Kids Are Kids (and that includes gifted kids)

One of the most frustrating things I have seen while working with gifted children and their parents is the pressure that some parents put on their child to act highly intelligent all of the time.

I recall a time in which I was coordinating an event for a group of gifted kids. In an attempt to increase parental involvement, I asked their parents for suggestions. We all talked for a while, bouncing different ideas around. Instead of meeting at Chuck E. Cheese’s or a park and letting the kids run around and play together, the parents preferred to tour an art museum or meet at a library for a conference on giftedness.

They seemed to be missing the point. Their children couldn’t care less about touring a museum or listening to a conference about giftedness. Kids learn through playing. That’s their whole world. According to the research of Jean Piaget, Alfred Bandura, and Gwen Dewar playing enhances thinking skills, social skills, imagination, language development, creativity, and problem solving. I understand that the parents can take their children to places like Chuck E. Cheese’s any time they want; however, the purpose of getting a group of gifted children together for playtime is to afford them the opportunity to develop cognitively, creatively, and socially with likeminded peers.

Whereas all children are able to play with each other in a place like Chuck E. Cheese’s, no children are able to properly engage in group play while touring an art museum or attending a conference.

In my personal opinion, I don’t think the ideas of the art museum or the conference were child-centered at all. I believe the parents with whom I was speaking that day 1) wanted their children to act like Little Einsteins parading around the art museum and 2) wanted to impress each other at the gifted conference talking about their exponentially intelligent children and what wonderful parenting skills they have.

The kids want to play! Let them be kids! Every year, American Mensa holds an annual gathering (AG). So, somewhere in America, once a year, some of the smartest people in the world all come together. People who have IQ scores in the top 98% percentile gather together for interaction. Among this group of highly intellectual folk are engineers, physicists, neurosurgeons, authors, lawyers, psychologists, musicians, college professors, etc. With all of this mental power in one place, why is the game room the most frequently visited area? Yes, that’s right. Super geniuses don’t want to act like super geniuses all of the time.

So, why should we expect super genius children to act any differently?

Kid are kids and kids need to be kids with other kids…even the gifted ones.

Intellectual Discrimination

Before I even start this post, I would like to say that many years ago I, yes I, predicted that America would swing back into an era in which being intelligent will be greatly valued. Now, I can see the beginnings of that societal trend taking place.

At some point between 1970 and the current era, being “too smart” was a bad thing. In public education, the main focus was placed onto bringing the struggling students up to pace, while the academically gifted students were taught to be fine on their own. The gradual neglect of the academically gifted students led to the formation of a plethora of charter schools across the country. Some charter schools boast a classical education model while other charter cater to only those students whose IQ scores are in the top 99% percentile.

Subsequently, this has led to an ever growing decrease in performance at the traditional public school level. Is it not obvious to anyone but myself that if the all of the “super smarties” are removed from a school the test scores are going to go down?

In the 1960’s, when the nation was still adjusting to the 1954 verdict of Brown vs. the Board of Education, there occurred something called white flight in which the white people left the cities and headed for the suburbs in an effort to avoid their children attending the same schools as the black children. Today, racism is an issue that has progressively become less severe, but the issue of prejudice is still a hard one to dismantle. Instead of white flight and the struggle for racial equality, what I am seeing today is a prejudice against the working class by the middle and upper class that has resulted in a struggle for intellectual superiority.

The “racism” of the future will be divided by socio-economic status; however, I sincerely hope I am wrong.

 

Show your work

Once, I met a ten-year-old boy with an IQ of 145. A score that high means that 99.83% of all other humans have lower IQ’s than he does. His number one complaint about school was having to show his work on his math homework. He said he was really good at mental math and could figure out the answers faster in his head than when writing it out on paper, but his teacher insisted that he write out the entire process. Keep in mind, the boy was in 4th grade at the time.

I asked him what his teacher’s reason was, and he had no clue. Being a teacher myself, I understand how frustrating it can be to have one kid finish the assignments given in class significantly faster than the others, especially if that kid is prone to talk and fidget around in their seat. Maybe his teacher was giving him a reason to take his time so she could manage the entire class more effectively. Or, perhaps she thought it was unfair to allow him to not show his work while the rest of the class was obligated to do so.

Whatever her reasoning was, the only thing that remains clear in this situation is that this highly intelligent boy was being forced to work below his capacity simply because everyone else was doing it. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I have a serious problem with this logic. Could you imagine an Olympic athlete being obligated to play on a middle school baseball team? Maybe the coach would take him aside and say, “Now, don’t hit the ball too hard. You don’t want to make the other kids feel inferior.” How about a NASCAR race with an enforced speed limit of 55 mph?

If school is not the place where this particular 4th grader can develop his academic potential, then what is?

Homeless to Harvard revisited

Most people are familiar with the inspirational story of Liz Murray, a Harvard graduate who overcame extreme adversity. During her high school years she was homeless, but still managed to stay on top of her school work. After graduation, she was awarded a prestigious scholarship and was accepted to Harvard University. The Lifetime network made a TV movie depicting her story in 2003. It is a powerful film that really tugs at your heartstrings. While her story is something that doesn’t happen every day, it’s unfortunate to know this scenario isn’t unique to Liz Murray alone.

In 2012, the world turned its attention to yet another young lady who found herself in the same heartbreaking situation. Dawn Loggins was a student at Burns High School in Lawndale, NC. She was quiet and kept to herself, but in every class there are two or three students who keep to themselves as well. Most teachers had no idea that Dawn was living in such horrible conditions.

For most of her life she lived without electricity or running water. She and her brother would walk 20 minutes to a park and fill jugs with water from a spigot. Homework was difficult for her as well because she couldn’t afford candles. Thankfully, by the time she was in high school, several staff members came to her aid.

Today, Dawn has taken a break from interviews and media attention to focus on her studies at Harvard University. She was accepted in the spring of 2012 and, like Liz, was awarded a scholarship.

Had these two young ladies never received any type of help from their schools, what would have become of them? Are there any other kids going through the same circumstances? What can schools do to ensure students like Liz and Dawn don’t fall through the cracks?

In these two cases, students with exponential ability were at great risk of succumbing to the environment in which they lived. Though it is difficult to measure the average IQ score of Harvard students, it has been estimated to be around 127 to 134. An IQ score in this range would qualify a student for admission into an AIG or gifted education program in grades K-12.

To put things into perspective, let’s assume there is a 3rd young lady who doesn’t struggle with the same types of issues Liz Murray and Dawn Loggins had. For purposes of discussion we will call her Kayla. Maybe Kayla has a race horse IQ of 145, but due to her boredom in school, she does the bare minimum just to get by. In the cases of Liz and Dawn, their struggles were extreme. It was very obvious that they needed help. Moreover, due to their dire circumstances, I can’t imagine any decent human being not helping them.

However, in the case of Kayla, it appears she is perfectly capable of doing well in school if she wants to. Her parents are supportive, she has friends, and she isn’t failing her classes. But, she could be doing so much more during the school day. Perhaps Kayla has an almost obsessive fascination with animals. Maybe she is a walking encyclopedia on a specific animal or animal group. But, if she’s in the 2nd grade, should she be forced to wait until 4th grade, when her teacher does a science unit on animals, to become interested in what’s going on in class? Could a 2nd grade teacher not capitalize on Kayla’s interest?

Kayla could prepare a presentation using basic computer skills and share her knowledge with the class. As a part of social studies, the teacher could include information about the wildlife of the countries that are being studied or at least afford Kayla the opportunity to learn that information on her own. There are seemingly limitless ways in which a teacher can cross curricula and make content relevant to the students they teach.

In the lives of some students, the difference between Homeless to Harvard and just plain homeless is a teacher who cares.

Coming of age and understanding: my personal story

I am a high school teacher and licensed school counselor. When I’m not at school, I enjoy spending time with my children, lifting weights, and brushing up on the latest in theoretical quantum physics.

School was an unpleasant experience for me. In middle school and high school I was either bored or in trouble. Eventually, I dropped out of high school halfway through my junior year, got a GED, and started college a year early. In college, I had the opportunity to manage my own learning and I flourished.

In 2011, I became the coach of the Quiz Bowl team at the high school where I used to teach. In order to understand more about the students who were on the team, I started researching Academic and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) programs and what school was like for exceptionally bright students. As I continued learning more about them, I started seeing myself. One afternoon, I came across a YouTube video of a 60 Minutes news special on American Mensa, the high IQ society for those who have IQ scores in the top 98% percentile. The video showed people in good spirits who were engaging in various sorts of activities like a talent show, board games, a meet and greet mixer, etc. For some reason, it brought me to tears. These were my people. I didn’t know why or how, but I knew that there was something about them I identified with.

Out of curiosity, I scheduled an IQ test with a psychologist. When my scores were tallied, the psychologist interpreted my results. My final score was superior, however, the total scores in each category were inconsistent. My verbal index was much higher than the other domains. The psychologist told me that my scores were indicative of a child who had a lot of potential that was never actualized. However, as an adult, all of the potential that was never developed was assimilated into my verbal IQ since that domain is the only one that can change in adulthood. While I was glad to know my score, this caused me to reevaluate my experiences in school from a different perspective. I wasn’t the dumb trouble-maker who turned things around. I was overlooked.

I specifically remember times in which I wanted something more meaningful. In 3rd grade, I talked with some of my friends about their enrichment classes and what they did during the time they were pulled out of our regular class. They told me they were reading a book about Greek mythology and it was on a 6th grade reading level. That fascinated me! I wanted to do that too, but my grades did not reflect my ability. Another time, some friends of mine were going to Odyssey of the Mind to perform a skit. I wanted to be a part of that so bad, I volunteered a Saturday to help them with a car wash to raise money for their trip…just to be connected with that in some way. At times like that, I was reaching for something higher, but no one was there to take my hand.

I mailed in an application and my test results to American Mensa and I was approved for membership. It was a new beginning and a homecoming at the same time. At first, I struggled to find my identity as someone who functions at the higher end of the intelligence bell curve. At times, I probably came off as being self-centered or egotistical, as some super-smarties can be. But, eventually things evened out as I became aware of the realistic and unrealistic expectations our society has regarding those who are “smart.”

We cannot change the past. But together, we can influence the present to ensure a better future for our children. That is precisely the purpose of this website and blog. The goal of the website, mygiftedchild.net, is to promote awareness and provide resources for parents and educators. The blog is designed to facilitate conversations. As we communicate, we will form a community of advocacy, support, and mutual understanding.

Being Bright in Dim Places

Once, in Costa Rica, a man approached me with a bag of oranges and said, “Please, sir, I am so hungry. Would you buy this bag of oranges so I can have something to eat?” I replied to him, “If you’re hungry…eat an orange.” He just stood there, dumbfounded.

Had the man simply been honest with me and asked me if I would like to buy a bag of oranges, I probably would have done so just to help him out. What bothered me, however, is the way he came up with a sly sales tactic to force my sympathy for him. Even when I busted his story, he kept insisting as if to say despite my ability to reason, somehow he was still vindicated in this ploy.

While it might farfetched, the current condition of gifted education programs in the United States is undergoing the same struggle. Educational institutions have a bag of oranges (AIG programs) that gifted students do not want. School systems are hungry for maintaining the status quo but do not honestly see the big picture of what they are doing and how it impacts our society as a whole.

Whenever I speak with a current student who has been identified as being highly intelligent about the enrichment classes or activities offered in school, the answers are all the same: extra work, more reading, longer essays, more math, helping other kids catch up, and being pulled out of class once a week for…you guessed it, extra work.

In essence, schools in the United States define higher intellect as capable of doing more quantity. If a 3rd grader can do one math worksheet a night, a gifted 3rd grader can do two math worksheets. If the regular U.S. History class writes a five page paper on Abraham Lincoln, then the Honors U.S. History class should write a ten page paper.

This type of logic is maddening. I can only imagine the frustration of a child who has been slapped with the High IQ label and now is forced to own up to it every day with an insurmountable amount of tedious assignments. Gifted education should not focus on more quantity but rather better quality. A child in this type of situation might start to rebel against his inborn potential. I wonder how many highly intelligent high school students force themselves to operate on a lower intellectual level to simply fit in. What about the teachers? Are they so incredibly preoccupied with bringing the struggling students up that they inadvertently bring the top students down?

It is not my intention to cast blame or be disrespectful. I, myself, am also a teacher. I understand how the microcosmic society in a school can be overwhelming for both the educators and the educated. Yet, I consistently see AIG students not sign up for honors and advanced classes because they don’t want the extra work. The content isn’t the problem, it’s the amount of work they are given that turns them away.

Meanwhile, students who want to improve the visual impressiveness of their college applications sign up for AP classes and get a C. This, in turn, has the opposite effect and brings their GPA down. The truly gifted students normally go on to graduate from college and succeed in the working world. But think how much more they could achieve in life if they were given a bag of educational fulfillment instead of a measly bag of oranges.