Tag Archives: anti-gifted

Goodbye to Hard Work

I’m suffering a bit of too-many-thoughts paralysis lately — I want to write about everything, and so write about nothing!

But I’m a little excited about this one.

A Facebook friend linked to an article that many friends in the gifted community were annoyed with.

The title of the article pits giftedness against hard work, as if you only get one or the other. Those of us who have already endured 12 years of school hearing that nothing we do counts because “it’s so easy for you” find that tired argument difficult to sit through again.

An old grad school friend — now also a coworker with my husband — made me laugh when he commented on the article by observing that he has spent most of his life avoiding hard work, and it’s going pretty well so far.

(Of course this is not exactly true — this friend has succeeded at several different things since grad school.)

I realized, I may be in danger of passing on to my kids this obsession with “hard work” and being a “hard worker.” I follow the New Parenting Rules and praise them for effort and process rather than quality of product. My daughter wants me to read her NaNoWriMo novel and I say, “Wow, I am so proud of how much time you have put into this.” Is that what you’d want someone to say when they read your first draft of a novel?!

So phooey on that. I’m not going to teach my children to value their efforts by drops of sweat or sleepless nights.

I’m making some substitutions in my vocabulary, at least for myself:

“Hard Work” is now “Passion” or maybe even “Joy”

“Effort” is now “Faithfulness”

“Persistence” is now “Love”

This is where, I think, we’ve been going on our homeschool journey, though we didn’t know it when we embarked. The blessing of falling into homeschool for us is not that the girls “work to their potential” or get “challenged,” though sometimes those things happen. The blessing is that we are all learning and actively looking to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what we are doing.

This allows us to sidestep worries about the dire fates that apparently await many “prodigies,” and the “harsh truths” about the perils of giftedness. Much of the mainstream chatter about gifted kids — apart from the utterly contradictory advice — seems to focus on whether kids are working too hard (“pushy parents,” “unrealistic expectations”) or not hard enough (“underachievers,” “everything comes easy,” “don’t earn their successes”).

We’re exiting that conversation now.

How hard are my kids working? How hard am I working? Who cares?

Are we living and working with joy and passion? Do we love what we’re doing enough to carry on through the inevitable doldrums and frustrations?

I hope so. Whether it’s a massive Thanksgiving meal or a child-size NaNoWriMo goal, I hope that we are giving our whole selves out of joy — the joy of serving, performing, creating, feeling. If we are not — if we are only jumping through hoops, acting out of a sense of obligation, checking off the to-do list, or trying to impress — I hope we will learn to recognize that and correct it as best we can.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, I'm Catholic Why?, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is)

Am I Bugging You?

“I don’t mean to bug ya”

I blog a lot about something many people have very negative feelings about, or at least a great deal of ambivalence. Giftedness.

Sometimes I think I should back away from this topic. It does turn people off, and it typically gives people the wrong idea. But then, stubborn me, those turn out to be the reasons I persist. Silence is not always golden. Our unplanned foray into the world of extreme precocity has been a big deal, and finding an online community has been a big help.

(I guess I need to point this out: the fact that it is a big deal, and the fact that it is a major focus of our blog, does not mean that it is the major focus of my life or our family life, much of which stays offline.) (And then again, the fact that talking about my daughter or our homeschooling seems to require so many disclaimers and parenthetical explanations may be an illustration of why we’ve decided to reach out to like-minded folks online.)

Violet is doing so much better at home, thank you very much, but as parents we still deal with a lot of questions and concerns that are very nicely addressed in literature–and especially parent blogs and forums–about gifted children. These are not questions about schooling — Violet and I figure most of that out on our own — but about intensity of reaction, difficulty “fitting in” with other kids (homeschoolers still have to face that question if they want to make friends and participate in groups), trouble “turning down” our level of engagement with every great idea or sensation that we encounter, getting out in front of a brain that seems to run loose like a wild horse. It also helps me think through questions about the difference between encouraging her to do her best and pushing her to acheive! acheive! acheive!, or between allowing her to pursue her interests and running her ragged.

That’s what “giftedness” has meant to us, not reading at a particular grade level or doing a certain kind of math. Those are just bonuses that — on a good day — make my homeschooling job a little easier. (Another parenthetical disclaimer — I am aware that not every behavioral or emotional quirk my child exhibits is a direct result of her “giftedness.”)

I suppose by blogging about giftedness so much I may give the impression that I’m one of those parents who is so delighted to share with the world the Extra Super Special Genius that I made, but I’m hoping anyone who has passed by the site has given me the benefit of the doubt. In real life I am the parent with eyes glued to her knitting, mouth clenched shut every time a conversation about school begins. I’m not just Not Going There.

Online, however, I was so lucky to meet up almost immediately with a few moms who knew exactly what I was talking about. If anything I was intimidated by how brilliant their own girls were! So online is where I let it out. Moms are proud of their kids when they learn something new, and I can be too — online. Moms love to tell funny stories about unexpected things their kids say or do, and online, I can get away with it too. Paradoxically, blogging online about gifted issues is where I (often) get to feel normal, part of the playground chatter. Mostly when people disagree, they are polite, or they ignore you completely, so you never know. (Well, you know, but it’s not in your face.)

I think some confusion comes from defining giftedness — another post for another day. (Really, I’ll try.) Of course it means a lot of those things that people love but also love to hate: unusual achievements, incredible creativity, adult-like thinking (but only in select areas!) in a child’s brain and body. But what we’ve learned is that what we’re referring to as “giftedness” is not simply an IQ score or early achievement of particular milestones. It’s how a person’s brain, senses, and emotions engage with her environment, even when she’d like to turn it off.

It amuses me — and I hope that doesn’t sound too condescending — that people sometimes imagine that someone clings to a “gifted” label to make him/herself feel special. I suppose that happens sometimes. It is more often the case, in my experience, that trying to understand “giftedness” is a way out of the sense of isolation and weirdness that highly gifted kids feel as early as their preschool years.

I could go on and on. (Wait, didn’t I just go on and on?) Looking back on my assorted thoughts they seem more negative than positive: “Woe is me, my child has been diagnosed as . . . Gifted!” [dunh duhn Dunh!] That’s just because I’m trying to highlight what isn’t readily obvious.

Both of our children – -one profoundly gifted, one profoundly sweet and stubborn — are wonderful little girls who play Ello and Harry Potter legos together, swing on the swingset together, fight like rabid dogs together. They love music and ice skating and running through sprinklers. Victoria just started the ballet class she has been begging for all summer long, and Violet is, as I type, at her first fencing lesson. (“Swords?!?!?!!!”) I guess that seems like the obvious side of parenting and homeschooling — though goodness, how blessed we must be if we can take those things for granted at times.

[ETA: Aw, phooey. Reviewing this post again, I see that I am trying to change people’s minds, and that is always such a losing battle. You can think I’m totally full of it, partially full of it, or just a little full of it, and that’s all good. I gave up on self-improvment years ago; now I just have to lighten up on the self-justification. But I’m still leaving the post!]

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Resources -- Gifted, Why Homeschool?

The Recent Time Article On Davidson

It’s making the rounds of gifted e-lists — check it out.

Here’s one interesting trail of snippets.

The author cites familiar researchers, like this one,

Leta Hollingworth noted that kids who score between 125 and 155 on IQ tests have the “socially optimal” level of intelligence; those with IQs over 160 are often socially isolated because they are so different from peers–more mini-adults than kids.

and this one,

Actually, research shows that gifted kids given appropriately challenging environments–even when that means being placed in classes of much older students–usually turn out fine. At the University of New South Wales, [Miraca] Gross conducted a longitudinal study of 60 Australians who scored at least 160 on IQ tests beginning in the late ’80s. Today most of the 33 students who were not allowed to skip grades have jaded views of education, and at least three are dropouts. “These young people find it very difficult to sustain friendships because, having been to a large extent socially isolated at school, they have had much less practice … in developing and maintaining social relationships,” Gross has written. “A number have had counseling. Two have been treated for severe depression.” By contrast, the 17 kids who were able to skip at least three grades have mostly received Ph.D.s, and all have good friends.

And then there’s this . . .

AS A CULTURE, WE FEEL DEEPLY ambiguous about genius. We venerate Einstein, but there is no more detested creature than the know-it-all. In one 1996 study from Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 3,514 high school students were asked whether they would rather be the best-looking, smartest or most athletic kids. A solid 54% wanted to be smartest (37% wanted to be most athletic, and 9% wanted to be best looking). But only 0.3% said the reason to be smartest was to gain popularity. We like athletic prodigies like Tiger Woods or young Academy Award winners like Anna Paquin. But the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd has been a trope of our culture, from Bartleby the Scrivener to the dorky PC guy in the Apple ads. Intellectual precocity fascinates but repels.

which seems to reproduce the anti-intellectual attitudes the rest of the article critiques. Maybe that section is just poorly written/edited, but it seems to be equating “intellectual precocity” with “the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd” pretty directly. (Plus, how does the fact that a majority of kids want to be the smartest support the preceding statment that there is no more “detested creature” than the smartest kid? Don’t those statistics just suggest that many kids would rather be smart than popular?)

Given all that, here’s what the author concludes:

But there is something to be said for being left to one’s own devices and learning to cope in difficult surroundings. . . . [Einstein] didn’t need a coddling academy to do O.K. later on.

[oh, well if it worked for Einstein no doubt it applies to gifted children everywhere . . .]

and finally prescribes

The best way to treat the Annalisee Brasils of the world is to let them grow up in their own communities–by allowing them to skip ahead at their own pace. [emphasis added]

The best way? There’s nothing in the article that gives any indication that the author would be able to make that determination better than the Davidsons, who’ve given piles of time, thought, and money to the issue of gifted education.

To be fair, what the author is advocating for, in his weird way, is better gifted education within the current system, especially allowing children to skip 3 or more grades. But how that leads to calling the Davidson Academy “coddling” (for those who favor cliques and fighting as part of the traditional “toughening up” experience of school, the article reports that kids still get that even when they are all in the top .1%) is beyond me.

I think the point was supposed to be that kids shouldn’t have to move to Nevada to get an appropriate education, but the author makes the bizarre choice to take a bunch of stories about families who found their salvation at Davidson and then insinuate that “the Davidsons simply created another kind of isolation for their students” and that “there is something to be said for being left to one’s own devices and learning to cope in difficult surroundings.” So the statistics about drop-outs and depression earlier in the article meant what?

[By the way, the title of the article: “Are We Failing our Geniuses?” Ah . . . nice word choice . . . that’s gonna win ’em over. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume a Time editor is to blame.]

If this is gifted advocacy, no wonder it’s going nowhere.

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