Dear Momastery: We Disagree re: “Gifted”

All children have gifts. All children are gifts. But not all kids are gifted.

Quickly sharing my response here to a new post up by Glennon over at Momastery:

All children have gifts. All children ARE gifts. But, no, not all children are gifted.

In the education world, “gifted”–an admittedly unfortunate term meant to denote several levels of intelligence above the norm–signifies real cognitive neurological differences. It is, essentially, the opposite of being developmentally delayed. [ETA: hmmm… Gifted kids can be developmentally delayed. I want a word here that is less offensive than the traditional notion of “retarded.”]

Glennon, while I understand your heart in this, I wonder if you would take such liberties with speech to declare “all children delayed” [or “special needs”]?

Because that would be the same logic–taking a term to define children outside the norm and applying it universally. Moreover, there are many children who are “twice-exceptional” and have special educational challenges that MUST be addressed in order for him or her to succeed in life.

The classic example [stereotype?] is of an autistic child who requires social skills development in order to truly utilize his or her strong, exceptional math skills.

Please don’t make the mistake, in trying to clarify that all children have gifts and are gifts, of further marginalizing the children and families with whom I work. These remarkable humans often suffer bullying and aggression for being “different” and this kind of post only adds fuel to the fire.

You have done such great work, Glennon, in opening hearts and minds to understand marginalized groups. Please don’t go for the easy perspective on this and alienate hearts and minds. If you wish to learn more, I invite you to check out the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) organization as well as Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, the later of which is the group that I volunteer for. [ETA: You might also want to read up on the “tall poppy syndrome” and about the levels of giftedness.]

I am also happy to speak with you, too, as I am currently working on a book (my second book by GHF Press) about the impact of bullying upon the gifted/2E population.

UPDATE: Glennon has responded via the Momastery Facebook page.

UPDATE: Even better than all the responses to Glennon’s posts by parents is this gem by a gifted teenager. If you still don’t “get” the reaction by bloggers, then go read this before you comment here, please.


Do you think we should just change the word “gifted”? Sounds easy, sure. But there’s more to it than that. Look over here
at my other blog for my thoughts on that “solution.”

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41 comments

    • I agree. In all candor, I loathe the word and wish we could rid ourselves of it. But to do that we must help people understand the differences–then and only then can we move on.

  1. Perfect post, Pam! You hit on so many critically important points! Thank You for being such a positive force in the lives and families of our gifted children! You do so much to help our gifted children! Many, many thanks to you!

  2. I actually love Glennon’s post. You all who do the amazing work of serving these kids and families – the truly “gifted” in the educational sense, and the “delayed” – in the educational sense, may just be getting too picky about this one. I think she just means we should look for, see, and value the beauty and the gifts of each and every child. Your specialized academic lens might be missing her more simple, beautiful point.

    • Your remark–“your specialized academic lens”–is exactly the sort of social slight that I’m talking about. It’s a passive-aggressive way of saying “your opinion is to rare to count.” It’s “polite marginalization.”

      And it impacts our kids and families when it becomes the dominant thought.

      Read my post again. Carefully. Especially the first line–which is the bridge between her post and mine.

      I like Glennon. I always have. I still DO. And I usually agree with her. But as this theme of “all kids are gifted” is a recurring one that we all encounter–parents, gifted people, gifted kids. And now it’s come up on a major thought leader’s website. People get excited about and then feel emboldened to keep going with the polite marginalization.

      Spend some time on my website and you’ll see that I was kicked out of a gifted program back when people insisted that one had to be gifted on all fronts. Dialogue on the notion of “asynchrony” brought change that helped pull 2E kids into the gifted world and nurture their skills.

      Words and how we use them matter. Even when we are unaware of the full meaning of the words. [ETA: The impetus for the original post was that her kid didn’t get in the program. That places this whole thing SQUARELY in the context of education, btw, meaning her point was, in fact, about intellectual and academic zones.]

      • I didn’t mean to marginalize. It’s not that your opinion is to (sic) rare to count. It’s that just maybe we are talking about different things here. What about: every child is BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL AND TALENTED. And we need to seek out those “gifts’ – the beauty and wonder and talent in EACH AND EVERY CHILD. If we remove the word “gifted” because it means something very specific from a certain perspective, can we agree?

        • Again, read my first line. And the graphic.

          Because that’s what I said.

          Precisely.

          And then go look at the responses to Momastery’s very fine, heartfelt FB response. There you’ll see where the most popular “liked” responses (as of right now, at least) are those in which people who spoke up were marginalized and condemned by the commenter for articulating finer points on this matter. It’s the sort of shaming that Glennon has argued about coming from her most ardent fans.

          Perhaps then you’ll understand that while we may agree on the first line, we’ve got a much larger problem which Glennon’s initial post only served to feed. Thankfully, she’s trying to pull it back, but it’s a big, nasty fire to which she inadvertantly added fuel.

          I am grateful for the excellent conversations here, Deb, and for your comments. But since we’re in agreement about the gifts that are our children, are you willing now to see that the marginalization is pretty powerful? And painful to some?

    • Deb, the “truly” gifted are gifted in every facet of their lives, not just educational. It is hardly being picky when it feels as though society as a whole devalues and marginalizes our children. Being gifted, much the same as being autistic, spans every aspect of our children’s lives. It is attitudes like yours that strengthen the “better than” and elitist stigma gifted children and their families have to endure. Can you imagine having a child with any type of issue – emotional, educational, physical or social – and NOT being able to ask for help because when you mention your child’s issue, it is seen as bragging, or “picky” like you said? Why wasn’t Glennon’s post title, “Every Child is Humble”? or “Every Child is Polite”? or even “Every Child is Autistic”? Why Gifted?

  3. Every time someone states that all children are gifted it equates the term gifted with special. Saying that all children are gifted actually works against the idea that all children are special. It says that there is something extra special about being gifted – more special than having strengths in other areas. Being gifted isn’t extra special. It is just different.
    http://eclectic-homeschool.com/gifted-isnt-better-its-different/

      • The term gifted is in and of itself elitist to many. It needs to come with the words academically or intellectually in front of it. It needs modifiers and context. Otherwise it implies that other kids are not gifted — and that’s condescending and puts people on the defensive. It is a word with more than one definition, after all.

        • That’s pretty much universally agreed upon, BB.

          But it’s what we inherited. It’s not what we CHOSE. So it can’t be condescension always, although, yes, some people do use it that way. [ETA: There are jackasses in every demographic, unfortunately.]

          If we want to collaborate to fix it–and remove the “elitist” connotations, then we need to come together, understand, and take down the barriers.

          However, like a lot of other marginalized groups, we have to work to reclaim it both from the condescension and the disdain at once. Thanks for your comment.

          • I just joined the Supporting Gifted Learners Facebook page two days ago, looking for support and ideas for teaching and challenging my child. All I’ve found is anger and disdain and post after post tearing Momastery apart.
            A quote from that Facebook page in response to one of the many blog “comebacks”: “The word “gifted” sounds like “better,” which is inaccurate.” Exactly.
            If that idea — that gifted comes with the connotation better — is so universally agreed upon, then I’m not following all the bitterness.
            I’m not reading much that feels supportive over there today.

        • One of our local school districts has an “Extended Services” department instead of having a “Gifted Program”. I think if that term or something similar were widely adopted, it might not stir as much controversy.

  4. Important point- on this – what prompted momastery was the way the school handled sending home letters to kids in the gifted program and that fact that word is confusing and made the rest of the kids feel left out. I agree with the bulk of the rest of her post- and I agree with yours. The issue is that are schools need to teach in a differientiated way that meets the needs of all kids and stops labeling them. Each kid can potentially have a different label and that isoloation makes them targets for bullying -when in reality we should be helping them celebrate the gifted difference of themselves and each other to minimize bullying. It starts with the parents not stereotyping or making assumptions. “How many times has the parent of gifted and learning disabled child heard “my kid has a challenge but not like yours does”. Not sure what the answer as certain kids do have special needs- I don’t like that label either.

    • As I said elsewhere, I was literally “dumped” from a gifted program in 4th grade. Imagine that experience as a child for a second. One year you’re smart, the next year you’re not. Later, when the “rules” changed, I was invited back. I declined the invitation.

      So to say that I understand where she is coming from in her reaction is an understatement. 😉

      You’re right that we need to rethink the labeling. And that begins with the kind of dialogue that her post has started.

      We need to get on the same page–and teach our kids what we’ve learned.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Amen. One of my kids, a high academic achiever whose test scores don’t “qualify” him to move on for further “gifted testing,” came home crying in the first grade, informing me he wasn’t one of the smart kids because he doesn’t get pulled out for the gifted program.
      Kids have to learn about getting left out; life doesn’t include them in everything. But the term gifted creates a lot of issues, a lot of animosity and a lot of defensive feelings.

      • I have a friend who has a son who was 1 point off. Relying upon testing alone is complex, but that’s a problem throughout the school system.

        • It’s clear the problem is with the system. The term “gifted program” isn’t doing anyone any favors either, though.

        • Our school system utilizes not only testing but “the opinion of child’s teacher during those testing times”…unreliable considering it’s is an opinion. If teacher has his/her own agenda regarding that program or the specific child, it easily makes the child who should qualify not. Not to mention that when you have a “gifted program” teacher that consistently tells her classes that they are “smarter than everyone else” as opposed to “you think differently than they do” makes for the animosity & defensive feelings that BB speaks of. My daughter is a straight A student & was thru her entire elementary school years (she is now a middle schooler in all accelerated classes). The first grade testing had her miss qualifying due to testing by 2 points….the second round in 3rd grade was missed because her teacher (who was excellent) believed that the “gifted” program was fluff & the kids stood to gain more by being in the classroom learning what they needed to learn, not some of the “nonsense stuff” the gifted teacher put out there. They put my daughter in that program in the second half of 5th grade, simply because of her grades…and being in that program insured she’d be put in the accelerated classes she needed to be in. I understand encouraging those who have special talents to excel, but believe that it can happen in any classroom…..labels, whether “gifted”, “special needs”, “behavioral issues”…..affect the sense of self. I’m no youngster-my school days were in a Catholic school environment. Kids were grouped based upon abilty for classroom work, but together for all the creative outlet classes. No one was called gifted, smarter, more creative-we were kids, learning & growing together. We benefited from eachother’s strengths & helped those who were weaker in areas that we were better at. And EVERYONE of us (yes I am still in contact with most of my elementary class) thrived & grew up to be wonderfully rounded & successful adults. THAT is what is missing from the education system today-teaching to learn, not teaching to test.

          • I would group them by ability too and get rid of arbitrary measures like “grade level,” too. Agreed.

            And then the kids that need special assistance would get that, too. Especially the 2E and asynchronous kids.

            Until then, all the wishing and hoping and dreaming won’t change what people expeirence from the existing model, including the marginalization within the wider culture.

  5. I love Glennon and usually agree with her – but since I read her post yesterday I have been composing a response in my head over and over. Thank you for posting yours. All children are beautiful and special and unique – but only someone who hasn’t been one or raised one would say that all children are gifted. It is much harder than one would think from the outside.

    • Thanks for your post, Sue. It’s such a complicated topic, and I was relieved to see Glennon come back and address it again–and the response–so well. She gets it, I think. Others? Well…. not so sure about that.

    • Just realised that is was for a different post – even more damning than momastery. I will paraphrase my facebook momastery response as it’s important given some of the comments here. The reason “Every child is gifted” grates is that is a phrase that has been used for active discrimination against gifted kids and the gifted community for decades. In Australia, this discrimination was not only encouraged, but institutionalised by governemnts and teachers unions. It caused immesurable harm, and it is only through the tireless work of gifted advocates – in the research community and the wider public, that these overt forms of discrimination have begun to be dismantled. The process of changing the dialogue on what it means to be gifted was kicked off by Miraca Gross, OBE and Professor at UNSW, in her book “Exceptionally Gifted Children” . I recommend to anyone who think that people here are ‘overreacting’ and ‘being too sensitive’ to go read it.

  6. Great response to the momastery post. So many parents view a “gifted” program as another hurdle their child must achieve, a badge of approval, a sign of worth. The comment above about a child coming home dejected because of not being included in the gifted program may reflect on the “value” such programs hold within a family. Most children already know who the truly gifted children are in any classroom, just like they can identify the athletic kids, the artistic kids, the academically struggling kids, etc. Posts like these and others that have shown up today online will hopefully continue to educate the public, so that both children and parents can stop worrying about the label and get on with the business of education.

    Gail Post/ http://www.giftedchallenges.com

    • I completely agree about the “badge of approval” which is indeed what some people treat it as.

      I’d like to think that good parents–those who are described as “authoritative parenting”–know that these external measures, while helpful for helping secure services in an education or medical setting, aren’t indicative of either the “value” of the child or the parent. When we get more parents who think like that–and don’t see another kids “gifted” label as a slight to their own children, we might be able to get down to the business you describe.

  7. I have been following the Momastery discussion, and found your link. I spend a lot of time following social justice issues (it’s an interesting intersection with the Christian approach of Momastery.) My situation on this conversation is interesting – both my kids are very, very bright. DS 9 is diagnosed ADD, and has verbal and creative gifts. He can’t test for nothing, so no accelerated programs for him. I have him reading 2 years ahead of average level and just keep throwing more science books at him. He’s pretty neurotypical. DD 6 is bright, follows rules, draws like a dream, and is a gymnast.

    I am struggling to understand (mainly, to avoid sounding like an ass. And, also to learn the territory and be a better person overall) whether families with children – children with accelerated learning needs – are more concerned with their children NOT standing out socially, or with them not standing out academically. Because there is a price to standing out if you aren’t in a ‘sanctioned’ zone (athletics, or music perhaps), and a price to not standing out on a personal level (horrendous self esteem, self doubt, feeling inauthentic.)

    I agree (dead horse alert) that the verbiage stinks. Our school has “RTI” time (regularly timed intervention? i think…) kids who have a need for: accelerated reading, remedial math, makeup classwork time, remedial vocab, accelerated math….you get the idea – all break at the same time for 40 minutes. No one is singled out for going to ‘dummy math’ – everyone just goes to the group they need. It’s heavily dependent on volunteer time, as you can imagine.

    My question about standing out is my attempt to better understand the ‘backlash’ ground. I do sympathize that the phrase ‘all kids are gifted’ could be used to hammer back at a parent who doesn’t have resources to homeschool, for instance, and who can tell their child needs ‘more’. School districts teach to convergent learners, my son is divergent, and I am going to have to advocate for him. In reading your passionate response – as well as your generous offer to keep educating others on asynchronous gifts, I can tell you’ve had to repeat yourself ad nauseum. I am not trolling you with my comment, I am trying to better educate myself against being condescending with a defense of the diverse gifts of every child, or condescending when I advocate for my son.

    • I can’t speak for everyone. There most certainly are some vain, shallow parents who wear their kids IQs as badges of honor. They are poor parents, frankly.

      As for me and mine? Smart is well and good. A kind heart, a generous spirit and excellent executive functioning skills are more important to me.

      It’s a parent’s job to choose to nurture those. And for some of us that is a tougher job than others.

      If you look back on my post, I make suggestions re: SENG and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. GHF, for which I serve on the board of directors, has a Facebook page that is INCREDIBLY useful and open to non-homeschoolers. I also keep a neat and tidy stash of my favorite books for homeschoolers in the Amazon store of my other website. You’ll find it here: http://astore.amazon.com/howtoworkandhomeschoolstore-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=8

      Of special note is the James Webb book. Also, for people considering homeschooling is “Making the Choice.”

      HTH. Let me know if you need further referrals.

  8. Thanks for your time and sharing the resources – This is a new area for me in some ways. My brother was intellectually gifted…..in a dead-end school system – and he could suck all the energy from the teacher or from my mom in a heartbeat. So challenges of raising really, really bright, but neurotypical kids aren’t very new to me. But the hurdles, dead ends, and dismissive feedback are. You’ve demonstrated the turf very well, and I thank you for it again. The reading list looks like a great start!

    • You’re very welcome. Your case–and similar ones that cropped up yesterday–are a big reason that several of us responded to Glennon. If no one ever speaks up, if we all just sit and hold our tongues and nurse our wounds, we risk mission out on helping families (and kids) like yours.

      Good luck, Shari.

  9. Thank you so much for the article. Like most parents of a gifted child I find the phrase “all children are gifted” a slap in the face as usually when it is used it attempts to marginalize the needs of truly gifted children. I am also angry that in the case of the two prominent “all children are gifted” posts I read yesterday, both were written as a response to some really hurt feelings caused by insensitive remarks from teachers and children “failing” the so called district wide testing for the gifted program. No child should be made to feel like they “failed” the gifted test. It seems to have been turned into a competition in some states and a doorway to a “better program” rather than a way to identify the needs of different students. Obviously from the negative responses towards gifted students in the comments on Momastery’s Facebook response we have a long way to go before gifted kids are understood.

    • In all candor, it doesn’t feel like a “slap in the face” to me personally. It feels symptomatic of a larger cultural bias but I see it primarily as a teachable moment. When parents–and now at least one teenager spoke up, some people got it. A whole lot of people didn’t and they took their ignorance and turned into anger which was interesting to watch.

      Personally, however, I prefer to focus today on the people who were willing and capable of learning.

      Also, I agree with you that no one should feel like they “failed” the test. And the burden of that change should be shared by ALL parents who really need to get out of the development derby that starts at birth and is only reinforced by a mindset that insists upon “measurable outcomes” to determine the impact of our schools.

      If we reduce our kids to numbers, feelings get hurt ALL THE WAY AROUND. No one disagrees with that. No one I’ve seen yet. What I do see is an attempt to silence people who voice hurt resulting from issues at the far end of the IQ spectrum. (I hate using that as benchmark, but that’s it.)

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Google “IQ distribution.” The norm is where “most” people fall.

      And then go contemplate the #LoveWins hashtag promoted by Momastery followers and try to make all of your comments on THIS blog through that spirit.

      Or risk having your comments deleted. Because I don’t need irrational mean-spiritedness on my blog. And I don’t, frankly, tolerate it.

  10. Really like your phrase “development derby.” So many parents feel they are competing, and feel despair when their child does not compare favorably to his or her peers. It invites comments that disparage giftedness and minimize its meaning.

    • The competition mindset comes from the parents and gets mixed up in the kids as they are trying to understand their social roles. And that’s when the disparaging stuff starts.

      I picked up “development derby,” I think, from Dr. Sears. Or maybe his wife. I’ve been using it for years. 😉

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