I’m going to start this post with a link. It’s to the Authentic History Centre in the US on common excuses for stereotypes. In this case, specifically linked to racism. Go have a look at the images. In many ways, they say it better than I can, but I’m going to try anyway, again.
Many of you have read Momastery’s post about ‘Every Child is Gifted’. Many of you argued with her, reasoned with her on her forum, on the gifted help-groups where she came to ask questions. Many of you read her apology (which did not appear on her website, only her facebook page*). I, along with a lot of other people, thought that was the end of it. But no. Her ‘positive’ image is out in force again, and a lot of people don’t understand why it is so offensive.
So I want you to go and have a look at those historical images. You know, many of them were purported to be ‘positive’ depictions too, at the time.
And so, the stereotypes of gifted get trotted out yet again. Sure, she changed one word in her article – but the blurb and title around the reprinting in the Christian Science Monitor shows exactly how skin deep that change is.
You can go read the article if you like, here’s the link. Maybe you’ll get a warm glow – a positive story!
Then come back here and let’s deconstruct the narrative.
It all starts with a child’s disappointment,
“Mom, I’m sorry but I’m not gifted. They sent home letters today to the gifted kids. I’m not a gifted kid.”
Stereotype Number 1: Gifted class is elitist and it’s a privilege.
No, it isn’t. It’s wiring and brain chemistry. And not only is it far from elitist, but it is actively discriminated against in most Western communities. Don’t believe me? Go read the documented cases in Miraca Gross’ book ‘Exceptionally Gifted Children‘, which documents the blatant and open discrimination by teacher’s unions in Australia against gifted children in the 1980s, or perhaps have a look at the numerous Senate enquiries federal, and state, done in Australia since, or even the US in the report, Genius Denied. There are also similar occurrences in Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada. (And that’s just the English-speaking ones).
So let’s rephrase that little sentence, and see how easy it sits:
“Mom, I’m sorry but I’m not autistic. They sent home letters today to the autistic kids. I’m not an autistic kid.”
“Mom, I’m sorry but I’m not dyslexic. They sent home letters today to the dyslexic kids. I’m not a dyslexic kid.”
“Mom, I’m sorry but I’m not ADHD. They sent home letters today to the ADHD kids. I’m not an ADHD kid.”
Gifted is not elitist – it’s a special need. Without intervention, gifted kids are more likely to end up with depression. It is also hard to get solid data on the drop-out rates of gifted students, because both the definition of gifted and dropout vary between tests – but it’s probably about 4.5%** of high school dropouts. To put that in perspective, the gifted comprise only 2%** of the population. What is certain, is that in almost all of these tests, gifted kids from poor and underprivileged backgrounds are ignored, and the measures used in these tests to define giftedness are poorly designed, generally focusing on academic achievement tests which highly correlate to wealth and high socio-economic status, not giftedness. When we start from the assumption of elitism, we stop looking for it in underprivileged populations – to devastating effect – as the school to prison pipeline shows. There is also a measurable positive correlation between high IQ and incarceration for certain types of crimes.
** The 4.5% is based on a meta-analysis of a number of different reports, and I couldn’t find error bars, but it contains a sample size over one thousand. The 2% statistic is by definition, and depends on the norming of each particular IQ test. The data for these are not available except through purchase of the administering tests, which are notoriously expensive. But each test is normed on a few thousand children and adults.
Stereotype Number 2: The Gifted Kid’s a Braggart
Momastery’s post lauds the achievements unreservedly of all the kids – except the gifted kid.
Or my little one who was gifted in learning the classroom way, and was miles ahead of the other kids in every single subject, but had challenges being kind and humble about her particular strengths.
I’ve highlighted the above phrase. As has been pointed out many times before, why is she the only child tasked with being kind and humble? She’s a child. The gifted child is the only one in this context punished socially for being herself. This situation also leads to active and destructive discrimination. It’s the classic catch-22 situation – putting the blame on the victim and making it look like they have transgressed an unwritten social rule. That then makes it OK to ostracise them, to belittle them and to deny them services. Discrimination becomes a ‘social good’ to help them ‘better themselves’.
This happens, not just with the children, but also the parents – who find themselves socially ostracised when they talk about their child. So the parents are left with the idea that every child but their own is worthy of praise. This post is an excellent walk-through of these issues. It’s OK to be gifted, as long as you don’t talk about it. Pointing out that it’s discrimination? Well, then you’re too sensitive. I think at this point, it’s worth going to have a look at that article on stereotypes again.
Stereotype Number 3: Giftedness is a Gift
We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time. And it is a fact that each and every child has a bright shiny present with his or her name on it, waiting there underneath the tree. God wrapped it up, and He’ll let us know when it’s time to unwrap it.
I could talk about how this idea is not just discrimination against gifted, but also against 2e and other special needs kids, and I have here, and there’s a great book on this exact topic, but then – this gifted child says it so much better than I could. If you haven’t already, go and read it.
Stereotype Number 4: Every Child is Gifted
Sure, she doesn’t say it in the article (anymore). She uses the possibly more palatable word, genius. But she still allows the promotional material around the piece to conflate the terms gifted and gifts. For refuting this one, let me suggest you go and read the 30+ articles written about this at the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (Link no longer available but this one is good).
For the kids, and their mums and dads who have to live with and listen to this phrase being trotted out on a regular basis to justify denying services, this one gets tired pretty quickly for all it’s purported ‘positive’ message. To paraphrase Syndrome in the Incredibles, “When everyone is gifted, no one will be.”
And I must admit, I’m struggling to see the purported ‘positive’ in this latest piece of PR gifted-baiting.
Edit June 2017: *This apology appears to have been removed.
10 Replies to “The Everyone is Gifted POS, again.”
Really appreciate your summary of the issues. Articles such as hers continue to stigmatize gifted children, and reinforce disparaging stereotypes.
Gail Post/ http://www.giftedchallenges.com
I truly admire you for managing to both read and take apart that silly article, I could never do it! The name of the site, itself, had me snorting: "Christian Science" is such an oxymoron that it is completely impossible for me to take anything from such a source seriously.
I managed to read about 5 sentences. Combined with what she previously wrote, this proved to me that this person has no concept of anyone outside her own realm of understanding. It would be impossible to make her understand that the term "gifted", as so many other terms, carries different connotations to different people. Just impossible.
Thankyou for commenting Gail, and I hope it's a useful summary for you.
Thankyou for your comments! I actually have no problem with the religious iconography, even though I am not religious. I think people tend to use the ideas and images that are powerful for them personally, and for many that means talking and writing about their religion. I also don't usually have a problem with ignorance – to paraphrase Ben Kingsley in Ghandi – "I want to change their minds, not punish them for weaknesses we all possess". What gets up my nose is wilful ignorance – when people chose to ignore the harm their actions cause despite knowing better. I think I can call that my line in the sand.
This is a wonderful, carefully put together article. Thank you!
Wonderful article, thank you. I'm just at the beginning of my journey as a parent (oldest is 5), but I can relate to all of these points already. Recently on the car ride home from school, my son proudly declared "I am the smartest kid in kindergarten!" (which is completely true). I am sad to say I tried to teach him that he shouldn't really talk like that. Well, I hurt his feelings tremendously. I will never make that mistake again. I am trying to navigate this territory with basically zero support, and instead people drawing conclusions about how I have "made" my son who he is, and trying to compete with us. Thank goodness for the internet.
Hugs. It's a hard road full of so much misunderstanding. And hugs to your son, who should never have to be ashamed of himself. And maybe one day we'll be able to let our kids be themselves without fear of ridicule.
Strong like water; love it.
Love it! Firm and kind, heals as it cuts.