Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Broader Definition of Success for Gifted Children

Back in 2008, I read this article and though it was interesting, I didn't necessarily agree with the author's point of view.

I wrote a blog post about my problems with the article back then and was asked to expound a bit on it for this blog here it goes.

I, personally, don't think accommodating gifted children is about creating prodigies, Nobel prize winners, or the next Mozart. When my kids read at 3-4 years old, I didn't automatically think that I was going to create the next Nobel prize winner. My goal was to provide them with materials they found interesting to read but not too emotionally mature for their tender years and to read with them everyday. When Haley began to show advanced musical ability, my goal was not to create the next Mozart. I simply found ways to meet her needs for instruction, performance opportunities, and social outlets. My main goal in homeschooling my children has always been to give them what they need
to feel challenged, give them an education that keeps many doors open for them so they have options, and teach them where they are so they maintain a love of learning and become adults who are able to find a job doing something they want to do.

I have a much broader definition of success than Mr. Gladwell would accept. I believe there are many other important aspects of human beings worthy of being celebrated besides academics or huge achievements. In the article, Mr. Gladwell considered people with over 150 IQ as not having obtained success if they didn't become Noble prizewinners or make huge contributions to some field of study. Many of those in the study did get advanced degrees and go on to work in the field of their choosing leading productive lives but to him, that was not successful enough.  By Mr. Gladwell's standards, I am a failure. I fall under his definition of gifted but I "only" work part-time and chose to put my efforts into homeschooling and mothering my kids. I always wanted to be a mother and consider it my most important calling. I purposefully chose a career that would provide me with flexible hours so I had time to be home and raise my children.  I am happy with my life and am raising three great kids. To me, that is all the success I need.

Not every precocious child will grow into an eminent adult who makes amazing contributions in a some field considered useful to the masses. There are so many factors such as personal interest, internal motivation, creativity, hard work, drive, and a bit of luck that often factor in much more than innate ability. Also, some people have so many interests, they cannot limit themselves to one particular field of study, some are interested in a field/area not many others are interested in, while others make small contributions in their own local area or for themselves that are not celebrated by throngs of people. I think it is very limiting to view those lives as less successful.

If we accommodate gifted children with the only goal being eminence or with expectations for them to contribute in some amazing way, we risk putting too heavy a burden on them. How many gifted children burn out or resist challenge or opportunities because they have the weight of their parents' (or other adult's) expectations on their shoulders? How many have their fragile egos shattered when they don't live up to someone else's expectations?

Mr. Gladwell compares gifted issues in academics and music to sports issues. I think there are some major differences between prodigious abilities in sports and those in music or academics. Few school districts cut back on their football budget or stop team try-outs for fear that some kids will be disappointed and not make it to a pro career. Unfortunately, when it comes to giftedness in academics or music, many schools around the country are cutting budgets (or have no funding to cut) and neglecting gifted kids. I think Mr. Gladwell's ideas are dangerous weapons for schools to use to justify their neglect of the gifted. If only a very small percentage of the gifted will "succeed" (using Mr. Gladwell's definition) then why bother accommodating them at school? Also, discussion of a child's success in sports is much more socially acceptable than discussing their success in academics or music, which are often viewed in society as elitist.

I believe it is important to accommodate while also protecting our kids from pressure, disappointment, or burnout by allowing each child to work with and expand whatever gifts or interests they have whether they be academic, musical, athletic, leadership, etc... Those who absorb information faster and understand more complex concepts at a younger age need accommodations whether it means going faster or deeper or some combination of the two. I fear holding bright kids back or allowing them to coast without proper challenge will be detrimental to their love of learning. Allowing them to learn at their own pace and broadening their education by following their passions and interests keeps the love of learning alive and allows them to experiment in a variety of areas. We, as parents, also need to be careful not to mistake our goals for our children for their own goals/needs putting unnecessary pressures on them. We should also be careful in how we phrase our comments/praise to our we tell them they performed well because they worked hard or do we tell them they did well because they are more gifted than the next child. Kids have no control over their inborn ability but they can control the amount of effort they put into their activities which may help them to deal with disappointments in a more resilient way.

My children may never be Nobel prize winners or world class athletes or play at Carnegie Hall but they will have spent their young years learning at the pace that suited their individual needs, be equipped with the tools they need to pursue whatever goals become their dreams, and will have parents behind them who will support them no matter what they determine to be their "success." 


reei said...

I think your approach is quite good. To give them a bit of challenge, and our goal as parents is that the kids grow at their own pace, maybe faster or slower than others but it doesnt matter. You are quite successfull already.

Jennifer A. said...

I also have read reviews disparaging Terman's termites because "they were only corporate leaders and mid level management" instead of "the leaders of tomorrow". As a mother I would be just as supportive of eminence, mid-level management, or even roadie for a rock band if they get their education first then I will trust their judgement in how they choose to live. I just want my kids to be happy, healthy, and comfortable in their life. As long as they have an education then I know they have choices and I will support their choice.

Tanya said...

I just happened upon your blog as I was researching for my new homeschooling adventure. I am brand new to the community, but I love your point of view on this topic!! It is why I have chosen to homeschool :)

Debbie said...

I can so relate to your post. I am one of those gifted people who have achieved enough success in others eyes. I am a PT too. Yes I could have been an MD, PhD etc... But I wanted to have the opportunity to be a stay at home mom. I love my work so I do it 1 day a week and am just starting to homeschool. I am starting to realize that my children are gifted as well. I am so committed to letting them grow to be themselves. To use their gifts, but not worry about how the world perceives their accomplishments. Thanks for the inspiration