Zelophehad’s Daughters

Greeks Bearing Giftedness

Posted by Kiskilili

“And also he hath need to repent, for I, the Lord, am not well pleased with him, for he seeketh to excel and he is not sufficiently meek before me.” D&C 58:41

“Pride is ugly. It says, ‘If you succeed, I am a failure.’” Ezra Taft Benson

When I was a kid, I longed desperately to have a photographic memory, or perfect pitch, or some other amazing parlor-trick gimmick. Having accepted that, unable to kiss my elbow, I was evidently not a fairy, I ached to show signs of prodigy-level ability in any field, it hardly mattered what. Not because I thought it would be useful, or enjoyable in itself–which it would be–but because I believed it would function effectively as God’s personal signature on my birth certificate, bestowing on me an undeniable social cachet. I could be assured that my birth was no cosmic accident, that my life was meant to be, that God and the universe had invested in me. In short, I would be special–meaning: better than other people, enough better to wow the unwashed masses. It sometimes seemed to me that in my hapless, “giftless” state, I was wandering the corridors of Planet Earth without a hall pass and with no idea how to acquire one.

Of course, indications of genius would have sufficed as well, but in the absence of any clear intellectual aptitude, by junior high and high school I had begun to throw myself into the single subject for which I felt I showed signs of promise (hoping, perhaps, that it would be enough to compensate for other failings): music. I was (and continue to be) genuinely passionate about music, but sheer enjoyment was not the only thing that drove me to lock myself away regularly for hours of meticulous, assiduous practice. Something else was goading me on as well, something the size and shape of desperation (no easy taskmaster). Music seemed to me the single buffer against a threatening tidal wave of evidence of lack of worth. By the time I’d reach college and signed up for a full course load as a music performance major, I had become terrified of skipping even an hour of practice, let alone quitting. Somewhat like the Aztecs who clung to the belief that human sacrifice was necessary for the sun to rise, I had convinced myself that my commitment to my musical abilities was essential to making the world go round. Even as it began to dawn on me that I was not entirely happy in my chosen field, I spent months paralyzed into mechanical, consistent practicing by the fear that if I gave music up, I would have nothing else. I would lose my identity.

Eventually I pulled that rug out from under myself and let the ground come up and smack me. It seemed I had to reconstruct, from the bottom up, my sense of who I was and what I valued. And I made a commitment to myself that I would no longer try to win. That I would stop needing to be good at something and simply study what interested me, enjoying the subject regardless of the grades I earned or other external sources of commendation.

I’d be lying if I said I have ever exorcised those demons entirely, although I wish I could: even as I work hard to muzzle them, their power over me still waxes and wanes, seducing me into the belief that there’s inherent value in outperforming others, that mistakes are unacceptable, that intellectual pursuits are fundamentally a type of public performance, and that redemption is to be sought in ostentatious accomplishment.

But central to the Christian message, I believe, is the idea that accomplishment can never finally be redemptive, that in the only way that matters, we are all failures and in need of grace.

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Of course, not everyone lusts after gifted status the way I did or becomes self-destructively engaged in achieving it in some form. And discipline–persevering in an activity even when it is not particularly pleasurable, because of a commitment to one’s goals–is an enormously valuable trait to cultivate, provided one has examined the value of those goals to begin with. But what I’m interested in exploring here is the possibility that the manner in which we identify and approach giftedness (by which I’m thinking especially of academic ability and achievement) may ultimately have deleterious consequences.

In recent years we’ve rightly become mistrustful of terms such as “handicapped,” which reduce complex individual people to summary statements on their abilities in any particular area. In my view, the term “gifted” suffers from all the same problems in reverse. Labels can be useful but are never sufficient.

By applying the term “gifted” to certain individuals, we essentially make value judgments regarding their worth over against that of their peers. This is especially ironic since it is not at all clear to me whether children shuttled through gifted programs of various stripes ultimately contribute in any meaningful way to the community as a result (as some claim). By its very nature, giftedness sets itself up in relation and opposition to the rest of the community; it exists only in constrast to the “giftless” masses. It seems therefore to be less about using one’s talents to magnify others as it is about using others to magnify one’s talents.

Thought experiment: Virtually everyone wants to be brilliant (myself included). But to what end? Would being brilliant by our current standards be just as desirable if, through some bizarre mutation, everyone else on the planet suddenly became even more brilliant?

If I value myself for what I perceive to be my giftedness, what I appreciate most about humanity is its dullwittedness. I take pleasure not in the aesthetic satisfaction or intellectual challenge of an activity, but in the degree to which my accomplishments outstrip the rank and file. My value lies in my relative scarcity; I have everything to lose by the accomplishments of others.

If, however, I value myself for my ordinariness, I value all humanity with me.

Furthermore, gifted programs are a breeding ground for the sort of academic anxiety that can have damaging and even crippling effects. To single out individuals on the basis of their manifest abilities (and effectively to reward them with social status) is to place a premium on performance, and when public academic performance becomes more important than genuine engagement with ideas, individuals often become risk averse and disinclined to attempt activities for which success cannot be guaranteed, straightjacketing themselves by their fear of failure. Mistakes, essential to challenging intellectual exploration, are seen as universally undesirable, since they threaten one’s gifted status. Occasionally I encounter students, for example, who are virtually incapacitated by the thought of writing a paper, crushed by the belief that nothing short of brilliance is acceptable. We learn more effectively when we allow ourselves to test possibilities, to accept mistakes, and to improve on them. But gifted students sometimes become too adept at and in thrall to success; they are denied and come to deny themselves the valuable opportunities of failure.

Another concern is the way extrinsic motivation in the form of various academic laurels can easily become paramount to one’s commitment to a subject. But psychological experiments have shown that one’s enjoyment of an activity for its own sake is compromised when one is rewarded for engaging in that activity. Everyone needs validation from others–I’m certainly not suggesting we withhold praise–but idolizing achievement may deprive students of the ability to enjoy academic pursuits.

Of course, everyone has a different constellation of abilities, interests, and preferred modes for learning. Thus, when resources are available, some type of sorting mechanism is certainly desirable; children already reading novels are likely to be bored out of their skulls when subjected to tedious phonics drills.

But I wonder whether it would be possible to reorient our sorting impulses away from ability and toward interest. After all, the two interrelate in complex ways: we’re often interested in that for which we have an innate ability, or for which we’re willing to expend energy. Among other possible advantages, the pursuit of knowledge would be presented as a reward in itself. If the social status entailed by terms such as “gifted” were uncoupled from academic opportunities, ideally those who found the material too daunting would be comfortable investing in programs more suited to their current levels of interest and knowledge.

Where opportunities already exist to teach elementary school students about Homer, for example, why use standardized tests as a means of segregating those who would most benefit? Why not simply ask which students are interested in Greek fairy stories?

20 Responses to “Greeks Bearing Giftedness”

  1. 1.

    Connected with the ideas here, I often wonder why we don’t institute a European-style system of high schooling for different ends. In this model, some students who are university bound, go to school where they hit academic subjects hard. Others attend technical high schools where they are taught a trade rather than, say, pre-calculus they will never use. I think it’s interesting how cries of this kind of system being anti-democratic are not too often heard against honors classes or that end of the spectrum.

    A concern I have, though, is how could you splice out those who are interested in a way that will lead to extra effort, etc and not those who are interested for sheer cachet or social pressure? Every parent’s child is brilliant in their eyes, after all.

    My former high school, where my little brother still attends, recently removed any admissions criteria for AP classes. As a result, the teachers are faced with kids who aren’t intending to take the test, don’t really want to be in the class but are pressured by parents hoping for glowing high school transcripts, and aren’t really prepared for the work. Who benefits here? And, is that benefit worth the cost?

  2. 2.

    Virtually everyone wants to be brilliant (myself included). But to what end?

    Ah, assume your child was starting second grade and she had some tests run. Assume she tested between kindergarten and fourteenth grade, depending on the area. The counselor pushes you to move her to one of several exclusive private schools and you can afford it. What do you do?

    How about continue to work on socializing your child. Academics can take care of itself. My seven year old has a child psych, a neuro and one other specialist. We’ve got the health and other issues pretty much under control, but the socialization is by far the most important.

    So, we had the last soccer game of the season. The coach may have a PhD, the assistant coach may be French (and his daughter missed the last game to be in Paris with her grandmother) and our sponsor may be Ferrari, but the team didn’t win a single game this year (and my daughter is far from the best player on the team).

    We focus on making her a loving, kind and caring child, which is far more important than getting her math further ahead of her grade (she is learning math on her own at a rate that keeps her a grade or so ahead).

    Anyone can be smart. Even being very, very smart isn’t really that special. But learning to be Christlike?

    I worry about that, hope for that, and think it much more important.

  3. 3.

    Alea, I’m not sure how the system could deal practically with parents whose identities are overinvested in their children’s academic performance. It does seem that much of the pressure originates with the parents.

    But as far as I remember, my high school similarly had no admissions criteria for AP courses. My US history teacher told us that a rival school boasted that virtually all their students who took the AP test passed (they screened the students they allowed into the course), where at my school the percentage was significanctly lower. This teacher’s philosophy of education? There’s no harm in people learning something they otherwise would not have, even if they do not attain “proficiency.” Education should not be restricted to those who excel, but available for anyone interested and willing to work. I like this.

    Of course, if the students who are railroaded into taking courses in which they have no intention of doing the work are disruptive, that’s another matter. Or perhaps if the course is focused more around discussions than lecture there’s a fear that the discussions will be shallow because of students’ lack of engagement? But even in such cases I think there are probably ways of getting around this, such as forming smallish discussion groups.

    (I haven’t decided what I think about the European system. It’s an interesting idea.)

    Great comment, Stephen/Ethesis. I remember reading a few years ago in the “Atlantic Monthly” an article about college admissions, in which the author suggested that the best, brightest students do not need an Ivy League education; they’ll thrive almost anywhere they go, simply because they’re interested in ideas. It really struck me; I’ll try to track it down.

  4. 4.

    Kiskilili, thanks for a fascinating post. You offer so much to chew on it’s hard to know where to begin responding. But maybe my favorite line was this:

    It [giftedness] seems therefore to be less about using one’s talents to magnify others as it is about using others to magnify one’s talents.

    Hilariously, painfully, true.

    A few years ago I took some time off of teaching and worked with developmentally disabled adults. It was extremely difficult and enlightening work, but maybe what struck me most about it was just how intelligent the people I worked with were. I think especially about ongoing staff-client wars over toothbrushing, medications, and especially over foods forbidden various clients because of diabetes or other health problems. Some of them were nothing short of brilliant in their ability to watch staff for moments of exhaustion and human weakness and then get their hands on what they wanted with lightening stealth and calculation. One woman in particular whose social intelligence was leaps and bounds ahead of mine (not that that’s saying much–!) outwitted me over and over.

    Was this woman, who couldn’t have scored more than 80 on an IQ test, “gifted”? Clearly, in an important way, she was a lot more gifted than I was. I don’t think that as a society we’ve even begun to think through her kind of intelligence.

    I think too about a comment by Carol Bly in Beyond the Writers’ Workshop in which a philosophy professor colleague chooses students to tutor other students in logic based not on their aptitude, but on their demonstrated love for the subject. And about the church missionary department’s replacement of language aptitude tests with questions about the prospective missionaries’ expressions of desire to learn a foreign language.

    To me the most ironic thing about the whole vast lockstep apparatus of standardized tests and grade levels and gifted programs is that unlike so many other resources, knowledge is, in principle, infinite. One person’s acquisition of it diminishes no one else’s possession; knowledge actually grows and flourishes by being broadly disseminated. So in a sense we have to create an artificial scarcity among elementary school students in order to restrict access to the coveted “gifted” brand and thus artificially drive up its value–because as you point out, if everyone’s gifted, then no one is.

  5. 5.

    When everyone’s Super . . . no one will be.

  6. 6.

    I guess I should be clear that the public schools here are better than most private schools. Rachel’s teacher, on her own, started sending next year’s math homework home with Rachel to do on her own. We’ve encouraged her reading along and are going to start on social studies at home.

    But … I see no need to use a tutor or push things faster. One of the worst things that can happen to very bright kids is that they can move completely out of touch with people around them, or to a state where they barely communicate or understand.

    With Jessica, she couldn’t remember reading. We started doing meals on a monthly basis at the homeless shelter to teach her compassion. It worked, at six she had a lot more understanding than she had when she was four and could not remember ever having had to learn to read. It is strange that Rachel is seven now and about to be baptized. It has been so long.

  7. 7.

    Kiskilili,

    I don’t know if this the article from the Atlantic you are looking for, but it is interesting nonetheless. Certain schools are classified as “Gotta get ins”(Ggi), and the value of admission is measured in terms of lifetime earning power contrasted with the expected earnings of those who do not attend a Ggi.

    This was the part I found most interesting:

    But what if the basis for all this stress and disappointment—the idea that getting into an elite college makes a big difference in life—is wrong? What if it turns out that going to the “highest ranked” school hardly matters at all?

    The researchers Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale began investigating this question, and in 1999 produced a study that dropped a bomb on the notion of elite-college attendance as essential to success later in life. Krueger, a Princeton economist, and Dale, affiliated with the Andrew Mellon Foundation, began by comparing students who entered Ivy League and similar schools in 1976 with students who entered less prestigious colleges the same year. They found, for instance, that by 1995 Yale graduates were earning 30 percent more than Tulane graduates, which seemed to support the assumption that attending an elite college smoothes one’s path in life.

    But maybe the kids who got into Yale were simply more talented or hardworking than those who got into Tulane. To adjust for this, Krueger and Dale studied what happened to students who were accepted at an Ivy or a similar institution, but chose instead to attend a less sexy, “moderately selective” school. It turned out that such students had, on average, the same income twenty years later as graduates of the elite colleges. Krueger and Dale found that for students bright enough to win admission to a top school, later income “varied little, no matter which type of college they attended.” In other words, the student, not the school, was responsible for the success.

  8. 8.

    Krueger and Dale found that for students bright enough to win admission to a top school, later income “varied little, no matter which type of college they attended.” In other words, the student, not the school, was responsible for the success.

    Exactly. Because, for top students, there are often considerations greater than “OMG! Harvard!” when you pick a school. Sometimes you just don’t want to live in the Northeast. Sometimes you want to be near the beach. The reasons are immaterial.

    I wish that when people evaluated colleges, they only looked at similar groups of students. Because if the Ivies had 30,000 students each, I’d bet that they’d look a lot like BYU…

  9. 9.

    I’d bet that they’d look a lot like BYU…

    Academically, of course. All the Mormonish stuff wouldn’t carry over…

  10. 10.

    I really enjoyed this post, K. Thanks. It used to be that I cared intensely about being The Best at whatever I was doing or I just wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t enjoy, say, mountain biking, running, or Trivial Pursuit, unless I could kick everyones’ butt and be The Winner. I pushed myself to the limit, and was usually able to achieve my goals (especially in Trivial Pursuit).

    Obviously, I was compensating for not getting enough attention from my parents, or (fill in the blank with your favorite explanation from pop psychology about why people become overachievers).

    For whatever reason, my quest to be The Best seems to be over. Now I’m content with mediocrity :)

  11. 11.

    Great post, K. Probably one of the best ZD posts I’ve seen, far better than those posts from Eve and Lynnette — you must spend a lot of time practicing. :P

    It’s an interesting question. There’s a lot in your post; one thing it made me think about (and I think about this every now and then) is, why do we sort, and why do we use the criteria we use?

    To some degree, we sort because we have to. I’ve got to give some of my students A’s, and some of them C’s. It’s built in to the school rules, because it’s what employers want.

    And so, I’ve got to draw arbitrary lines. If you’re between 65 and 72 raw points, you’re a C. 73 to 78, a C+. On the edges, there’s far more intra- than there is inter-grade variation. The student with a 72 is far more similar to the student with a 73 than she is to the 65. And the 73 is closer to her than she is to the 78.

    And of course, there are twenty different reasonable ways the exam could be graded to begin with. Not that these are completely arbitrary. An A to F shift is unlikely. A strong exam is likely to get a good grade from most professors. But different professors do grade differently. I might give an exam an 80, while one colleague would give the same exam a 75, and another would give it an 85. And then you look at the curve, and try to find natural dividing lines that give a reasonable average class grade, not too many As or Cs, and all of a sudden, the exact same exam could reasonably be called anything from a C to an A-minus. Depending on how it’s graded, and how classmates do, and how clusters of exams fall on the curve. (A tightly packed curve would have the A’s stopping in the 90′s, and so even the 85 wouldn’t get an A-minus. But a more loosely packed curve could move the A-minus line down quite a bit.)

    So the lines of greatness are often really quite arbitrary. And they’re based on demand. Institutions _want_ sorting mechanisms. They want to be able to easily tell which students they should hire, or which undergrads to let into their law school. And they’ll gladly take a flawed sorting mechanism over no sorting mechanism.

    (It’s possible for outliers with real market power to buck this demand. Yale famously doesn’t grade first-year students. But then, they’re Yale.)

    Which is, I guess, a roundabout way of saying that you’re absolutely right. Basing one’s own self-worth or self-image on other-assigned grades is extremely risky. Ultimately, given the arbitrariness of grades, it sets a person up for a fall. I can see why students are paralyzed.

    (At the same time, I appreciate the feedback that a grade gives; the motivation that it can provide. Many people are naturally lazy, and providing a grade helps focus attention on areas that need help.)

    And your observation about needing to be not just brilliant, but _more brilliant_ — that’s brilliant. :) But seriously, you’re right, and the reality isn’t a pretty one. The benefit of being brilliant isn’t just being brilliant — it’s being _superior_, and thus able to outcompete your peers for things that you want. Your specifically more-than-them brilliance (or strength, or speed, or beauty, or creativity) allows you to beat those peers to a better job, a better grad school, better social opportunities, better dating and relationship opportunities. It’s the normal evolutionary instinct. And you get there not just by being good, but by being superior — better than your peers.

    It’s fun to wish that things were different; that we were all just pursuing knowledge and pursuing our own interests. But a natural human impulse is to want more. The most driven students want a way to show their peers, employers, significant others, that they’re _more_ brilliant. They want to get in to selective schools. Meanwhile, the schools have an incentive to encourage this. Can you imagine the chaos if Harvard (or any other school) had to sort through ten thousand applications, ungraded, of people who were all just pursuing what they thought was interesting?

    The school has to focus its limited resources on students it thinks will benefit it; students have to focus their own limited resources on schools they think will advance them. The same is true socially. You don’t date ten thousand people; you pre-judge and focus on a set of criteria that you think are reasonable (and so does everyone else).

    This comment is way too long — I need to get my own damn blog, don’t I? In any case, K., I liked your post. It highlights questions for which there aren’t easy answers.

    And by the way, what instrument(s) do you play? I have to say, I think you’re pretty cool, and I’ve never heard you play a note. :)

  12. 12.

    Huh, that’s interesting, that you all felt the need to compete and be better than others. I never felt that need, so I guess that makes me not only righteous, but MORE righteous.

    Seriously though, I like the way Drew Carey gives points on Whose Line Is It anyway? Regardless of the outcome of the game, he always says “ten thousand points for everybody!”

  13. 13.

    Fascinating thoughts. As someone who’s struggled a lot in my life to disentangle my identity from academic achievement, I have to wonder whether the “gifted” label isn’t, in the long run, a burden rather than something positive. As you mention, it can prevent you from taking risks for fear of mistakes—with the result of stifling learning rather than encouraging it. Because such a label isn’t ever something secure; it’s something that has to be proven again and again, something that is always in danger of being lost; and the energy and anxiety involved in maintaining that identity can be crippling.

    I’m also intrigued by the question you raise about ultimate ends, which is also touched on in Stephen’s thought-provoking comment (#2). What exactly is the purpose of raising a brilliant child? Is it so that they will they be happier? Is it so that they will make the world a better place? I’m not a parent, but I can’t help noticing the prevalence of products promising to make your children smarter. And I’ve never seen an equivalent to “Baby Genius” products which promises to instill your child with compassion, or honesty. (Not that I’m thinking such things are best taught by CD-ROMs; just that it’s a telling indicator of what’s socially valued.)

  14. 14.

    Fascinating post, Kiskilili, and great questions. Regarding this one:

    Would being brilliant by our current standards be just as desirable if, through some bizarre mutation, everyone else on the planet suddenly became even more brilliant?

    I don’t have a source, but my memory is that psychologists have asked people a similar question about income and found that it’s the relative standing we care about more than the absolute. For example, most people respond that, given a fixed dollar value, they would rather make $80k in a context where everyone else makes $60k than make $100k in a context where everyone else makes $120k.

    Of course, then I was reading the economist Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex, and he pooh-poohs this idea. I don’t recall if he said that economists had found differently or if he was just saying that the result seemed unreasonable to him. Certainly, although he didn’t raise this point, you might question whether respondents in the psychological studies were influenced by being unable to imagine a world in which dollar values are constant but incomes change so much.

    Anyway, this might be one more evidence that, as Kaimi suggests, we’re wired by evolution to view things in competitive terms.

  15. 15.

    Really interesting post, K. I especially like the way you show that our attitudes toward academic achievement will affect our attitudes toward other people, and hence this is a moral issue, a matter of the soul as well as the mind.

    Even as a small child I was driven by an intense desire to “succeed,” whatever that means. Then one evening during my junior year of college, in a horrifying moment I have since dubbed Depressing Epiphany #2, I suddenly realized that this was pride, pure and simple. Perhaps the objects of my pride were academic accolades rather than the riches and costly apparel of Book of Mormon peoples, but the pattern was exactly the same. Because of my hunger for recognition, my efforts were focused on impressions rather than reality, looking good rather than being good. Worse, I apparently cared about more about whether other people were clapping for me than whether I was serving them.

    It was indescribably traumatic to realize this about myself. I was reeling for months afterward, and in some sense I don’t think I’ve ever recovered.

  16. 16.

    Very interresting points raised.

    The adjective ‘gifted’ does not need to be judgemental. It can be a recognition of fact. We are fortunate in our ward to have several ‘gifted’ musicians. I say that as a recognition that their ability is better than mine. It does NOT mean they are better people than I.
    I am a computer consultant, my ‘computer skills’ had better be ‘better’ than theirs – that is why they are paying me lots of money. Does this mean I am ‘better’ then them? NO. It merely means my skills in a specific area are better.
    Am I ‘gifted’ in the sense my IQ is higher than most – OK. Does this make me a ‘better person’? No. In fact, a ‘non-gifted’ person who studied economics would be better in handling an economic problem than I. (But I’ll bet I could design a better network!)
    Neither of us is ‘better’ or of greater worth than the other.
    The term ‘gifted’ should not be a judgement of any other person’s ‘worth’ – ever.

  17. 17.

    Thanks for the link, Mark. I’m sure I’ve read that article before, so I’m thinking the quote in my brain comes from another article in the same issue? (Or else my muddled brain is manufacturing statements and attributing them to other people–wouldn’t be the first time!).

    I propose we institute a Gifted Sunday School class where the truly righteous and pure-in-heart can shine, to each other. You can be the first class president. :)

    I probably agree with you, queuno, but I’m not sure what you mean by “people”–you wish students would give non-Ivy League schools as serious consideration as Harvard, for the sake of their own happiness? Or you wish employers would refrain from assuming a Harvard degree, for example, is superior to a BYU degree?

    Thanks, ECS. I seem to have sunk into happy mediocrity as well–I’m content (most of the time) to do several things badly, and no one thing particularly well.

    Nice comment, Kaimi. At the age of 13 I chose the viola for the same reason I think many violists come to it: I wanted to be different. But although I like its sound, it’s not a particularly good fit for me since most of its solo repertoire is confined to the 20th century, and my musical interests are rooted in the early 18th. A few years after I quit I took up the violin.

    Grades present such tricky issues I’m not sure where to begin. Obviously, as you say, some evaluation is necessary and even valuable and can give indications for improvement (as painful as that may be). Grades, as imprecise and problematic as they are, can also serve as an important sorting mechanism–people who get a D in German 101 probably don’t want to sign up for German 102 the following semester. But I want to believe it’s possible for us not to base our identities around these sorting mechanisms–they’re simply evaluations of our knowledge and abilities at one time, and by one measure. What I see as problematic about “gifted” programs is the way they construct and reinforce a particular identity that centers on performance.

    Many moons ago I “shopped” a course on Celtic paganism (attended the first week to decide whether or not to take it). The professor made it clear from the first lecture that he was on a crusade to single-handedly combat grade inflation, and that a B in his course was a “very good grade.” Most of the shoppers predictably disappeared after this lecture, but in spite of my reservations (I intended to apply to PhD programs and knew my grades mattered), I stayed in the course. And I’m glad I did. It was my first academic exposure to religious anthropology, and I loved it, and I’m glad I took that risk. I want to be willing to take academic risks.

    But it is a risk. We all know that grades vary widely, that an A in one course is equivalent to a B in another. But admissions’ committees only have a limited, imperfect set of data regarding our abilities, knowledge, and willingness to work. I don’t have any grand solutions.

    Such good points, Lynnette! Where are all the baby products that make your little darling more compassionate, I wonder?

    Ziff, it’s an interesting and disturing possibility that people want, not money, but more money than other people.

    I love your comment, Anna. (Those of us who are recovering success-mongers have to stick together!)

    I like your points, Woodhead, although I’m still somewhat uncomfortable with the term “gifted.” Phrases like “musically inclined” or “canny about computers” sit better with me. I’m not convinced “gifted” is a fact so much as it is a status, and I think interest and investment in time and energy play a huge role in determining what we’re “gifted” at–hence, our abilities are not “gifts” exactly, since for the most part they were not given to us but required effort on our parts. As a result, they’re not stable either.

  18. 18.

    Well, we were informed Friday that Rachel is starting third grade Monday. She had finished all of the second grade material and was through much of the third grade material (and into fourth through sixth in several areas) and they told us that in spite of the policy against skipping grades, it was impossible to accommodate her any other way.

    I worry about my child being able to relate to her peers. There is a point where you get too far out of touch.

    Anyway, thanks for this discussion, it has helped me reflect.

  19. 19.

    You’ve caused me to blog more on my child who is brilliant. You need to think about what it would be like to have to work to avoid being disconnected from your peers.

    Imagine having your PhD while everyone else your age was starting college. Trying to date. Trying to have a conversation. Being social.

    It is like a friend of my daughter’s who was admitted to the voice program at BYU as a freshman. Her peers are juniors and graduates. She just dropped out of school and is getting a day job until she can reorganize her mind and cope better.

    Talented? Yes (nothing like listening to a group of young women when she was in the group, singing, you couldn’t tell she was there, but the blended voices sounded like seasoned professionals instead of kids, she was seamlessly supporting and moderating the other voices. Invisible unless you realized what was happening. How many sixteen year olds can do that flawlessly, with only one rehearsal?).

    But what does that do for her within the walls of the world?

  20. 20.

    [...] need both a much more thorough critique of our current notions of “giftedness” and “genius” and a much more complete and careful account of what it is that [...]

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