I recently had a conversation with a young adult who is gifted. We were talking about students in schools. She said that when she was in high school she was not the straight A student although she had a good GPA. She wasn’t the student the teachers thought was ‘gifted’ because there were subjects that she either didn’t like, didn’t excel in, or just didn’t make an effort to do the work; therefore, she wasn’t necessarily one of the top grade earners in the class or school, and was not considered ‘gifted’. Although she had many gifts her peers and teachers didn’t really understand her passions or interest in learning. This young adult continued by saying that the truly gifted students in her school were the ones who asked the big questions; who demanded deep knowledge; who asked probing and in-depth questions; who questioned the status quo to learn ‘why’; who always wanted more learning; and who were sensitive to the injustices in the school, country, and around the world. She said people quickly tired of her constant probing for deeper, more meaningful evidence, and the continual question of ‘why’. Her response was to sometimes keep asking when it really mattered, but in other cases to stop asking so she wasn’t ridiculed in class. As a young adult she still doesn’t understand why her teachers allowed her classmates to ridicule the simple act of asking a probing question to seek deeper meaning, other than the fact that most of the time the teachers didn’t even understand what she was asking. She went on to say that it wasn’t until she began classes in her major in college that she found like people with whom she could be her genuine self, other than being at home where her parents understood her and allowed her to flourish.
I asked if she is resentful of her school experience and those who didn’t understand, both teachers and students alike. She said she was resentful for awhile, but now, looking back, is simply deeply saddened that the school was so intolerant of someone who was different. She reflected on how other students who were different in her school were treated and wished she had made the connection that they were alike and made more contact with them. She said she wishes the school was more tolerant but sees a parallel to today with other groups of students who are not accepted in schools. Sadly, she said, gifted students still aren’t accepted for who they are in K-12 school. She is very happy she has found a place where she can thrive and be herself with like-minded people who don’t think she is abnormal, but wishes she was accepted during K-12 school because she could have learned so much more.
Finally, I asked what she would say to educators, parents, and others who don’t understand those who are gifted, in order to make school a better place for people like her. She said that adults have to admit that sometimes students know more than they do and rather than being insulted or challenged by that to embrace it and allow the student to go as far as they can, while bringing the teacher or other adult with them on the journey. She said that if the classroom could become a place where students who are gifted can be viewed as an interesting person with contributions that others may not have thought of, and a place where they are free to pursue their learning even if it means they do it while others are doing something else, where teachers actually ask the gifted student what they want to pursue, then the school may begin to change and accept people who are different with all of their gifts, and the gifted student will be allowed to actually learn.
Her last comment was that people in schools need to learn how to think outside of the box; we’ve been doing school the same way far too long.
As a place to start on the road to thinking outside of the box, here is a tip sheet from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. It is a good read for all adults.
Tips for Teachers: Successful Strategies for Teaching Gifted Learners
Ask the Doctor