April 24, 2013

Your Kid Is Not Gifted and Never Will Be

Remember last century, when it became the fashion to "hothouse" your kid? 

You started signing with your baby so they could tell you at 4 months they wanted milk, instead of just grabbing your boob and screaming.  Then you did flash cards when they were 12 months old, read the Financial Times to them and played them nothing but Tchaikovsky and Wagner. By the time they were two they could recite - on command - quotes you had taught them from Business Review Weekly and tell people who their favourite philosopher was, because you had coached them on that too in order to impress your friends.

Then they get to school and realise they are just the same as everyone else. Average. Working at grade level, producing acceptably average work and passing tests aimed at the lowest common denominator with a average mark.  That's all fine, except their parents have inculcated in their child high expectations that they cannot possibly fulfill.  

There are several attitudes towards giftedness and they all pretty much shit me.  A lot of things shit me and you'll learn that pretty quickly. But the above quote shits me more than most things.

"All kids are gifted!"  And apparently, sooner or later this giftedness will become apparent to all! Your kid will magically transform from average kid in an average class with an average grade to a maths whiz or suddenly code a successful rival to Facebook. Interestingly, this is the polar opposite of what ignorant uneducated many teachers say about early-identified gifted kids: that all kids level out by Year 3 anyway. Which they don't.

It's unclear how this average-to-gifted transformation will occur. When they have been hot-housed enough or put through enough summer schools and enough private home tutoring?  When they reach puberty? When they pick up a violin or meet calculus? And what about before then? Are they average or are they hiding their light under the proverbial?  Are they having the same thought processes and learning in the same way as other kids or have they slowly "learned" to be gifted?  

Well I hate to break it to you, Mr & Mrs Neurotypical and your extremely average Miranda, but every child is NOT gifted.  In fact, only 2% of the population is gifted.  Giftedness has two parts: #1 is a position on the bell curve of measured intelligence. An IQ of over 130 is the baseline of giftedness. 

 #2 is its cause. Giftedness is a neurological state. It is a difference - an extreme difference - in the functioning of the brain.  Studies show that those with a higher IQ use a completely different part of their brain to do complex tasks. Frontal lobe activity is significantly higher. The parietal lobe - an area of the brain that is usually folded and associated with visual-spatial and mathematical abilities - is frequently unfolded. They have lower testosterone levels. They have lower cortisol levels, which affect cognitive processing speed, and higher levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for reward-driven learning.  I suppose that is one reason why "they" say it is a fine line between genius and madness: too much dopamine and you have schizophrenia.

Last time I did any reading about neurology, it seemed pretty certain that the brain wasn't able to change any of these attributes in order to "open a package" and make mummy and daddy proud. 

 I keep mentioning the intention of the parents here because it isn't the kids coming out with such pithy bullshit quotes. They don't walk around the schoolyard proclaiming, "I'll be gifted too, someday!"  In fact, the gifted kids are more likely to be hiding away from the other kids so they aren't given shit for being the Weird One. "If you're so smart, spell Lamborghini" said a 3rd-grader to my 6yo son.  FFS I just had to look up how to spell it!

It's the parents who create these false beliefs and therefore expectations, reacting to something they don't understandIt results from them believing that parents of actually gifted kids feel somehow superior (we don't, and we're not) or railing against the outdated concept that giftedness is somehow "elitist". (It isn't.  Secretly, they want a piece of the "superior, elitist" pie too.  But if they actually did some fucking reading and knew what "gifted" means then they would understand that giftedness comes with a whole raft of psycho-social problems, and in reality I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Maybe then they would stop wishing it on their own kids, and on themselves too.

Whether you are gifted or average, so what if you don't "reach your full potential" and "open your package?* I wasn't aware there was an obligation to do so. Are we a disappointment if we don't? If we don't do anything Nobel-Prize-worthy have we failed our parents? Why is there pressure to "open that package" and DO SOMETHING with your abilities?

Just let kids be. Be gifted. Be average. Be below average. Have a learning disability. Be gifted with a learning disability. Cut the crap about "everyone is the brilliant!" We're not the same. We are not all brilliant. We are not all going to change the world. We're not all good at something.  Suck it up: Miranda is not and never will be gifted and she may not want to do anything more than sit on the grass and look at the clouds. Let her.

*Revolting term and I hope I never have to use it again


Shoe said...

I know several parents who need to read this!

Anything But Normal said...

Free dictionary with every share!

Tiffany said...

Fantastic! If I see someone post this damn quote on Facebook one more time...