Thursday, June 21, 2012
Over in Australia, a recent study of the state of gifted education has found that gifted kids face enormous pressure to fit in. According to a story in The Age, the report finds that children frequently face bullying when they don't conform to the social standard ruling everyone else their age. While I'm glad to see this issue get some attention, I can't say I'm surprised. Growing up in "normal" schools in heterogeneous classes, the gifted child soon gets one identity: the smart kid. While a few other attributes can expand that identity (massive athletic talent, for instance) generally "the smart kid" is what you're stuck with. You soon learn that "the smart kid" is not necessarily the cool thing to be. So you don't stick up your hand. You don't ask a lot of questions. Or you do, and suffer the consequences. People always talk about how heterogeneous grouping helps with socialization, but I think this world view misses what happens in real life. In a homogeneous grouping, the gifted child gets a one-dimensional personality. In a heterogeneous grouping, where "smart" isn't necessarily the biggest thing distinguishing you, the gifted child can discover other aspects of her personality, and how to relate to people in ways that aren't just about being the smart one. You learn that maybe you can be funny. Nice. Inquisitive. A prankster. Or anything else. These social skills are good to know, because eventually, many people wind up in semi-homogeneous situations on their own. At university, for instance, or in the workplace. It's probably safe to say that most software engineers at a major tech company are pretty smart. So what else do you have going for you? Unfortunately, many gifted kids don't get to think about this until much later. Or they dumb themselves down to fit in -- and miss out on opportunities for a better life later on.