[This is a redacted version of the original post.]
A recent discussion on a gifted e-list has inspired me to consider again the ways in which we respond to the expectations of others.
In brief, I had initially responded to a question someone had about homeschooling and what to tell people about the grade your child is in. (We’ve all been there, right?) Like some other posters, I responded that people who ask your child’s grade really want to place their age, so answer the question accordingly. But I added that we sometimes have the additional problem that when I say, in front of Violet, that she is in 3rd grade, she will occasionally follow up with something like “but I do 6th grade math,” or, memorably, at a Christmas party one year, “but I read at a 12th grade level.” (Side note: I don’t make a big deal of her achievement test scores each year, but if you had to take a yearly assessment wouldn’t you be curious how you’d done?)
One viewpoint raised was that I was “doing my daughter a disservice not to simply explain that . . .the feelings of those not as gifted as her are just as important—dare I say more important?–than her desire to take credit for a gift she has very little to do with.”
There is an accurate statement in there, one that I try to teach in various ways all the time, that when we speak we need to consider three things: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? (Thanks to the Buddhists for this insight.) I also emphasize that caring for someone else’s feelings is more important than proving that you are right. (Too bad I am not always the best example of this!)
But there are some falsehoods in that statement that I was surprised and to hear on an e-mail list dedicated to gifted education.
First – “the feelings of those not as gifted as her” seems to imply that her assertion of her abilities will hurt the feelings of others, who are necessarily less gifted than she is. When I posed my question, I was primarily concerned that Violet was coming across as bragging, obnoxious, self-aggrandizing, etc., and thus alienating other people, who would prefer not to be with someone like that. I have no intention of teaching my daughter that the bare fact of her level in math might hurt someone else’s feelings. Someone asks her grade, I say “Third grade,” she says, “I do sixth grade math.” That’s obnoxious, but I’m hard pressed to see how it’s hurtful, especially since it’s usually in conversation with an adult.
Second – and this is what has been bugging me all day – “her desire to take credit for a gift she has very little to do with.”
On one hand, I can agree that gifted children seem to be wired differently from birth, which is nobody’s great achievement. But I can’t conclude from there that gifted people in general “have little to do with” their accomplishments. What a bizarre idea! Giftedness does not mean that knowledge is inborn. As many of us know, giftedness has a lot to do with a “rage to learn” that has these children chasing after ideas, knowledge, and mastery like a wild animal, morning til night. Verbally gifted children are not born with a massive vocabulary; they acquire it through voracious reading from an early age. A gifted scientist is not born with the periodic table in her head, though she may have it memorized before her 10th birthday.
Violet appears to have a natural talent for the piano, which we have encouraged her to develop. In fact, I am proud to say that she is among the students in her age group who “won” the state piano finals and get to appear in the state honor concert this spring. Should she take credit for this? Would it be fair to say that she has “very little to do with” this accomplishment? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Violet does well at the piano because in addition to having a natural talent for it she gets up and practices every single day, sometimes several times a day, and has for 3 and ½ years?
And as far as the “6th grade math”: Violet has cried over long division, got up early on a Saturday morning and read Murderous Math books on geometry and algebra, and just last night after dinner she pulled out our old Primary Challenge Math on her own and started reading it. Is it fair to say that she has nothing to do with the fact that she is just about to finish Singapore 6B?
I know, this post is part mother bear going after anyone who looks cross-eyed at her cub, and part grown-up gifted child remembering people who told me, “yeah, but it’s easy for you,” from middle school to PhD. (And if you want to see me get riled up about that, see earlier posts.)
I’d like to think, however, that this post is also part my own inclination to be painfully precise, and to once again call attention to that weird notion that gifted children not only should be expected to excel, but should not expect anything but grief if they do.