Every Child is Gifted. Really?

Frazzled looking catMy head is melted! Someone called Glennon Doyle Melton wrote a blogpost called “Every Child is Gifted. Every Single One” which has caused something of a bruhaha in the USA. Numerous gifted advocates have taken to their keyboards in response, with blogposts flowing. Many  other parents responded saying they were moved to tears by the beauty of the article, one going so far as to say it was “the most beautiful thing I have ever read”. Late last night, I got sucked into reading a 765 comment long Facebook status update by the original author. I’m not the better of it yet!

At first, I thought that the problem centred around the use of the term “gifted”. Some use it in a loose, colloquial manner. Others use it in a strict technical sense to refer to those whose ability, particularly in terms of IQ, falls within the top 2%-3% of the population. Within educational psychology, there is no one accepted definition of gifted, which doesn’t help us make our case, but that’s a discussion for another day! Suffice to say that there are frequent calls for the term “gifted” in educational psychology to be changed, but I don’t believe that would make a whit of difference. Had Lewis Terman and Leta Stelling Hollingworth had a crystal ball when they first used the term back in the early 1920’s, they might have chosen differently. However, no matter what term we choose, it will also come with baggage attached.

I have now changed my mind, what is left of it! I believe that the real problem is society’s current obsession with telling every child that they are special. The term “gifted” is just an added complication. If it was considered normal to be average and ordinary, there would be no problem.

Taking the colloquial use, even here, we see several interpretations. Every child is a gift, has a gift, is gifted. There is absolutely no doubt that every child is a gift to their parents. To each of us, our children are special, unique gifts whom we love dearly and unconditionally. They may have a gift in the sense that each of them has strengths as well as weaknesses, something that they do relatively well. As parents, we must spot these strengths and encourage and nurture them. We must raise our children in an environment where they feel loved, valued and safe. However, to me, even in the loose colloquial sense, being gifted implies that you can do something better than a significant percentage of the rest of the population. Statistically, this is just not possible. For there to be a top, say 25%, there must also be a bottom 75%. So, every child cannot be gifted.

Society seems to have developed an overwhelming need to tell everyone that they are special, maybe not as marked in Ireland as it is in the USA, but we’re getting there. We don’t have Gifted and Talented Programmes in our schools, so there is less perceived benefit to being labelled gifted. We are also a nation of begrudgers so, rather than claim that every child is gifted, we are more likely to scoff at the idea that someone else’s is.

Do we really do our kids any favours by bringing them up to believe they are special? By handing out medals for everyone at the school sports day, do we not devalue the winner’s medal? By devaluing achievement in this way, do we not disempower and set our kids up for failure, disappointment and a lack of fulfillment? This commencement speech by David McCullough Jnr sort of sums it up for me and I love his quote “Climb the mountain so that you can see the world, not so that the world can see you”.

It is important to note that, when referring to our children as gifted, we mean in the educational/psychological sense. We aren’t saying that our children are better than anyone else’s or that they will necessarily achieve great things, not even straight A’s. We simply mean that they are different, in the same sense that children at the other end of the spectrum are different and that, because of this, they may need some special support and understanding as they grow up. The educational system, designed to meet the needs of the majority, is not always a good fit for them and, all we are asking for is that they are recognised and supported as they navigate their way through their early lives. Giving them a label is supposed to make it easy to identify them and understand their needs, in the same way as the label “dyslexic” is used to identify kids with dyslexia. Unfortunately, the term that was chosen for us almost 100 years ago, has come to mean something else that is currently emotionally loaded.

In Being Gifted is a Beautiful Mess, teenager Madison Kimrey describes eloquently her experience of being a gifted child. You should take the time to read it.  Every child is not like this. Every child is not gifted.

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