Kicked while they are down!

For a parent watching a young gifted child come home each day, after their first term at school, unhappy, uninterested, lacking the vitality they had in their pre-school years, is a devastating blow. Then, it is often made worse, when they try to air their concerns with the school. How many times have we heard from parents of some of these children – the school just didn’t want to know – usually, expecting them to be content with “He’ll settle into school eventually” … “Give him time” … “You worry about him too much” … “His behaviour problems need to be dealt with first!!!!” (And I have used the ‘male’ pronouns here on purpose).

Many of our gifted boys fail to fire once they reach school – instead joining the ever-increasing list of those with troublesome behaviour. Some girls can become unproductive as well, but often in a more deceptive way.

Why are our gifted children so difficult to please at school? Remember, some are difficult to please at home as well, where they often have two parents and only a couple of other children to cope with in the family. School usually has one adult and twenty to manage in the junior classes. It is no wonder their individual needs are consumed by the class needs.

From their perspective, gifted kids enter school believing it to be a fascinating world they have dreamed about discovering. But, all too quickly, they find it to be revealed as timetables and lunch boxes, bookbags and assemblies, sports and music, and teaching of topics they already know.

They were seeking a big adventure into more answers to their abundant questions about life, only to be told to sit down on the mat and be quiet. They had been reading for two years at home, only to be started on the beginning books and having to pass the levels before they could move on. They had been painting landscapes with earthy colours, only to be given wishy washy primary-coloured paints and thin paper that curls up as it dries.

And rather than being told they have wonderful ideas, and using their skills to find out new and exciting things, these kids are coaxed into believing school is this foreign place that is not about questioning, but more about doing what everyone else is doing. They get down, and rather than assist them back up, they seem to be inadvertently kept there, as parents try to allow the school the “time” they need to understand their child. Each year, the time to settle into the new class becomes shorter, as the parents expect successive teachers to pick up on things a little bit quicker than the previous.

Now, this could sound like a moan from a disillusioned parent – and it might be. But, the fact remains, that any parent who has a child with special needs has to go through this process every year, advocating for their child to get the best match that is possible with their specific needs. Those in wheelchairs will need ramps built to assist them, just as those with academic advantage will need differentiated lessons to assist them.

There can be no automatic assumption for success just because a child receives 130+ in their cognitive testing (placing them in the top 1 – 5% of the population). The child who is 30% beyond the average classmate can have as many difficulties as the child who is 30% below average, just manifesting them in different ways. We would not expect a slower child to keep up with the average students, just as we shouldn’t expect a brighter child to be held back to the speed of the average students. Thinking about this from a new perspective like this can start you to wondering about what stresses we inadvertently put these children under!

There are some ‘pushy’ parents, but some of these might have started off as normal parents who have been let down by an education system with a systemic failure to meet gifted kids where they are at!

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About Debbie Smith

New Zealand Educator interested in online education, giftedness, and other special needs in education.
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