Friday, April 20, 2007

Politics and the gifted kid

Though it's only early 2007, the 2008 political cycle is in full swing in this country, which is no doubt causing some interesting discussions in some families of gifted kids. First, gifted kids tend to be more aware of "adult" subjects like politics and current events (and find it very frustrating that their peers are more into TV shows and toys). Second, gifted kids tend to have a profound desire for justice, and sensitivity to injustices. While I think neither the conservative nor the liberal side of the American political spectrum has a lock on just causes, my experience is that a number of gifted kids learn toward the left.

I certainly did for a long time. For starters, I've always liked to be contrarian, and many of my fellow Hoosiers were unthinkingly conservative. I didn't realize that it was just as possible to be unthinkingly liberal, since the "smart" people I knew with advanced degrees and the like overwhelmingly leaned left (a fact that demographic/political surveys back up). Eventually, I studied economics and decided that big government didn't protect the little guy. My interest in justice took on a decidedly free market slant and, before I knew it, I was voting that way, and was engaging in dorm room arguments on the opposite side that were every bit as obnoxious as they were before.

My experiences around gifted kids these days, though, lead me to believe that most more naturally align themselves with the liberal side of the political spectrum. Liberals talk in a narrative of injustices (poverty, environmental devastation) that can then be remedied with government solutions. Conservative interest groups are only just now starting to adopt this narrative (the hassled small business owner, the home owner subject to eminent domain, the urban child locked in failing schools) with free market or limited government solutions. Plenty of gifted children feel like outsiders, and the Democratic party often comes across as more sympathetic to outsiders. Plus, it's easy to believe government should "do more" when you don't personally have to deal with much red tape, and you don't pay much in the way of taxes. All of these mean that an election conducted in a self-contained gifted class might not come out the same way as one conducted in the nation at large.

I'm curious if other people have found this to be the case. Given that gifted kids often like to argue, too, I'm sure homes with split political affiliations turn into battlegrounds every few years!


Anonymous said...

I understand the author wished to write a short post and not a long one, but I found her cariacatures of the political "left" and "right" more than a bit trite.

I suspect most gifted children, unless brainwashed by domineering parents, would bristle at infantile divisions among the political camps, as if politics were a pep rally rather than a debate over philosophical and pragmatic issues. In the end, the latter is most compelling for the gifted (or, for that matter, any thinking person).

My family may argue over, say, the merits and liabilities of neoliberalism and globalization or whether one can indeed say that "deficits do not matter." But we don't necessarily tie the arguments to left and right or get into fisticuffs over George W. vs. Al. This frees the debate and encourages deeper consideration of issues. I've observed that when many gifted do get interested in politics, it's often to address larger issues than simply seeing the "big board" turn red or blue. (Though the latter might indeed touch on a larger issue, such as the oversight role of various elements of government).

More than left/right polarity, I've seen gifted care about the inability for government in either camp to address hard issues. Climate change. Fiscal and trade deficits. An interminable war. Health care and management of health costs. Structural instbility in the U.S. economy. Overt, cloying religiosity in all aspects of public life. The need to raise many millions of dollars to be competitive in seeking public office and the side effects of this condition. The consolidation of media into a few monied voices.

I must confess, however, it's becoming harder to defend much that the current "right" is doing since so many of their actions fail to show much merit either in consistency with governing philosophy or in efficacy. Perhaps the leftward tendencies the author discusses is more a reaction to the current leadership of the party embodying the "right" in American political discourse than to the ideas themselves.

Chuckling said...

I'm sorry, but I agree wholeheartedly with anonymous's comments.

Here is a real world example of research done by a gifted student regarding the possible relationship between good government and child well-being in rich countries. You'll note that the U.S. and Great Britain vie for last place.

Anonymous said...

I advise my gifted children to avoid political discussion at school since most teachers and professors are extremely liberal. I am concerned that they will be graded unfairly if they demonstrate opposing views (especially, if they do so articulately). I would hope this is not the norm, but know that it happens.

dew said...

As a teacher, I am offended by the last comment. I suspect very few of my students are in any way aware of my political opinions (why should they be?), and I believe that my class discussions are conducted to be student-centered and based on Socratic dialogue. I am there to guide them in articulating their opinions respectfully and clearly, not to grade them based on my private feelings. I wonder if anonymous is also afraid his/her children will receive bad grades if they go to school with a bad haircut, or if they wear the teacher's least favorite color, if they wear a t-shirt showing admiration for a rock band the teacher doesn't care for.