Credit Where Credit is Due

[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.



Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Learning Styles, Our Philosophy (such as it is)

10 responses to “Credit Where Credit is Due

  1. I can see where you are coming from, but it really makes me cross (not with you!) that there should be any problem with her clarifying her true level. I don’t think its her problem, I certainly don’t think its obnoxious of her, and I don’t think its your problem, but it belongs to the people who, through whatever insecurities of their own, don’t want to hear that kind of thing.

    I am very discrete about what my dd can do, but that doesn’t stop me feeling angry about the “need” to be discrete. I guess you have touched upon a raw nerve of my own here! I would hate to think of my dd feeling embarrassed or like it was somehow secret or wrong to be doing the maths grade she’s at. And yet I keep it quiet myself for fear of sounding like I’m “bragging”. Gr.

    I’ve only been asked a couple of times what grade my dd is in, and I tend to say, “oh, I don’t know” – because quite honestly I can’t remember what her age level/grade “should” be, and the where she’s actually at is all over the board. Grades mean nothing to me any more. If people press the issue I make that statement. Luckily, I’ve yet to meet anyone rude enough to go on after that.

    If my dd was to say she’s doing X-Level in Whatever Subject, I would say yes it’s true, and yes it’s necessary because it’s just a simple truth, and yes it’s kind because to hide it would be unkind to her – and if it hurts someone else’s feelings then you have to look at WHY their feelings are hurt. Do I really want to suppress my dd’s truth, and her self-confidence, to pander to another person’s weakness, insecurity, or vanity?

    But still I am discrete.

  2. I agree about the grade/age thing. Mostly people want to know how old they are. And I don’t see it as hurtful either though there are probably nice obnoxious ways of saying things.

    Your points about the second thing are absolutely right. Talent does not bring accomplishment. Hard work brings accomplishment. (There is actually research to show that cumulative hours playing explains almost all of the accomplishment for musicians, almost wipes out talent.) Now maybe talent is related to her desire to spend that time practicing, but her accomplishment is hers. And academic subjects are likely similar to piano in that way.

    It is sad that another mother of a gifted child believes that the accomplishments are not her child’s. How sad for that kid who is likely growing up ashamed that she’s got these gifts.

  3. sunniemom

    I think the idea that ‘gifted’ means “able to accomplish amazing academic feats in a single bound” is skewed. I know a girl (13 yo) who is not an academic prodigy, but she is incredibly gifted when it comes to people. From the time she was little, she could go anywhere and talk to anyone and be their best friend in less than 5 minutes. I have watched her notice when someone needed help or encouragement and respond appropriately, whether the person was 7 or 70. I think she’s amazingly gifted, and her gifts give, KWIM?

    All children have gifts and talents that should be recognized and nurtured, and academic dog & pony shows place the wrong emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge that doesn’t in some way contribute something meaningful is empty, and knowledge without wisdom is like a 3 year old driving a semi. I definitely had problems with proper self-esteem as a ‘gifted’ child, one moment feeling superior for always being chosen, complimented, and awarded, then the next moment feeling devastated when I wasn’t The Most Smartest Person in the room. Like the time I lost the state Spelling Bee on the word ‘deplorable’- I was seriously depressed for weeks after that. So my approach to giftedness is to make sure kids know that gifts are for giving.

    I firmly believe in telling it like it is. If a child has an ability and works hard at honing their skills, anyone who gets ‘hurt’ because of it needs to trim the lace off their britches.

    Sorry to blather on and on. I have issues. :p

  4. Angela, MotherCrone

    I have an interesting take on this, having children on both ends of the issue in the same house! I think this issue has more to do with the parents insecurity, or inability to truly raise their children to understand that we all have different gifts. Facts are facts, and while Scout might have been gifted with accelerated reading levels while NG was dyslexic and couldn’t read at all, she was much more mature and skilled in mental and analytical thinking than he ever was, despite his being older.

    Since Violet is only stating case and point, the problem lie with the parent or child who is “allowing” themselves to compare. Their insecurity should not mandate information sharing! We did have a problem for a short while when Scout, the self-proclaimed smartest 4th grader in the world at that time, decided he would try to disregard all NG opinions on everything because “she couldn’t even read”. That was mean-spirited, and he was dealt a quick dose of reality on all the ways in which she was more gifted….especially in kindness! He has learned to support and appreciate each of their abilities!

    In agreement as well, giftedness is only the start. As the work grows in difficulty, many other things come into play…dedication, work ethic, organization, etc. We all know plenty of incredibly brilliant people doing nothing with their gifts because they lack those traits. Sorry…sounds like sour grapes to me!

  5. shaun

    Thanks for so many thoughtful responses, all. I’ve calmed down since yesterday! (JOve and Patience, you might be able to tell, since you saw the initial angry post.)

    Sunniemom, I hope you don’t mind that I am jumping on your “gifts are for giving” line in the next post — I think that is really true but I have bungled that concept more than once in my parenting!

    Angela, I really hear you about the dismissive sibling. “Little sister” here is likewise an unsually gentle, thoughtful person, and comments from big sister like “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” are cause for serious parental “intervention.”

  6. sunniemom

    Shaun- you can borrow anything you like, as long as you give it back when you’re done. :p

  7. Another good post. You’re full of them recently!

    I remember starting this same debate when I was a newbie to the gifted world. Most people told me to just say her age but it rankled me some.

    At some point I decided to start being more open. I figured if I came out of the closet it might help others.

    But that doesn’t mean I go around mentioning Z’s giftedness. But if it comes up I try to be open and (hopefully) gracious.

    Also our kids should get as much credit for their gifts as someone with a physical/athletic gift, or performing gift or whatever. My daughter, like yours, works hard and tries hard and is a good kid. It is sad that some kids have to hide so as not to upset others.

  8. Great post! I think it’s a shame for anyone not to acknowledge the work their child does in developing their gifts. I remember so well all the times I pretended not to know as much as I did in school and I don’t want my daughter to be ashamed of her giftedness. She is only 4 so we haven’t dealt with grade level issues yet. She is just starting to realize that other kids her age don’t have the vocabulary or ability to understand “grown up” language and books like she can.

  9. adsoofmelk

    I haven’t read everyone else’s comments, but we have an issue with this also.

    We usually are somewhat vague about what our daughter’s “grade” is and for the same reasons as the ones you specified — people usually don’t really care; they just want to know how old one’s child is and don’t need a whole curricular layout. DD isn’t the kind of person to correct an adult, so even though she’s said things like, “I’m all over the map,” at least one adult’s replied, “So you’re basically in first grade.” Well, no, but that’s what they want to hear. No biggie.

    However, there’s an undercurrent in the comment you quoted that I find more than disturbing: the fact that giftedness is inherently something that is to be hidden for fear of causing offense, like a tattoo saying “I Heart Satan” or a Pauly Shore movie.

    Like your daughters, mine’s busted her tail doing work she’s not “supposed” to do for another seven years, give or take, and the way I think of it, she’s just working at her level — but she’s working HARD at her level, not because it’s too difficult for her, but because that’s in her nature to do.

    I resent the idea that giftedness makes things easy. Sure, giftedness makes age/grade-work “easy” (in some ways), but since gifted kids (esp. homeschooled ones) are ideally working at their level(s) in various subjects, I fail to see how this situation is markedly different for ANY child who is working at her or his level. Is an intellectually “normal” child to be embarrassed or ashamed about doing grade-level work because some kids have learning challenges that make executing this work more difficult for them? Is a “normal” child who makes As in math supposed to keep that info. on the down-low because other kids may make Bs or Cs?

    Provocative post…as usual.

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