Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: Gifted Students

A recent article on TeachThought nearly had me applauding at my computer screen. (You can read it here.) In it, Dawn Casey-Rowe discusses not only what it was like to be deemed a gifted child and the subsequent “badge of honor,” but also why today we should consider all students gifted. This got me thinking about the numerous times my classes had been separated and divided based on seemingly inadequate measuring practices.

Having attended academically challenging schools all of my life, it was always clear to me that everyone around me was gifted. In elementary school, yes, some were better at reading and others better at math. But to us that did not mean that any of us were less smart than the others, only that we needed to push ourselves until we could gain that coveted “gifted” status. Which, now sounds a bit overly-ambitious and stressful considering we were probably seven. What stuck with us, though, throughout our academic careers, was that we wanted to be the best at everything. Better reading skills would only lead to someone pointing out lacking math skills, so the obvious solution was be great at everything. Knowing what I know now about learning styles and the like, I can see what an impossible goal that was.

Personally, this concept was always first in my mind, especially in high school. After years of doubting my own math skills, I was one of five freshmen placed in an honors math class for sophomores. And thus began the most stressful year of math in my short life. I spent months practically tearing my hair out to learn concepts that were admittedly difficult. But I was so obsessed with staying on the honors track that I burned myself out struggling to maintain it. That sounds overly dramatic and this will too: I earned a B+ in that class, and hated myself for it.

What Casey-Rowe proposes could present a major change in education. Finding each child’s particular gifts and encouraging them. Not letting them fall behind in other areas, but showing them that they have unique talents that could lead to success. Teaching them to strive for success through their own means. Having them understand their talents do not need to be the same as everyone else’s, nor do they have to be talented in all areas. All-around success is fantastic, but it doesn’t need to be achieved by trying to force one’s brain into thinking in a way it simply can’t.

In my mind, it is time we start calling all students gifted. What do you think? Is the system putting too much stress on students? Or should things stay as they are?


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