61. Gifted?

Sometimes a child seems to learn something ahead of schedule. Most parents I’ve known, including me, react to the learning by thinking this child has “the gift.” As a member of a group sometimes called “the chosen people,” once persecuted by a group sometimes called “the master race,” I like to think everyone has “the gift,” is “chosen” and to some degree, is able to be in charge. Nevertheless, some children do seem to be precocious, and unless this is recognized, respected, and taken into account in planning curriculum, extraordinary intelligence can actually be a learning disability.
If a teacher’s basic approach to teaching is to find out what children know and can do, and then help them take appropriate steps toward further knowledge and skill, no one is left out – neither the child with perceptual or conceptual problems, nor the child who is dealing with quadratic equations in first grade. But that approach is easier for a retired teacher who volunteers in a classroom than for a teacher who has a host of requirements, responsibilities, and limitations.
It is common for teachers to be irritated with precocious children. These children often answer questions before other children have a chance to think. They say, “That’s easy,” which is painful to hear for other children who are struggling. The whiz kid often becomes the way to
find the answer. This becomes less of a problem as teachers move away from the “right answer” mode of teaching, but it will probably always be a force to be reckoned with.
And the “brain” is often ostracized. Other children, who have difficulties learning, see this child as a show-off. And so the child doesn’t have many friends, which hurts the child’s self- esteem. And so the child “shows off” more, to compensate for the self-esteem deficit. It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve known many very unhappy children who’ve wished they weren’t so smart. I’ve also known children who were secretly precocious; they had figured out the social scene, figured out their own priorities, and decided to use their intelligence to fit in rather than stand out.
There was some study years ago showing that “gifted” children were the most neglected group in schools. I don’t buy that. I think neglect is all over the place, not concentrated in one corner. But I do think we need to make sure we don’t teach children things they already know, and that we do offer things they’re ready to learn. Any child who is given this custom-built education is a gifted child.

Comments are closed.