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Home Education Magazine

March-April 2001 - Articles and Columns

The Gifted Child - Theresa Willingham

What are the odds your child is "gifted?" Probably slim, if you believe psychologist and author Ellen Winner, who says, "Extraordinary abilities are mostly innate and occur in perhaps one in 10,000 children." But probably quite high if you believe in your child!

Winner argues that only "profoundly gifted students, with IQs over 160 or prodigious talents in art or music should receive special services." The other 9,999 - including the just "plain old smart kids" can, for all intents and purposes, go take a homogenous hike in "high standards" classrooms (wherever those might be).

While that argument might make good fodder for public education policy, it's a social setback of the most limiting kind. It's a throwback to the days when IQs were (erroneously) considered the best measure of success and potential.

However great a blow it might be for the parents of the "profoundly gifted," the fact is that the world is not run by the 1 in 10,000 Winner declares have "extraordinary abilities" or "prodigious talents." The world is run by that neglected 9,999 who are being told they're nothing special!

Those "plain old smart kids" who don't qualify for accelerated learning programs or special science labs are the ones who will grow up to help out in soup kitchens, volunteer in nursing homes and homeless shelters. They will rally for clean water and healthy environments, read and appreciate good literature and often write it, work hard in jobs that strengthen our economy and raise new generations of ordinary, good people. They will be members of Doctors Without Borders and Green Peace and the Sierra Club. They will also probably be the ones with the surprising start up companies that wow Wall Street, who invent a new fuel source or rescue someone from a fire or an automobile accident.

I'm not the jaded parent of failed children saying this. I'm the mother of at least one gifted child, and probably three. When my oldest was six years old and her eccentric behavior was driving me nuts, and one of her grandmother's was calling for a child psychologist to look into the matter, I took a chance and had her tested for giftedness. I figured she was probably no odder than Mozart as child, or Einstein, or Beatrix Potter boiling down fox carcasses in her backyard.

She scored one point shy of admission to the gifted student program at our local elementary school. Because she didn't hurry through a timed portion of the test - indeed, has never hurried through anything - a score sheet said she wasn't The "profoundly gifted," but just a "plain old smart kid." I was invited to bring her back in a year and have her tested again. The school was sure she would make it on the second round. I decided it wasn't that important.

Of course she's gifted. Her IQ measures in the 120 range. She's twelve now, a magnificent artist, with a mature flair for cartooning and a deep and abiding love and understanding of nature. But she can't do grade-level math to save her soul. Her sister, whom I never had tested, is also gifted. At ten, she shows "prodigious talent" at the piano and works well above grade level in math. But she gets confused with word problems on paper and her giftedness takes flight at the sight of any kind of "test." The girls' seven-year-old brother would probably be stuck in a learning disabled class. His giftedness is somewhat hidden behind a gregarious, fun-loving nature and an abhorrence of reading, although he loves to be read to and has the focus and maturity to enjoy listening to long novels with his sisters.

My friends' kids are gifted, although not all of them notice their gifts. These children are wonderful skaters, artists, inventors, budding scientists, amateur filmmakers, young architects, and more. NThem have ever been formally tested for giftedness. As far as the public schools are concerned, these plain old smart kids have to tough it out in crowded classrooms with everyone else. Fortunately, many of these friends homeschool and they don't have to worry about that.

I'm sure your children are gifted too. When my children were very little and we spent time with other friends who had children the same ages, I would watch in fascination and wonderment at the skills and talents they all showed at those tender ages. I couldn't figure out why those other parents didn't seem to see their children's talents. Indeed, over time, a lot of those talents went unrealized because they were never recognized.

How many brilliant scientists have we lost? How many doctors, how many possible cures for cancer, how many magnificent compositions and great works of art, how many inventions and cosmological theoretical advances have never seen the light of day because throughout their youth, our possible saviors were told they were nothing special? Genius isn't relegated to the domain of high I.Q. Genius, said Thomas Edison - who was considered "addled" in his youth and probably wouldn't have qualified as GSP material today - is one tenth inspiration and nine tenths perspiration. It's the result of the blue-collar work ethic, not white-collar elitism.

I am grateful that homeschooling allows me to nurture the unique genius and gifts of each of my children. I mourn the genius lost in public schools because a child hasn't yet realized his or her potential at the age of 5. I believe we get what we expect from our children - and from one another. At least, I believe we do if our expectations consist in belief in one another's highest potential. If we treated all our children as the geniuses they can be, and nurtured their innate gifts of kindness, charity, understanding, and compassion, as well as their hoped-for academic gifts, then 9,999 children out of 10,000 could brighten our future and theirs with their own "extraordinary abilities."

What are the odds your child is gifted? Probably pretty good if you believe in your child!

(c) 2001 Theresa Willinghamn

March-April 2001 Issue

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