Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fitting in

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.


Anonymous said...

My daugther really enjoys being in her Focus class with the other gifted kids. The gifted students are also clustered with each other in the classroom together the other days of the week. She does not have a personality where she would purposely act less smart to get along. She is very competitive with the other gifted students and does better when seated at a table with at least one other gifted kid.

Kt said...

I'm usually a lurker (here & at your main blog) but this really hit home for me. Growing up in a rural area, it wasn't until I went to a summer gifted program in high school that I realized that "smart" wasn't the only attribute about me that mattered - there were lots of other smart kids out there and we had so much fun within our normalized situation. It made my last years of high school much more fun, as I was finally comfortable in my own skin.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes!! Not to mention that there is no other situation where people will suggest that it is another child's "responsibility" to help their classmates. You wouldn't keep Johnny off the starting 5 so that he could help coach the JV.
At risk of sounding arrogant, being "trapped" with average kids all day is painful. Let them learn to "fit in" when they join the workplace, if it is even necessary since their co-workers will likely be smart. They are just kids. They didn't ask to be precocious. Give them a break and let them be around some other smart kids and learn who they really are and how far their wings can really stretch.
I was bored even in my AP classes and I cannot imagine who I would be today without those accomodations. Lucky for me I was also one of those talented jocks so kids gave me a break because I was on all-star teams etc. For my other classmates...all we had was each other.

Anonymous said...

The higher the intelligence and sensitivity, the more likely that human never feels normal in comparison to the general population. That person has to find balance, confidence and a way to be comfortable in the world. When more than one of those people are together, they very well may have different perspectives, strong opinions and the need to voice them. They may have conflict. All of the smartest people from a school group may go into entirely different fields that they focus on to the exclusion of all else, including personal relationships. It does not help geniuses if the society around them, refuses to understand them and let them be who they are naturally. Parents need to be honest about whether they really have a rare genius/ prodigy or just a very smart human child. If you are the top of your school class and decide to show your intelligence in testing, then you have to stay strong for yourself, even your parents may not understand you. For the childhood Mensa in America, it seems the child needs to test at 1:50, but just looking at my high school alone as an example, it felt more like 1:300 for the gifted child. There is nothing wrong with being unbelievably smart and I am hoping that evolution is bringing all human brains to that point because it feels amazing to be a human and just to be alive.

Anonymous said...

While I believe homogeneous grouping works well (as long as it is homogeneous for art, music, etc too), heterogeneous grouping is good for teaching tolerance of people who are not like you and at least in our school--which is entirely heterogeneous--the antibullying programs work well. You can see different kids- GT, special ed, 2E--sitting right next to you and you can practice behaving humanely.