This is a message to all the parents and caregivers who are worrying about whether their child will be challenged enough in grade school, determining if their young child is gifted, feeling anxious that they'll be out of place in the classroom, etc.:
As an adult who was in the gifted program, I'd like to offer some perspective.
In the end, being classified as gifted doesn't matter all that much.
Has my life been greatly affected by being in the gifted program? Honestly...not really. I love learning, but this never originated from a gifted class.
First of all, there is only so much that you can do to nurture giftedness—if your child is gifted, your child is gifted. Being raised by a single mother, I definitely never had the time and investment geared toward genius that modern mothers give their kids. I never went to pre-school/pre-K, nor did I attend fancy camps or after-school programs or the like.
I did know how to read when I was young and continued reading voraciously throughout elementary school, but most of my development took place on my own terms. My brother and I were very creative and we’d play together for hours, inventing stories and contraptions. My mom was loving and supportive, but she had a lot on her plate, such as working full-time, doing household repairs, finishing her degree, mowing the lawn, etc.
Mind you, she was proud of us and generous in her praise, but she didn't have the time to devise ways to get my brother and me to realize every inch of our potential. We took the initiative to read, explore, create, invent.
As for the gifted program itself, I was apart of it in the ′80s and ′90s. We moved three times and I was re-tested each time (also, grades weren't a facet of admission), so I feel that I have a balanced perspective on different programs in different states. Truth be told, ultimately, there were few ways in which I benefited from the program. Most of the intellectual growth that’s expected from being in the program could be fostered in a child’s own free time at home.
In 4th and 5th grade, I did have a wonderful gifted teacher. She expected a lot from us. We were given projects that guided interests in engineering, writing, logic, etc… but, ultimately, the value of a gifted program tapers off once a child enters high school. In middle school, my gifted class was reading Shakespeare and Homer, and all that that amounted to by the time I reached 10th grade was that I reading books for the second time. Honors and AP classes fulfill the need to be challenged, and, by high school, it’s apparent that what determines success in life is not unbridled intelligence, but hard work.
This is my main point: inclusion in a gifted program doesn’t equate to learning life skills.
The two main factors of success are having determination and having interpersonal skills.
Success really is determined by hard work—discipline and perseverance, not sheer brilliance. Very few people at the top of our society are considered geniuses. Most, obviously, are bright enough, but determination is the most essential component that they share.
No one can give you the will to work hard or do it for you. You have to find it on your own.
I learned this the hard way. I always hated homework, and in my 11th-grade English class, I didn’t turn in a huge final project. Even with an ‘A,’ there was no way that I could pass the class without completing it. My teacher (one of my favorite teachers that I’ve ever had; kind, challenging, and innovative) called a meeting with my mother and me. First, she asked my mom if she thought that I should be failed. My mom replied that I should be given the grade that my teacher felt was fair. My teacher then asked me what grade I believed that I should receive. She would have just barely passed me, I think, by extending the deadline for me to turn it in, but I hung my head in shame and admitted that I deserved to fail—after all, each of my classmates had prepared and presented a final project in the allotted time, and I had not.
It was perhaps the best lesson that I ever learned, especially as I listened to my class valedictorian speak at graduation one year later. She had the highest GPA out of almost 500 students in my class. She was clearly smart and capable—did it matter that she had never been in the gifted program?—nope, not one lick. Colleges sure didn’t care when they offered her several scholarships. What mattered was that she had put in the effort and had showed determination in her studies.
My message to parents: Please, don’t worry so much!
Gifted/non-gifted—honestly, it’s irrelevant in life. (Especially once you get to college; it really is all about working hard under pressure). Brilliance is not the end-all, be-all, nor does it need expensive, specialized tools or summer camps to develop. Yes, there may be classes in which children are bored, but it doesn't mean that they can't learn.
And, ultimately, bright children need to take their own initiative in engaging with their world. Inquisitive children will find a way; they’ll get their hands on books (library!) or, heck, even craft things with toothpicks if they’re interested in design. (True story—one of the activities from my class was to construct a bridge from a few sheets of paper, a few inches of masking tape, and drinking straws. The bridges were then tested to see how much weight they could hold before collapsing—a great and cheap project for budding engineers). My father was an aerospace engineer and grew up in a very poor family. As a kid, he would take apart old radios and would spend hours at a local body shop, watching mechanics rebuild car engines.
My point? You don’t have to line up all these tools and put them in front of your child. If they’re gifted, they will seek them out on their own. Doesn’t matter how they spent the 7 or so hours at school.
Also, any child with a computer and an internet connection can take advantage of the numerous (free) TED videos—whatever field it is that interests them, there’s an enriching video about it. (There are also free podcasts of lectures from top universities at iTunesU). The internet is awesome at granting access to any possible subject in which one wants to be immersed.
Lastly, the other vital determiner of success that isn't incumbent upon being gifted is emotional intelligence. This also encompasses understanding how to read situations, even less-than-ideal ones, and how to behave accordingly, not having an environment tailored to oneself.
There’s something to be said about being in a regular classroom with other students. I enjoyed my twice-weekly gifted class; however, I gained something equally valuable (if not more) from interacting and building friendships with other children from all walks of life. There is a certain homogeneity in gifted programs where, out of an entire grade, seven or so students are put in a classroom together, each child having grown accustomed to the idea that they’re exceptional—and, quite frankly, that environment did nothing to teach me about humility, empathy, or communication.
It’s in the regular classroom that I learned how to behave appropriately (even if a class was ‘boring’) and exhibit decorum in all situations; it’s where I learned how to engage with others, how to listen, how to gauge what I should and shouldn’t say, and how to find a commonality with peers. It’s in the classroom that I learned to understand that people come from all walks of life. That type of learning doesn’t require an I.Q. test and special funding… that type of learning is integral to lifelong success.
Edited by KimbleJ - 11/12/12 at 4:13pm