The Gifted Child

8 Sep

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test is administered every two years. Students from 65 countries took the test in 2012, and United States ranked 36th in Math, 28th in Science, and 24th in Reading. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have expressed a lot of concern, while some researchers say the data has been blown out of proportion.

The American children, however, rank first in self-esteem. The children, since their birth, are told they are special. Their self-esteem doesn’t take a hit so everybody is given a prize in competitions. They get independence to decide what to study and when, and how much TV to watch. In absence of role models to look up to for inspiration, more and more children are taking the easier route and studying humanities and business. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) has fewer and fewer takers, and over the last few years, the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search has been dominated by Asian kids.

In schools, kids take tests for “giftedness” just to prove they are above average. Parents are proud of their gifted kids. The kids who qualify the tests get to go attend higher curriculum classes a few times a week. Until the sixth grade in my school district! For some reason, the schools don’t find it necessary to nurture their gifted kids after the sixth grade. There are many kids who are “late bloomers”. They may not fare well on the gifted tests, but they perform very well academically in later years.

Are they bored?
It’s a very common complaint from parents that their gifted child gets bored in the classroom because the environment or curriculum is not challenging enough. So they need to take higher-level curriculum to sustain their interests. I don’t agree with this view. The kids are gifted in certain subjects but there are a lot of subjects and topics taught in the classroom. The teachers may not be trained or experienced enough to engage the students. The bored kids will be bored … in any class, in any curriculum. Because they have a tendency to get bored easily.

Are they really “gifted”?
The kids who score in the 98th percentile are, no doubt, above average, and we need to nurture them. However, are they truly “gifted”? I think not. The word “gifted” sounds like they are wizards like Harry Potter and we are truly blessed to have them between us. They are intelligent and have a lot of common sense but “gifted”? Really? How about “talented”?

Multiple intelligences
Identifying gifted children through standardized tests is not the right approach. True, there are kids who are intelligent and can perform well on verbal and non-verbal tests. However, there are kids who are promising in other fields such as arts and music or athletics. The schools do not think it is necessary to identify those gifted students early and nurture their talents. They may never find someone who encourages them to pursue a career for which they have a natural flair. The gifted kids go on to become successful members of the society. However, most of the successful people in business and academics are those coming from the other 98% of the population that didn’t get identified as gifted.

I know a thing or two about gifted kids because I have two in my home.

You are not special

Additional readings
US teens lag in global education rankings as Asian countries rise to the top
The Wrong Way to Treat Child Geniuses
The Illusion of the ‘Gifted’ Child

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