Tag Archives: Advocacy

Dr. Clementine Beauvais: Pushy Parents and Gifted Children

Dr Clementine Beauvais

Behind every ‘gifted’ child is a pushy parent, says Cambridge academic Dr Clementine Beauvais

Dr. Clementine Beauvais is an “education researcher” and children’s author based in Cambridge in the UK. Recently, she was interviewed by journalist Emma Higginbotham about her latest research project in advance of a public talk which is part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. Clementine’s talk is titled: “Gifted children – or pushy parents? ‘Prodigious parenting’ from Leopold Mozart to Mozart for babies”. The premise of her talk is to open discussion and dialogue on the social construct of gifted children and their (possibly) pushy parents, examining how modern literature perceives the role of parental involvement in the achievements of gifted or highly able children. In looking at how these parents and children are perceived, she suggests, we may examine our own attitudes to education and parenting issues.

As anyone with any experience of gifted education or research will recognise, putting the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘pushy parents’ together is a hot-button issue. Journalists too know that to gain attention for their work they need good headlines to pull readers in, and Ms. Higginbotham does just that. “Behind every ‘gifted’ child is a pushy parent” says Cambridge academic Dr. Clementine Beauvais”, her piece is headlined. Pithy and absolutist, it has the word gifted in quotation marks and the authoritative stamp of an Oxbridge academic, no less. The perfect storm was bound to erupt.

And it did. From experts in the field of giftedness and intelligence research to outraged parents, the commentators were quick to protest this lazy myth that they have seen trotted out so many times. Comments on the article and on Clementine’s blog were expansive and challenging. Some suggested that she should do some basic research into giftedness before using her academic position to undermine the field. Many took issue with her use of quotation marks around the term gifted, and her assertion that giftedness is merely a social construct. An interesting debate ensued on her blog, and seemed to take her a little by surprise.

Of course there are pushy parents. We have all seen them in action, making sure their child is front and centre or top of every queue until the child has internalised the message and can maneuver herself into prime position with every fresh opportunity. Ability or giftedness has nothing to do with this style of parenting, they just see the world as a competitive place where resources are scarce. Their children are not going to wait their turn for their share, they are going to go out and take it before someone else does. By pushing their children they give them what they see as the skills and confidence to do so. Parents of gifted children do not have a monopoly on this strategy, but as pushy parents often produce high achieving children, giftedness is regularly conflated with the behaviour. So, the article headline and throwaway comments notwithstanding, what is Clementine Beauvais’s angle?

Commenting on her blog, some offered scholarly advice to investigate giftedness from some reliable sources before delving any further into her research. Some berated her for what they saw as a negation of their own experience of parenting a highly able child. Most were critical and a few were dismissive. Some of her own replies shed a little more light on her focus. She explains that her research is about “representations of gifted children in literature and culture (including the discourses of scientific and educational research)”. Her first post on the subject summarizes what she sees as the current discourse on gifted children. She writes that:

“So part of my project involves looking at texts – from the scientific literature, from educational manuals, from non-fiction, from literature, from policy documents etc – which either reinforce or attempt to deconstruct these popular understandings of giftedness.”

Her second asks if adult focus on childhood happiness informs perceptions of giftedness. It also touches on the history behind modern childhood, a relatively recent development which has lengthened the time our children spend dependent on us and in education. While this is all very interesting, researching gifted children from all the angles she mentions would be an enormous task. Looking at the construct of giftedness from cultural, literary, scientific and educational perspectives? In just three years? Many eminent academics have spent entire careers researching giftedness and intelligence differences in just one of these fields. Several recent papers and books might address some of the issues Clementine would like to examine. The ones that come immediately to mind are David Yun Dai and Joseph Renzulli’s 2008 paper “Snowflakes, Living Systems and the Mystery of Giftedness” (behind paywall) as well as Dai’s book “The Nature and Nurture of Giftedness”. She might also want to take a look at Scott Barry Kaufman’s fascinating book “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” and “Explorations in Giftedness” by Sternberg, Jarvin and Grigorenko. In fact anything by Robert Sternberg is worth reading from an academic perspective. But if Clementine is going to do her subject justice, she has a lot of reading ahead of her!

Nevertheless, examining giftedness from a sociologist’s viewpoint is a worthy endeavour. Stepping outside our own definitions and looking at what people think, as expressed in language, literature and culture is a fine research topic. Done well, it would be of great benefit to those who work  (or parent) in the field of giftedness or intelligence research. Linguistic and cultural narratives tell us a lot about where we must start in designing an education system which would cater to all. We may have to take a step backward, into an examination of how we came to be perceived as pushy or gifted, in order to move forward. Clementine’s research focus may make some gifted advocates uncomfortable, but it may also serve a very pertinent purpose.

Those of us who deal every day with giftedness, gifted behaviour and intelligence differences need to be mindful of how we react to the myths and stereotypes. It goes without saying that we should challenge them but perhaps we can do so without feeding the myths on the flip side. There is plenty of rigorous, peer-reviewed academic research which supports what we experience in our everyday lives. By placing our lived experiences of these issues in the context of research we could have a more powerful answer to the types of lazy journalism we encountered this week.

But I can’t shake the feeling that we have all walked ourselves into being part of Clementine’s big laboratory!


Dai, D. Y. (2010). The Nature and Nurture of Giftedness: A New Framework for Understanding Gifted Education. Education & Psychology of the Gifted Series. Teachers College Press. 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027.

Dai, D. Y., & Renzulli, J. S. (2008). Snowflakes, living systems, and the mystery of giftedness. Gifted Child Quarterly, 52(2), 114-130.

Kaufman, S. B. (2013). Ungifted: intelligence redefined. Perseus Books Group.

Sternberg, R. J., Jarvin, L., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2010). Explorations in giftedness. Cambridge University Press.

Gifted: Who You Are or What You Do? Part 2

Nature Vs NurtureIn part 1, I outlined the two broad models of giftedness; gifted as child development and gifted as achievement/talent development. Now to air my views!

I can’t help feeling that the move to talent development is partially politically motivated. The term “gifted” comes with a perception of elitism and all sorts of negative baggage. It is very difficult to describe the child development concept to people who have already decided that you think your child is somehow better than theirs and everyone else’s. It can come across a bit woolly and vague.  How much easier and more palatable to sell it as a concept whereby anyone can be gifted, if only they have the right environment? Not only that, but look: we can clearly demonstrate the giftedness and, we will produce the future saviours of the world to boot. That might not only make the educational powers-that-be sit up and take notice, it might even attract funding.

As a parent, I have several issues with this.

1. Where, in this talent development model, is there any recognition for the asynchronous development of my child? Of their inescapable feeling of not fitting in, of being somehow out-of-sync? No matter how you try, you cannot escape this issue. It is one of the first topics that parents will bring up at support groups meetings. And, no harm to all the academics, but we live with these kids. We know how they feel.

2. I absolutely, 100%, believe that each and every child should be encouraged and supported to develop their talent to the full. That, to my mind, is not a gifted thing at all. I would love this approach to be taken in school as a whole and I’m sure my children would have benefited. However, it would not have addressed their different social and emotional needs and it is the lack of awareness and understanding of those which caused most of my kids’ difficulties.

3. I take issue with the idea that it is only the gifted who will be the future leaders and cancer-curers of the world. No doubt, some of them will. But you don’t need to be gifted to do that. You need a certain level of intelligence coupled with drive, motivation and hard work. Many gifted kids don’t have that and may never achieve as highly as we might hope. And, why should they be obliged to save the world anyway? Why can’t they just be perfectly happy, productive and non-eminent members of society? What’s wrong with being a great teacher, paramedic, stay-at-home mother? Why is eminence the be-all-and-end-all of everything?

4. Is the talent development model not, paradoxically, more elitist? In a system where we are cutting funding to education right, left and centre, how much funding will be available for talent development programmes? Will it not be the children of pushy parents with money, who will be most likely to be identified because their parents can afford the extra classes and the best equipment and will do whatever it takes to have their children noticed? Where does it leave the less financially and socially advantaged?

5. Where do the twice exceptional children fit in? Gifted children with a learning difficulty may not be able to perform to the standards required for inclusion in talent development programmes. That’s not to say that they are particularly well provided for as it is, of course.  Just as I finished writing this, the NAGC released a new position statement on recognising 2e children.

Dr James Webb, who is indeed an eminent individual in the field of giftedness, says of the new NAGC shift to talent development, hold on there a minute, you may have missed some of it. It’s not all about talent development. Social and emotional issues are not left out, there just wasn’t room to discuss them in the summary of the paper. Well, to me, the priority was summed up in that statement: “the goal of gifted education is eminence”.

In The Phenomenology of Giftedness , Linda Silverman discusses the child development model of giftedess and outlines its importance and fairness. She warns against “the child being missed completely in [these] performance-driven conceptions”. In this rather scathing article To Be or To Do? Is A Gifted Child Born Or Developed?,  Jim Delisle wonders if, in striving to be politically correct, have we diluted Gifted and Talented education too far.

Most parents of gifted children want nothing more than for their children to grow up happy, fulfilled and independent. Eminence would be nice, I guess (let’s be honest), but it is certainly not our goal. We, like our children, are frustrated by the lack of intellectual challenge offered in school and we believe that it is this lack of challenge which often leads to behavioural difficulties. However, we also recognise that, within the current system, it is extremely difficult for a teacher to meet these needs. I personally feel that, if there was more widespread understanding of the child development theory of giftedness, our children might be less likely to be damaged by being forced to conform to a system that treats all children alike. There is definitely interplay between the two and both aspects are needed,  but I would prefer the emphasis to be on my child’s psychological well being with talent development coming second. 

In Ireland we have no official recognition for gifted children in our education system. We have not adopted any model of giftedness. In other words, we have a clean canvas. In the absence of any central organisation or association, this may be a challenge, but we really do need to get our heads together, assess what has been done elsewhere, decide what would work best here and come up with a plan. If we sit about for long enough, we run the risk of someone else’s model being foisted upon us by some committee on a box-ticking mission. We need input and perspectives from parents, teachers, students and psychologists. Any volunteers?

Launch of Gifted Ireland

GiftedIrelandWe are very excited to launch Gifted Ireland as a resource for the gifted community in Ireland. While there are many other stakeholders involved in the support of our children, we believe that it is we as parents who must be the driving force behind change in the way giftedness is dealt with in this country. The future happiness and wellbeing of our own children is at stake and we should not sit back and wait for others to make a move. We must step up to the plate as a group to ensure that our children’s needs are recognised and that they get the support necessary to develop into happy, fulfilled and productive members of society.

The first step is to get organised and that is where Gifted Ireland comes in. We are offering this as the means through which we can form and develop local support groups and through which we can all communicate and collaborate.

Since 2009 our own support group, Gifted Advocacy and Support (GAS), in Wicklow/South Dublin has been a lifesaver for many parents of gifted children. Many nerves have been calmed and frustrations vented over numerous cups of coffee and buns. Friendships have been made and previously undiscovered talents revealed.

As we engaged with other parents around Ireland, it became clear that there is an appetite for more such groups, run by parents at local level. Only parents of gifted children really understand what it is like to be the parent of a gifted child and there is nothing quite like meeting face-to-face with others who “get it”. It is the sharing of experiences that brings us together.

We have a lot of experience supporting our own children, negotiating their way through the education system and running our own support group. We are very happy to share that knowledge and experience but we do not intend to run anyone else’s group or presume to tell anyone how this should be done. The aim of this new project is to help parents to find each other for support and to facilitate networking between groups so that we can all share ideas and resources.

We have already met several inspirational parents with brilliant ideas and some with amazing organisational skills. Not everyone has the confidence or wherewithal to make things happen on their own, but as a community we can achieve great things. Each and every one of us has something to bring to the table and it will be by listening to and supporting each other that we will eventually make a difference for our children…or grandchildren!

Some of us have become active advocates over the years and have come to enjoy being a voice for the gifted community in Ireland. We hope to encourage many more of you to join us, but we recognise that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, as long as we are all talking, we can ensure that everyone is represented when the opportunity arises.

We invite all the friends we have made over the past four years and all fellow parents of gifted children around Ireland to join us as we move onwards and upwards. This is a resource for everyone to share, and a work in progress, so please get in touch if you have any ideas, comments, questions or suggestions.