Sunday, June 3, 2007

Why Does Intellectual Giftedness Create Such Resentment?

Jennifer from "Et Tu" wrote an interesting post the other day entitled "Having Smart Kids". She makes some good points about parental obsession with the external markers of achievement, the "fear of failure" that can be a problem for intellectually gifted kids, and how the selection criteria for GATE programs may exclude kids who are gifted in different domains.

I was troubled, however, by the anti-intellectual undertone to Jennifer's post and especially prominent in the comments. There is a resentment in our culture towards kids who are intellectually gifted that we don't show towards kids who are gifted in other domains such as athletics, art, or music. Nobody complains about there being selective sports teams, orchestras, art shows, etc. But have a selective GATE program or honor roll and all of the sudden it gets bashed as "elitist" or worse. Frankly, it strikes me as often a case of "sour grapes"!

God gives each child different strengths and weaknesses and we are all equal in His eyes. We should celebrate everyone's gifts, whatever the domain. Carping about the intellectually gifted in a nasty manner (A) is not Christian and (B) hurts all of us when it contributes to underachievement by those who have the potential to give so much back to society. We need the sharpest minds among us to be out there searching for a cure for cancer!

No one would question that a child who has an IQ of 70 has special educational needs and requires accommodation by the school. Why then is it so controversial for the child with an IQ of 130 to want accommodation for his/her special educational needs? The child who is two standard deviations above the mean is just as far out of the academic mainstream as the child who is two standard deviations below the mean.

This country wastes an enormous amount of potential by not providing adequate educational challenges to our brightest students. Chinese and Indian schools don't sit around worrying that selection by ability will hurt the "self-esteem" of kids who do not qualify for the highest track. These countries are currently kicking America's egalitarian fanny in the world economy!

I hope that homeschooling will help shield my children from the anti-intellectualism so prevalent in American society. I don't want them to have to endure ridicule from their classmates for being bright the way that I did growing up. I pray in particular that my DD will never feel like she has to "play dumb" in order to be attractive to boys.

Of course, I want my kids to avoid the sins of arrogance, vanity, and pride. We focus a lot of energy towards teaching character in our homeschool. Luke 12:48 states that "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required". They have a responsibility to use their God-given talents to help make this world a better place.


Christina said...

I think part of the problem with special education programs nowadays (accelerated and decelerated both) is that the mainstreamed kids are no longer having their needs met. Used to be, "back in the day", that the mainstream classrooms actually served the population they were designed for. So the problem now is that only the kids an appropriate number of deviations from the mean are receiving developmentally appropriate teaching. That does seem pretty unfair - EVERY child should be served by the public schools, not just the ends of the bell curve. (It might be argued, actually, that the schools should work hardest to serve the center of the bell curve and not the edges, simply because there are more people there...)

I think it's not intellectual giftedness itself that creates resentment, but rather the fact that the school system doesn't value or even recognize other gifts. Schools are so very different from the years you and I went through (10 and 20 respectively); the other types of giftedness you mention, like music and sports, are losing ground with the hyperfocus government is placing on basic intellectual skills. (Sports is hanging on longer, but in my experience most kids in sports are doing primarily extracurricular teams, prior to high school anyway; and it is the rare school that has any significant arts program.)

One might argue that schools are for academics and therefore programs for intellectual deviations are appropriate. Still, I think part of the reason the schools are failing is precisely because of this narrowing of focus. For most children (even gifted/delayed), their intellect is just a part of their whole. The schools continue to move away from educating the whole child, and children don't understand the partitioning.

Just another reason to homeschool, huh? I love that my children can simply BE WHO THEY ARE, with all their many gifts and their disinterests and delays, too.

Crimson Wife said...

I don't think that the public schools are doing a very good job at giving developmentally appropriate teaching to *ANY* kids. However, the pace of a mixed-ability class is usually aimed towards the middle, so the average kids are probably the best off under this system.

If anything, public schools are WORSE for intellectually gifted kids today than they were back when we were in school. The school I attended used to start academic tracking in 5th grade for all subjects. Now it doesn't start until 7th grade for English & math and 9th grade for the other subjects. That's a really long time for a bright kid to have to sit there bored out of his/her mind because the pace of the class is way too slow.

I absolutely agree with you about the focus on reading & math to the exclusion of all other subjects. This is one of the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind IMHO. My best friend growing up was an extremely gifted musician but she did not discover her talent until 5th grade band class. She was lucky that our school had a strong music program but a similar kid today would be SOL in many places :-(