states, too. (We just don’t have an adage for it.)
That’s because most people are uncomfortable with outliers–and gifted people are outliers, especially those with IQs one, two, or more standard deviations from the norm.
But one doesn’t have to know someone’s IQ to sense that they are “gifted.”
I’ve found that you can usually tell just by spending time with them.
They are wired differently. They run differently. They think differently. And not always for the better.
In short, it’s not always “great” to be gifted. For starters, statistically, gifted kids are more apt to suffer the negative effects of being bullied.
However, if we (as a culture) remain willfully ignorant of how they are different–and fail to teach to their differences and nurture their executive skills in appropriate ways (including their capacity for tenacity and persistance) then are we hurting them? Are we hurting ourselves, as a culture?
And what about gifted kids?
Among the best essays that I’ve read on the topic of childhood giftedness is the classic “Is it a Cheetah?” by Stephanie Tolan. The cheetah represents the gifted student. This is among my favorite passages:
Even open and enlightened schools are likely to create an environment that, like the cheetah enclosures in enlightened zoos, allow some moderate running, but no room for the growing cheetah to develop the necessary muscles and stamina to become a 70 mph runner. Children in cages or enclosures, no matter how bright, are unlikely to appear highly gifted; kept from exercising their minds for too long, these children may never be able to reach the level of mental functioning they were designed for.
When we look at the topic of education in America, our gifted kids are currently getting the short end of the proverbial stick. Take for instance the grade level standards. These are typically set for the lower end of the “norm” so as to be passable by the most students. Now imagine being a Kindergarten girl with a 5th grade reading level (because you taught yourself to read at 4–with neither flashcards nor parental pressure to perform) and sitting in a classroom most of the week while the sweet kid next to you struggles with his ABCs. And then there is the high-energy, overexcitable second grade boy who builds brilliant robots and programs his older sister’s computer on the weekends but his inexperienced, overwhelmed teacher–stretched to her limits with an overcrowded classroom–wants to load him up with Ritalin to make him sit still and be quiet because he is distracting the other kids.
Think about that for a minute and you’ll see why there’s been a surge in parents of gifted kids who opt to homeschool.
In a recent CNN blog post, Carolyn Coil busted 10 myths about giftedness in the education world. In the piece, she does a brilliant job of why that phrase “gifted” is slippery. Her article is worth a read, but here’s the takeaway relevant to the mashup of Seth, cheetahs and public education that I’ve created here:
Myth No. 10: All children are gifted.
If all kids are gifted, then there is no need to identify gifted students and no need for any special programs for gifted. I strongly believe that all children have distinctive and unique qualities that make each one valuable. This does not mean, however, that all children are gifted. Being identified as gifted simply means that certain children have needs that are different from most others at their age and grade level. All gifted students need programs and services to ensure their growth rather than the loss of their outstanding abilities.
We really must remove the perception that “giftedness” can be acquired through persistence. And we also have to let loose the notion that “gifted” is just about achievement, too.
Honestly, I think we can have–no, need to have–separate public conversations about gifted v. giftedness and the role of hard work in lifetime achievement. Both merit exploration.
And in his heart I think that was what Seth was driving at with his post. Maybe.
Tell me what you think.
Image source: The cartoon graphic at the top of this post is sourced from a Scholastic.com article, Understanding the Needs of Gifted Kids.
BONUS: Additional responses to Seth’s post from within the gifted homeschooling blogger community:
Gifted and Talented Ireland