“Every child is gifted. They just unwrap their packages at different times.”
I read this earlier somewhere and I couldn’t disagree more. However I religiously structure my thoughts by a 24-hour “think-about-it” period where I can let my thoughts materialize before it comes out incredibly ugly. Yet, even with 24+ hours I still managed to find this statement incredibly ridiculous. Tonight though, I have decided that it’s okay to dissect and “unwrap” the inaccuracies of this inspirational quote.
This evening I had the pleasure of working with a very special student. Each week he comes in reluctantly, sets his water bottle down and proceeds to negotiate every ounce of work he has to do while glaring at the clock hoping somehow the hour-long session passes. Who hasn’t worked with a kid like this? Tonight however was different. You see normally his quirky jokes keeps the table laughing (yes, I know, I am an enabler and should nip this poor work ethic in the bud) but tonight had a very different, somber feeling. In the span of about 5 minutes I cracked open more about this kid than I ever learned about him in the last 6 months of working with him: He was being bullied and enough was enough; he is moving schools. What started out as a light-hearted comment about being chased around turned quite dark as the table (2 other students) realized this has been happening ever since he started school and the routine of being chased every lunch was just the beginning of the taunting. Afterward one student looked at me, quite frazzled about the conversation we had just been involved in and said, “What did he do to make them do all of that to him?”. This kid has quirks no doubt but he is genuinely a really good kid and I am glad that the other students picked up on this. He was being bullied because he has an intelligence that no other kid could comprehend. It’s an intelligence you can see when you look at assessments but not necessarily work.
When I was in kindergarten I had a wonderful teacher, Mme. Marilyn, who was the kindest, most gentle person and I will remember her forever. Back in the day when kindergarten was only half-a-day and only half of that day was spent learning while the other half was spent learning life skills (like dreaming, sharing, building) she turned a classroom into a wonder-world where you wanted to listen to her and be there. Every single kid wanted to be there. I am talking about public school here. Each morning we made the alphabet train where we walked around the class as a train and made the letter noises. We had circle time where we talked about how to share and why we share. We quickly traced a letter and made a pattern. Then we played. Her centres were out of this world; I have yet to meet a kindergarten teacher who levels up to her centres. She had the big blocks centre where you built big fortresses and you know what? They were allowed to fall down and make noise. She had a painting station (yes, every day) where you painted whatever you wanted. The best station was her make-believe station where she dedicated each week to a type of scenario: some weeks it was a full on hospital complete with face masks and a bed. Other weeks it was a shop or kitchen or spaceship. Some weeks it turned into just a plain old bedroom. So, boys and girls alike, learned they could be doctors, business owners, stay-at-home parents or astronauts. I loved this teacher because what she taught me was that my ability to make a pattern did not hold priority over my ability to believe I could be a female astronaut beside my kindergarten beau, Robbie.
She was the one. She was the teacher who realized I had to learn to differently to thrive and for 2 years I underwent tests to determine if I could get into the school for gifted learners. I did and in grade 3, after putting up with too much bullying, I permanently moved to my Hogwarts, Westmount Charter School. It was a charter school, not private, so I consider myself very fortunate and am grateful that it was even an option.
I am no expert when it comes to discussing the actual signs of a child who may be gifted or the physiology behind it. I only know what I see and what I am. However this student who had the courage to talk to his table about his bad luck struck a chord with me from day one: He had to be gifted, there was no way he didn’t have some ounce of giftedness in him. This is where people get confused because they assume, if he were gifted, why would he be doing the program that I work at? In true form, being gifted does not mean you have a gift. In fact, it can mean the quite opposite.
Well here it goes:
Children who are gifted can be D students. They can literally flatline all throughout their education and continue to be that way into adulthood. All of us had IPP’s that got reviewed each year. Not until I started working in schools did I realize that IPP’s were not actually across-the-school strategies but reserved for certain kids only. My god what my brain would have done if I knew my IPP was placed in the same folder as the kid who ran into walls.
Gifted children think differently. I am not talking about multiple intelligences or “are you a visual or kinetic learner?” type stuff (although that is a small aspect). I am talking about what they SEE and FEEL. While a typical child sees a visibly correct answer on a test, a gifted child sees more than what’s offered and what they know is usually right. The fact that none of their answers are options bothers them.
Gifted children can be behavioural issues. Ask my parents how many times I went from the most well-written scholar in a room to an 11-year old having a 3-year old tantrum. It’s emotional intelligence that sets giftedness apart from just being smart. Westmount had so many characters like that; kids who cried because their project didn’t look the way they wanted it to; kids who had meltdowns because their grades dropped the slightest; kids who didn’t care at all about paper grades but could recite movies and books word-for-word off by heart. While most schools would chalk that up to “anxiety” or even depression or stress it was simply a characteristic of being gifted. You didn’t miss tests or skip projects but you were taught how to process what you were feeling and how to channel that energy into your work.
Teachers who can teach gifted children usually have psychology degrees because giftedness is something that needs to be learned about not just through experience. There’s things going on in there that experience cannot teach you. Like I said, I am gifted and even I couldn’t tell you why I think or how I think the way I do but boy am I glad somebody did know.
Gifted children have maturity levels beyond their years. This is a very big problem in public school. The best solution that can be offered is that they skip grades and academically this is amazing but socially it is not. I do not know what it’s like being a younger kid in a much older grade in public school but at Westmount I was allowed to be in a grade 9 french class as a grade 6 but they all were gifted too so it all made sense to them. Not all kids in public school have that social grace.
Gifted can mean being an over-achiever or under-achiever or both. The kids who get all A’s in school are not necessarily gifted, it just means they know the material. The gifted children who get A’s in school usually do so by a process of extreme work ethic and literal hyper focus on one aspect at a time. You have to pry them away from their work and they might experience an episode of emotion because they so badly want to know it all perfectly. I was both. I fixated on small imperfections of my work that I was good at: primarily every subject except Math. Night upon night was filled with perfecting projects and assignments. At this school, you hardly saw posters or dioramas. There were much bigger expectations on how you showed your work. For example in Sport Medicine in grade 7 we chose to present our findings on “the bends” by directing, filming and producing a 20-minute long Grey’s Anatomy episode. We achieved a 98% and 2% was lost because one of the teachers thought there wasn’t enough “sound”. Math I avoided like the Black Plague and I was so embarrassed that I wasn’t the “textbook gifted” child who received A’s in everything. In grade 9 math I had a 68%. While I can attribute some of that to just giving up I also attribute it to the fact that that year was the first year I was taught by someone who did not have training or education in gifted education.
This is why I do not believe in the quote above.
Because, if every child was gifted then Donald Trump would not have been elected as President. If every child was gifted then the whole education system would have to have a re-haul because it would fail all of them. Sometimes I wonder how many kids are left rotting in their classrooms because they don’t have a Mme. Marilyn who can sense thought differently. I wonder how many of those kids could have been the ones to know the answer to solving the poverty crisis or how to cure cancer. How many of those kids believe they are stupid because they do not fit in? How many of those kids are told to just write what they’ve been told and not question it? How many of those kids are aware that if they are gifted, the very success of their life will depend on their teachers to notice their giftedness?
Although I paint Westmount as being the Hogwarts school for gifted children, it didn’t come without its social problems too but they were different social problems. While in public school you might get beat up because you are classified weird or out-spoken or the kid who likes Pokemon, in gifted school you got demoted socially because you got a 70% on a test instead of the preferred, 100% and all the kids liked Pokemon. Gifted kids had the definition of “gifted” wrong too. It’s complicated, I get it.
Being told you’re gifted is not necessarily something to brag about. It can be a burden because few actually understand how emotionally taxing it is. In fact it can be detrimental if not handled in the right way. It’s a one-way ticket to weirdom where you’re either embraced or told you’re too much. You know people will think you’re super smart when actually being gifted has little to do with a grade on paper and more to do with how you perceive the world.When even the smallest aspect of your life is thrown off kilter, any ounce of that “paper intelligence” can be thrown out the window. You’ll be a D student until your home life improves. You’ll be a D student until you stop being bullied. You’ll be a D student until someone realizes you cannot think one way. The students I’ve worked with and seen that have so many characteristics of giftedness are the weirdos and the ones on IEPs. They’re the ones who can speak 3 languages fluently yet can’t make a pattern out of red and blue blocks. They’re the ones who have tantrums on the floor but look at you straight in the eye and talk about the newest X-men movie. They’re 5 years old.
For the sake of the little boy who sat heartbroken at my table today because his quirky intelligence was seen as a peculiarity that must be tormented rather than embraced, I hope teachers learn at least a little bit about what it truly means to be gifted and work with gifted students. Gifted kids aren’t going to unwrap their gifts. It’s not even going to be wrapped. It will appear in your class from day 1 and you are either going to like the gift or not know what to do with it. Until there are publicly funded schools nation-wide that specialize in special education like this, some of the greatest minds could be sitting bored and rudely in the backs of classrooms.
PS. The title of my post Giphted Dethpig stems from a school-wide bracelet contest we had. Apparently in our school of 1 000 we all thought it was hilarious that “Giphted” spelled backwards was “Dethpig”. In fact our Principal found it perhaps the most funny and even made it her license plate. The second-place phrase that almost made it was, “I’m not weird. I’m gifted.”