We all think our snowflakes are special. They are, obviously. No one’s curls bounce the way our baby’s curls bounce. No one can hold a candle to the way that our little one can throw a baseball, or play the piano. Or maybe, no one can burp the alphabet, quite the way junior can.
But not all snowflakes are “gifted” snowflakes. In the age of participation trophies, and Even-Stevens, we still need to label and distinguish our gifted kids.
When we talk about special needs in a classroom, we’re not just talking about the needs of those on the left side of the bell curve. In other words, we aren’t just talking about the kids in the “other” classroom. We are also talking about kids who need, and should have access to, extra work, special services, and trained teachers to perform at their best.
Although it doesn’t sound pretty, and it takes away our unique-special-snowflake-ness to describe it this way, people are a series of averages. It’s the only way to describe groups of people by their varying differences. It’s also the only way to provide gifted students, and students with special needs, services that they desperately need in order to succeed.
All children deserve to learn, be challenged, and to reach their full potential. I can’t make my child learn more slowly, any more than I can make your child learn more quickly. Forcing gifted children to sit still, be quiet, and learn at a slower pace, or learn material that’s beneath them is, in essence, a punishment. Assessing them, and labeling them based on those assessments, is a requirement for the educational system to deliver services that they need, and deserve.
Letting a gifted kid “be a kid” without a label is impossible. We, the parents, need the help that a label provides. My son was always two steps ahead of us, figuring out, and getting around, all of our chore charts, rules, and rewards systems. If there was a loophole, he’d find it. An engineer and a college professor with three master’s degrees between us, and the nine-year-old outsmarted us. Every. Single. Time.
Labeling a child as gifted does not turn him into an adult, a businessman, or a buffalo. Before we got the label figured out, we were the frustrated parents of a kid who never did what he was told. He was equally frustrated with us for not explaining things in a way he understood. We needed parenting solutions that worked for gifted kids.
My child isn’t just gifted, he’s profoundly gifted. In your head, did my voice shift to hoity-toity, la-tee-da? Imagine something else. Imagine that parents with gifted kids say it no differently than “my kid has asthma.” They aren’t telling you that their child is gifted because they want to brag; they’re telling you to explain a behavior, or more probably, to beg for help.
Remember that bell curve? Everything inside the bell curve is average, normal, maybe even easy. Everything outside is a challenge. If, for lack of a better word, “regular” kids are challenging, everything to the right or left of the bell curve is an exponent of that. Gifted is ultra challenging with a nice name.
The mommy wars aren’t over. As long as human nature exists, so will irrational envy. Because the label “gifted” sounds like a treat that one kid has and another kid doesn’t, it puts moms on the defensive. If their child doesn’t get access to special treatment, no one should.
Furthermore, there’s an unspoken guilt, in which moms blame themselves for not handing out a gift that they mistakenly believe was available to their own children. Could they have done more flashcards? More prenatal yoga? It makes parents feel like the only way to even the playing field is to say that no child gets to be labeled, making fairness reign supreme over equality.
What parents sometimes fail to recognize, at a fundamental level, is that giftedness is a special needs issue. It’s not a treat, or an actual gift. No one would want a wheelchair ramp removed from a school because it’s “not fair.” There’s no reason not to open and explore the educational needs for a gifted child, even at the elementary or preschool level, because you can’t help but see it as an opportunity your child doesn’t have.
In the end, the label “giftedness” itself causes the most ire. It’s like the Coxackie Virus – no one wants that. It’s not only because no one wants it, but also because it’s a terribly embarrassing thing to tell someone that you have. Even the easier version, “hand, foot and mouth disease” sounds weird.
We should’ve called giftedness something else when we started, long ago. We should’ve labeled it something like “intelligence quotient differential,” or something with no positive adjectives. That way, others could understand that to not be gifted does not mean they are deficient.
More importantly, parents raising non-gifted children aren’t deficient parents. Quite simply, “gifted” needs a better name.