Why Care About Gifted Children?

photo courtesy of eye-for-ebony, Unsplash

Talking about giftedness is tricky. It can sound like discrimination or elitism. And it is discrimination when kids of color are ignored and excluded from gifted programs in schools, which, sadly, they still are in many places. In my mind, it is a no-brainer to understand that giftedness comes in all races, religions, cultures, and ethnic groups. But not everyone agrees. 

And even when I talk about giftedness in children, including kids of color, it might still be said that I am creating an elite group of smart people and discriminating against the children who are not as intellectually advanced. That I am saying that the gifted are better humans, somehow superior to others.

Nooooooo. Puleeze. I am not saying that. 

So, what am I saying? 

Some background: This misunderstanding has existed as long as I have been in this field. Which is a long time. I started teaching gifted children in the mid-’70s. Yes, that long. And, yes, it is surely awkward to say that some children are more intelligent, faster learners, and more complex, deeper thinkers and feelers. But it is not unlike saying that some children are naturally much more talented at athletics. Most of us will never be a Michael Jordan or a Serena Williams, no matter how many hours we practice. And we are fine with that. 

But when it comes to intellectual giftedness we are not so fine. 

In my experience, all 35-ish years of it, gifted children are naturally passionate about learning, thinking, feeling, arguing, creating, perceiving, and empathizing. At an early age, they ask probing questions, feel for others’ suffering, and grasp complex ideas. Their favorite places are often the library, the bookstore, and their vivid imaginations. Of course, these kids are also all different and unique based on multiple factors, but, they often have many of these characteristics in common. Even with differences in race, religion, and culture, many of these gifted traits are still apparent. 

OK, then, some people say. Sounds like these gifted kids have so many advantages. Why bother? There are more important issues out there that need our attention. 

Well, yes, there are so many important issues. So many.

But, I don’t have to convince you, dear blog readers. You understand why I bother.

I do not need to remind you of the years of serious bullying in school because you were super enthusiastic about learning and wanted to answer all the questions. Because you spent every recess hiding in the library, your only safe place. Because some of your teachers were annoyed by your relentless curiosity. Because your passions for classical music, paleontology, Richard Feynman, BBC documentaries, Van Gogh, and brain specimen coasters were not understood by the other eight-year-olds. Because you spent weeks waiting to learn something new

Because the loneliness and rejection you felt then, is still with you. It shows up in the workplace when you are waiting for your coworkers to grasp what you are saying. For a supervisor to be a faster thinker and better leader than you are. For colleagues to have more integrity. It shows up in your sensitivity to injustice and your compassion for suffering humans and for a planet in crisis.

You feel it when the pressure to be smart means you are paralyzed by a fear of failure, of disappointing others, of never living up to your potential. You feel it when you can’t find a partner who knows how to listen or who is willing to dive into the depths with you. You feel it when your intuition and spirituality are dismissed as irrational and irrelevant. You feel it when you have to slow your thoughts, limit your vocabulary, numb your sensitivities, and hide your true self.

That is why I bother.

And if you are part of a marginalized group, if you are a person of color, there is more. There is racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism. Socio-economic disparities. Climate injustice. It is a long list. It can be quite discouraging and overwhelming.

So, here is a thought.

What if, then, what if we could agree that this is the perfect time to embrace our gifted children. Because if there ever was a time to let them flourish, it would be now. To encourage their curiosity, creativity, and sensitivities. To nourish their capacity to seek answers to complicated questions. To appreciate their intuition and larger spirituality. To support their quest for justice for all. 

Let us deepen our understanding of giftedness in ourselves and our kids. And together, we will build a more just and peaceful world.

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To my bloggEEs: If you are looking for resources on giftedness and people of color, here are a few that I know of. Thank you, as always, for being here. We would love to hear from you. 

The G Word Film  due for release in 2021

“Defying popular myths that assume most gifted people are wealthy, white, and will do fine on their own, THE G WORD reveals the economic, cultural and gender diversity of our nation’s gifted and talented population at every stage of life, highlighting their educational challenges, social isolation, and deep emotional sensitivities…It also reveals a large and lively community of people around them working hard to meet their needs while challenging the prejudice that comes with being labeled “smart” in the 21st century.”  from the website

Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners by Joy Lawson Davis

“Being gifted and talented and also African American makes children double minorities, and the issues they face can be different from those faced by most other gifted children. This book provides helpful insights and guidelines for the parenting and education of Black gifted children. In addition to the challenges that are frequently experienced by many gifted children, …Black gifted children often must also deal with issues like discrimination and low expectations of them…”  from the publisher

Running the Long Race in Gifted Education edited by Joy M. Scott-Carrol and Anthony Sparks

“The editors have assembled authors representing a range of racial, ethnic, regional and cultural backgrounds. Their narratives reveal a wealth of successes, challenges, inspirations. Speaking in their unique voices, these culturally diverse and gifted adults describe…:  from Amazon


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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

14 responses to “Why Care About Gifted Children?”

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  1. Someti Avatar
    Someti

    What a magnificent post, Paula.

    And I agree: “this is the perfect time to embrace our gifted children”. And I guess none of us stopped being a child somehow, I’d add. 😅


  2. artyplantsman Avatar
    artyplantsman

    A fascinating post which I wholeheartedly agree with.
    I have been thinking a lot about this recently and I suspect a lot of gifted people (especially youngsters) are increasingly reluctant to come forward and be noticed due to the political and media vilification of what they regard as ‘elites’. The anti-science, anti-intellectual and even anti-artistic mood in the populist ‘democracies’ of the US, UK, Brazil, Australia scares me frankly. And I worry it will reach its logical conclusion in the way it did in Cambodia in the 1970s.


  3. Deborah Nam-Krane Avatar
    Deborah Nam-Krane

    If gifted education weren’t treated like a membership to an elitist almost all-white club in my district, I might not be homeschooling my children.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It is so frustrating that this is still happening in schools. We need to provide an appropriate education to all of our gifted kids. All of our kids! Ideally, there are ways to train teachers so there is differentiation in each classroom or kids are cluster grouped with the teachers who are more sensitive, creative, and flexible. But it seems that educators still need help identifying who these kids are in the first place so that it’s not an “all-white club.”


      1. Deborah Nam-Krane Avatar
        Deborah Nam-Krane

        Even more frustrating because they’re so easy to identify, especially when they’re young. But it’s easier to medicate the kids who are curious and “act up” than to give them the stimulation they need.

        I’ll stop now. Thank you for bringing this up.


  4. Stef Avatar
    Stef

    As my son and his wife (both highly gifted) risk their lives after those 2+ months of lockdown in NYC demonstrating in the streets at what people are calling (hopefully) an “inflection point” in our culture, I’ve been doing a deep dive into my own life of “white privilege.” My advocacy for “all” gifted children somehow has been a passionate crusade that has never included a specific focus on the glaring absence of black kids from most of the gifted programs that have managed to be created and to survive in our anti-intellectual environment. Why have I NOT focused on this minority within a minority and been more vocal about it? It isn’t as if I didn’t notice! When I did think about it, I knew I didn’t have an answer. There are so many aspects of the issue I didn’t have either experience with or strategies for. And I was aware of the leading African American crusaders like Joy Lawson Davis, working tirelessly to make change. And here’s what I am finally seeing. It is not okay for members of the privileged group to simply hand over the total responsibility for solving the issue of discrimination to those who are discriminated against. That’s why racism still an deadly issue 400 years later. It’s a task for all of us!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Stef. Well said. Thank you. It’s up to all of us.


    2. Pegi Ficken Avatar
      Pegi Ficken

      I am not quite sure just how to say this other than to start with one of Paula’s prior posts–which almost always bring me to tears. You are not responsible for fixing the whole world! Nor am I, thank God! It might have something to do with the fact that the discrimination is not merely in educational systems, but in life. The discrimination does not stop at graduation. The discrimination is by those with power against those who might adversely affect the power. There are all kinds of excuses used–color, ethnicity, gender, abilities, etc. Is there a hierarchy of discrimination? Is it worse to discriminate against someone because they are a person of color? Or a girl? Or a female person of color? Do we add them up and rank them? Or do we accept, as Orwell and Huxley have so ably pointed out, that all of these systems are designed to make sure that all of the people who are not in power are treated as one group whose purpose is to serve those in power? Racism is merely one of the rocks that those in power throw at us–the army.
      I wish that I had an answer. One of the popular memes being shouted now is “Defund the police.” If you look at the horrifying list of government bureaucrats who are allowed to be armed against the citizens–such as the USDA–one can only come to the conclusion that we should defund the whole damned government.


      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I know it is so complex, Pegi. And memes and social media can be simplistic or interpreted differently depending on who you are. I often bring it back to knowing who you are and finding your path(s) and your purpose(s). And also, seeing what you can do each day to shine your light to “be the change.” (am I really using a meme?) We are “responsible” for doing what we can to create a better world. To be anti-racist, for example. Just not having to fix it all! And that’s tricky because of the pressure the RFM feels for “if you’re so gifted why aren’t you….” Did I mention that it’s complex? So those are just some thoughts. I understand your frustration.


  5. Cheri Miranne Avatar
    Cheri Miranne

    Another powerful post! Thank you, Paula.


  6. Tina Harlow Avatar
    Tina Harlow

    What a wonderful post Paula! Thank you so much for focusing on gifted children, particularly those who are marginalized. We have a lot of work to do!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Tina, we have a lot of work to do. I just watched a talk by Brittney Cooper. it was powerful. Her book is called Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. In the talk, she happened to mention that she was in a gifted program in school and all of the kids were White. We have a lot of work to do.


  7. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Paula, I love this, especially your comment about the quest for justice among gifted kids. I have been mulling over writing a blog about this as well. I have seen recent comments on social media implying that it is racist to support gifted education. Many point to the fiasco of how gifted education has been mismanaged in NYC. But there are so many misconceptions, and gifted kids and their education gets thrown under the bus. And as we know, when gifted education is eliminated, the kids who are hurt the most are gifted kids from minority or impoverished backgrounds. So thanks for your voice and perspective standing up for gifted kids during this very difficult time.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Gail. I didn’t actually follow that story in NYC. But this is certainly a tough topic at any time. I don’t usually write about kids but I wanted to share those resources and this is the piece that came out. I hope people find it helpful. Appreciate hearing from you. I hope you write something, too.

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