Gifted – It’s Not About School

Gifted and Talented: a North American concept rooted in the education of exceptional children as defined by a psychometric evaluation. Despite the 140 year longevity of ‘giftedness’, we largely remain stuck in this one-dimensional understanding that ‘gifted’ is synonymous with school. This view of giftedness is outmoded at best and harmful at worst and has many implications for both gifted adults and children. An understanding of giftedness that is focused on school, often to the exclusion of everything else, limits those who have been identified as gifted. This definition denies those who attend gifted programs the awareness of the emotional characteristics and personality traits associated with giftedness. Some gifted programmes place a lot of emphasis on academic performance and this emphasis is often reinforced by parents who send the ‘you must live up to your potential’ message. Within an educational context, ‘living up to your potential’ inevitably means getting good grades. As a result, many children in gifted programmes define themselves solely by their ability or inability to succeed academically. Not taking into consideration the personality traits and emotional implications of being gifted while simultaneously focusing on academic performance sets some students in gifted programmes up for failure as it may be personality traits such as perfectionism and non-conformity that are contributing to their lack of success in school. On the other hand, there are those gifted students who excel academically conforming to the stereotype and ‘living up to their potential’ academically. However, academic success for some students in gifted programmes comes at the expense of their social and emotional development. Without awareness of the emotional aspects of being gifted some academic overachievers are less equipped when they are faced with challenges later, whether the challenges are academic or in other areas of their life. Gifted programmes that concentrate of a child’s academic performance while overlooking all the elements of giftedness perpetuate a restricted understanding of what it is to be gifted.Uniting giftedness and school means many people still believe that getting good grades is the same as being gifted and failure to be an exceptional student is proof that one cannot be gifted. Perpetuating the myth that scholastic performance and giftedness are the same means that unidentified gifted children and adults who do/did not stand out at school, will not recognize themselves as gifted. The idea that school achievement defines giftedness/ intelligence continues to be popular despite its flawed logic and some of this misconception is rooted in gifted programmes themselves.Connecting school and giftedness excludes a significant group of gifted individuals: those not formally identified as gifted by a school board. If you are over forty, it is extremely unlikely you were screened in the school system. And if you’re under forty, the screening for gifted programmes remains very spotty in urban centres and non-existent in under populated areas. There are also methodological concerns about IQ tests – it is possible to be a gifted adult and not demonstrate your gifted on an assessment for a variety of reasons: cultural bias, visual-spatial orientation or measurement error. The majority of gifted people were never formally evaluated and some gifted people may not be identified even if they were evaluated. Yet because of the widespread understanding of gifted as tantamount to education, many people have the perception that one can only be gifted if a school board decides you are.The logic of a definition of giftedness being about school means that once school is finished one is no longer gifted. The consequence of this faulty logic is significant. It means gifted adults, whether they have been identified in the school system or not, assume that once formal education ends so does being gifted. Focusing the definition of giftedness on school ignores the holistic reality of being a gifted person – one is gifted throughout life and in every facet of life. Ultimately, school is only a small part, even those who pursue extended graduate education will spend more time working than they will in school. Concentrating on education ignores what it is to be a gifted as a parent, a partner, an employee, a boss. For example, how many gifted parents also have gifted children? How many parents are aware of how the emotional aspects of being gifted affect their parenting gifted child – the mutual love of argument and the associated power struggles, the heightened sensitivity and sense of moral injustice? How many adults understand that their giftedness affects their relationship with their partner – the challenge in finding an intellectual peer as a life partner, the extra emotional demands a gifted adult may make, the intensity of living with a gifted adult. And what does it mean to be a gifted adult at work? If a gifted child is not challenged or engaged in the standard educational setting, to the extent that an entire educational approach has been created to address this gap, it follows that a gifted adult is unlikely to be challenged or engaged in a typical work environment. Defining giftedness only within a school environment fails to address all the other areas of life that giftedness affects.We need to move beyond the 140 year old definition of what it means to be gifted and separate it from school. Otherwise, we will continue to provide inaccurate information to children in gifted programmes, limiting their self-understanding as children and as adults. Gifted children who don’t/gifted adults who didn’t perform in school will not identify themselves as gifted and may not have an appreciation of who they are and why they may feel isolated. It’s time to stop perpetuating an out of date, incomplete idea of what is means to be gifted.