Monday, November 29, 2010

A sense of entitlement?

In recent days, Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper has been doing a series called The Gifted Child. The paper capped the series off with perspectives from three teachers on what teaching gifted kids is like. I applaud The Globe and Mail for covering this issue. But reading these teachers' comments, there is certainly a negative undercurrent. Consider this from a Toronto high school teacher:

"A challenge that my colleagues and I often lament is the sense of entitlement amongst our gifted students. They have been told on countless occasions that they are intellectually superior and often this notion is reaffirmed at home. This may result in difficulties interacting with their non-gifted peers as well as issues when they realize that not all gifted students are gifted in all areas."

An elementary school teacher notes that gifted kids are often forgotten in classrooms, then mentions that socializing with other children can be a problem:

"It then becomes the teacher’s job to teach gifted children (and the rest of the class) to be considerate, respectful and mindful of the varying abilities that each other possess."

Then there is this from an Ottawa high school teacher:

"Often parents will expect that once their child is diagnosed as “gifted” that their child will excel in all areas of the curriculum; this is not likely and parents’ expectations have to be managed."

So there we have it. Maybe I'm a little sensitive, but I read in these quotes a message that gifted kids and their parents need to be taken down a notch, or "managed," if you will. If you're gifted in one area, maybe you aren't in another. And even if you are globally, then probably you're not very socially adept or respectful.

I'm sure this is true for some kids. But there are kids of all kinds who are insufferable. There are probably quite a few "normal" kids who could stand to learn to interact better with gifted kids -- not teasing them for quirky interests, for example. Difficulties in socializing go across the board. And given the rather low level of expectations in many schools, it is quite possible that a parent's expectation that a child will excel in all areas of the curriculum won't need to be revised downwards.

Broadly, though, there is a leveling streak that runs through educational culture. My personal experience is that many families of highly gifted kids don't have enough of a sense of entitlement. Parents think they should just be grateful, rather than demand an individualized program or acceleration or other accommodations.

Of course, the irony of this is that the easiest way to combat any sense of entitlement is to match a gifted child up with work that is challenging enough that it finally stumps him. A child who skips three grades is probably going to feel less intellectually superior than one stuck in too-easy grade level classes. But too few schools and teachers seem to take this view.


Bella said...

great post. Very true. I am dealing with similar problems with my sons school now.

L. Johnson said...

well said, Parents of highly gifted kids often feel " like an island unto themselves." There are few SENG groups and most states spend a paultry amount on gifted ed. We are left to become a big time advocate but no one else will.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, in spending time among many gifted gifted children and adults over the years, I find low self-esteem to be a bigger problem then entitlement. Some teachers feel the need to target students that threaten their sense of authority and those scars last. I wish I could dig up the citations but I've definitely seen the studies that suggest gifted students who are not challenged suffer from more low self-esteem and depression.

Anonymous said...

The Globe and Mail series was flimsy, and the titles and introductory stories in each article tended to sneer at the very idea of giftedness. The best article that appeared was a rebuttal by a University of Toronto education professor, Joanne Foster, who teaches gifted education practices.

Members of our B.C. advocacy group were contacted as part of the research process for the series and were assured of its serious intent. (The researcher didn't mention that parents of gifted kids would be accused of everything from class privilege to narcissism.) We were also told that an article on "why public schools need gifted programs" would conclude the series. Instead, they published the teachers' anecdotal comments that you cite. It's disappointing.

thinkersonline said...

With entitlement comes responsibility. If you believe you have the right to have differentiated curriculum for your gifted child, and you feel hard done by in a schooling situation, you must first look at your responsibility to a public schooling system.

Are you teaching your child good values of respect for a person, even if they don't understand you? Are you modeling patience with the teacher who is overburdened with all class needs?
Have you offered to help in a practical way to benefit all in the school?

These sorts of things will go a long way to change the views others have of giftedness. And in many cases it is a complete descaling of the school's eyes to what giftedness actually is.

I empathise with your feelings of aloneness, as I am the mother of a now grown-up 2e gifted child, and a regular and withrawal classroom teacher of gifted children, and a parent who was told her daughter 'just had a bad attitude' to school.

But, as all good gardeners know, nurturing the soil around the plant will do alot more than just watering the plant itself.

MJ Martino said...

Great post. My daughter is socially gifted in addition to her intellectual side. A gifted kid is no more or less able to fit in with their peers.

Jeanine said...

Yikes. 'diagnosed' as "gifted"-??-It is not a medical condition. Although there may be students with multi-exceptionalities.

S.Snyder said...

Considering most teachers don't have any training in teaching gifted kids and our school systems don't meet the needs of gifted kids, these kids are stuck in incongruous situations - in classrooms that are not set up to accommodate them. It's interesting to hear the opinions of the teachers who create these limited environments and then complain about the kids who can't conform to them.

Our daughter spent time at our public school with no accommodations for her needs. She is socially adept and reaches out to all kids to make friends. But we found that there were many social issues at this school - kids who don't know how to include others, bullies, acting up in class (and these were NOT the gifted kids). We moved her to a private school, which is not a school for the gifted, but provides a very challenging curriculum for those who need it, gifted or not. The difference is astounding. These kids are fully engaged, there is very little acting up in class, if any, and their social skills are far above those at the public school. Social development and respect for others is actively practiced and incorporated into the school.

Although no school will ever be perfect for any child, it seems that if you meet the needs of and challenge each child to keep them engaged and make social responsibility a core and active value of the school, there is no sense of entitlement and the kids know how to get along and work together. Gifted or not. Unfortunately, our school systems are failing big time here.

Holly B said...

I have worked with gifted students for many years. I have heard educators tell the gifted students they should consider it a privilege to go to GT class or to be served in the classroom to accommodate their gifted area. Really?? I have NEVER heard an educator tell a struggling reader they should consider it a privilege they are receiving specific intervention strategies to help them pass the state mandated test or to bring up their reading level, or a special education student it is a privilege that they have an IEP that targets their area of need. In some way gifted children have just as many issues, needs, academic requirements as others. As educators we are to meet the needs of all students whether that be above or below grade level. I don't understand how people "don't get it" that we are all different and have our strengths in different areas. Just because students are gifted in a specific area, doesn't mean they don't have weak persons junk is another person's treasure. When we quit educating children based on their needs, then we are no longer helping this country excel!

Anonymous said...

I think that these teachers are on to something and that some kids who have been identified as gifted do feel entitled to be treated differently, to their detriment. When we moved our family, and gifted kids, overseas recently, my kids were dismayed that the teachers didn't recognize their special talents immediately. I told them that they didn't have a sign on their foreheads that indicated how smart they were, but that they had to show their teacher that they needed a different level of work. After a few weeks the teachers figured it out and my kids were satisfied. They didn't get differentiated work because the school didn't accommodate gifted kids, but at least their teachers figured out that they needed it.

I think it's okay for kids to have to continually prove that they need different services and not take their "gifted" label for granted.

iHero Blog said...

I grew up in New York and was placed in a gifted class when I was in 6th grade -- I still had to go to the regular classes too -- my gifted class was focused on exposing the class to new and different things. I don't remember feeling entitled -- but many of us in the class had issues. I was very insecure socially until my mid twenties. I think the best thing a parent can do is not to treat their child as "special" but to provide as much enrichment as possible and help them understand social behavior. I think my wife was an unrecognized "gifted" and we now have two boys of our own. We are looking forward to providing many eye opening opportunities -- and help them understand what makes people tick.

Anonymous said...

I lived on an honors floor in college. One thing I noticed is that the people who had the most difficulty in relating to the rest of the floor (being arrogant, expecting to be superior [in several senses] to everyone else) came out of small public high schools. They had never met an intellectual peer their age and some of them did not handle it well.

I'm sure the existence of an honors floor would horrify some, but I can quickly come up with 10 marriages that have lasted 20 years and counting (including mine) and none that I know of ending in divorce.

Alecia said...

I'd love to see similar interviews done with athletic coaches about their best players. Would they lament that the players have a sense if entitlement and can't socially get along with their less athletically-talented peers? Would they suggest the families of these players be taken down a notch?