Thoughts and Ideas on Giftedness
and why children should not be labelled
Give her opportunities to learn the next thing she
needs to learn, because that's all anyone can
learn. Some might learn lickety split, one thing
after another and forget to eat lunch. If that's
the situation, keep her plate full (mental and
physical). —Sandra Dodd
First, stories from discussions. Then below is the transcript of a chat on the idea of "giftedness," and its drawbacks.
There's a local woman who was very verbal for years about how gifted her son was/is. I met her at a park day once and we were talking a bit and when I told her we were unschooling, she immediately turned her nose up at me and found an excuse to walk away. Fast forward about 7 yrs... her son is struggling to make and keep friends and she's since started claiming she's an unschooler and has been for a long time, and all because her son is gifted. So she used curriculum for all those years because he was gifted and now doesn't because he is gifted. But apparently he doesn't have any friends. Probably because he is gifted and his mom was snotty about it.
(2014; I'm making this anonymous to hide the locality.)
I knew an adult who had a hard time keeping friends. She didn't even try. She told me her mom had explained to her that other people wouldn't like her because she (that person) was so much smarter than everyone else.
In an unhealthy way, her mom had set her up to "feel smart" when anyone else suggested maybe she could be nicer.
My older two kids were in school and both identified in school, through IQ testing and observation, as gifted. I was involved in the state association for the gifted. I saw the light and realized it was NOT helping my children be better and happier people and we got out of that crazy rat race.
But this is one of those things my kids don't really feel comfortable with me posting about in public. (Another argument in favor of not labeling kids as gifted.)(sent on the side with a name; anonymous here)
The two above followed on a heated discussion at facebook beginning December 2, 2014.
By Angie Hewerdine (Angie) on Friday, November 1, 2002
My dd was labeled "gifted" in Kindergarten. She was always made to feel smarter than the other kids because she read and spoke so well. It totally influenced the way she felt about herself, other people, and learning in general. She once told someone "I'm a genius!" and was totally serious about it...(she's not a genius, btw) Now that we are 'homeschooling' my dh thinks we should be working on advanced studies...really pumping her full of knowledge. He doesn't really understand the concept of unschooling, yet, but I'm working on him!
Now that we are home, I think dd worries that she will not be seen to be as intelligent as she was when everyone knew she was "gifted". I think, personally, that unschooling allows her natural talents and abilities to lead the way for her, and in so doing, will allow her to build even more on those "gifts", instead of having to sqelch them in favor of another subject that she has no interest in. Any thoughts on this?
By Lori on Friday, November 1, 2002
We had the same situation when dd was in K.
As I was in the process of pulling her out her
teacher, who was very much in support of
homeschooling, gave me a bunch of stuff that
would basically ensure her enrollment in
whatever gifted school we chose in the city. I
said no thanks, and she then told me that it
would basically just mean lots more
homework, though her peers would be at the
Her teacher was constantly telling me how
great my dd is, and "what did I do to get her
I stayed out of her way, that's what. And didn't
ever talk to her like she was incapable of
it is hard sometimes to convince my dh, who
has a bi-monthly freak-out that she's not doing
enough- that she is doing lots.... lots more
that she would be if all of her time were being
taken up with school work.
So, not surprisingly Angie, I agree with you. I
still see her developing, and building on her
"gifts" (though I beleive all kids are gifted) I
am glad that she isn't in a place where she is
being held up as an example to the other kids
of what they could be doing. That's just weird.
At the moment she is showing a strong gift for
sitting around in her pajamas and watching tv
and doing something with her brother, a
winter hat, and a bunch of assorted junk.
And I am staying out of the way, and providing
By Kelli T on Friday, November 1, 2002 - 01:07 pm:
My son also was labeled gifted, which before coming here unschooling.com's message board; now defunct I didn't realize that labeling in this way could be negative. But, boy oh boy, I learned differently last year, his brilliant teacher would berate the rest of his class and say "Why can't you be like Alec, why can't you perform like Alec?"
Well, needless to say, the kids just loved Alec, Ha! He came home saying he was stupid, because they all would tell him that and his self-esteem plummeted, I'm not sure if it was all because of the labeling but I'm sure it was one of the main reasons.
By kristin on Friday, November 1, 2002 - 08:22 pm:
I was told by my father's lady-friend, a teacher, that my 8yos is gifted. (We have always unschooled.) She sent me a bunch of articles and links and websites, and what I discovered is that in our local school system a "gifted" child is defined as one who is driven to learn, who has a desire to learn about and explore the world, who asks questions and pursues specific interests with focussed energy... and a bunch of other stuff, I can't remember it all... but the point, is, it very nicely summed up what *all unschooled children are like* (in my experience).
It seems to sad that having a desire to learn, and asking questions, is so bizzare within the public school system that they declare these children to be different and gifted. All kids have the potential to be like this--they are all like this--until school destroys that spirit within them.
So I can confidently say that all the unschooled children I know are "gifted"!
By Angie Hewerdine (Angie) on Saturday, November 2, 2002 - 11:24 am:
I agree...Since we began unschooling, I have tried hard to discard that "gifted" label. Once you are told your child is 'smarter' than 'everyone else' (which is untrue), that kind of sticks with a parent. I have always known that my dd was highly creative, intellegent and witty. She was "gifted" way before the PS told me she was! And to this day, I still see those wonderful qualities, even moreso, now that she in no longer limited by her label.
By Cathy in CA (Cathy) on Saturday, November 2, 2002 - 02:12 pm:
What you said earlier about [the] idea of
pumping “gifted” kids full of knowledge — they
can grow up feeling like knowledge
repositories rather than human beings. My
daughter was worried for a while that if she
didn’t keep cramming her head full of facts
that she wouldn’t be the smartest kid
anymore. Fortunately, that didn’t last long after
she quit school. Now she’s more like Lori’s
kid, sitting around watching TV a lot and still
coming up with wonderful ideas and
By Kelli T on Monday, November 4, 2002 - 10:08 am:
The problem with the *gifted* label is that, from my experience in researching all of this, parents not only tend to ignore the other aspects of the child, but they refuse to acknowledge that they even exist...not allowing the child to truly be *Who He Is.*
This is sooo true, I can't tell you how I've struggled with this through my own life and now at 35 am finding myself.
Very sad. Very dangerous. Very limiting.
I feel so fortunate to have found unschooling. My children will have the time and support to figure out who they are and can grow to become the wonderful individuals that they are meant to be!
By mousie on November 5, 2002
I can't tell you how I've struggled with this through my own life and now at 35 am finding myself.
I know exactly what you mean. I was put into the "gifted" program in high school, it was a horrible experience. My "friends" hated me for it, I started doing as badly in school as I possibly could so that they would accept me again.
I too feel very fortunate to have learned of unschooling. It is important to me that my son never has to go through what I did.
By Laura Grattan on June 8, 2004:
I was labeled "gifted" as a child, and am still recovering from it. I feel that label was damaging to me in many ways. Just how damaging becomes more and more clear to me as I revel in my own children's (now) unlabeled lives.
My son has, in the past, been given labels. I hope he has never heard them himself. He also meets the traits of "gifted"—also "dyslexic" and "ADD." His public school kindergaten teacher—whom he was with for six weeks, had these labels for him: "slow" "plodding" "methodical" Then, once she learned that he was probably "gifted," (long story), her new labels for him were "manipulative" and "controlling." We then gave her a label—loudly—in the principal's office—to her face. Picked our son up, and left, never to return.
I am very grateful to the people on this site who opened my mind to the idea of letting go of these labels—even if they were only held in my own mind, and never spoken directly to my child. I'm still working on it, just as I am still deschooling. I only have to reflect on my own experience of being labeled, and that convinces me of the deep scars these labels can leave.
If a child has a joyous excitement for music, or sports, computers, poetry, horses, golf or dance, nurture that without owning it. Smile at it without naming it something bigger than your child. Treat is as a butterfly, beautiful, vibrant and alive. Don’t stab a pin in it, label it and stick it in a display box to show everyone the details, and try to keep it as it is forever because then you take the life of it away. YOU own it, and not the child, then.
Multiple Intelligence Theory
Howard Gardner first proposed the multiple intelligence theory, and Thomas Armstrong explained them very usefully. They have been adapted to education and business and other fields.
There were seven in the original writings, an eighth was added and agreed to by Gardner (Nature Intelligence), and a ninth is discussed:
Linguistic (words, language use and understanding)
Logical-mathematical (numbers, patterns, reasoning)
Spatial (visual, mental models, thinking in 3-D)
Bodily-Kinesthetic (physical abilities, sports, dance)
Musical ("having an ear," understanding music)
Interpersonal (understanding other people)
Intrapersonal (understanding one's self; analytical about thoughts & feelings)
Naturalist (not just nature, but categorizations)
and the newer, less accepted additional category:
Existential (spiritual or philosophical)
Considering "book worship"
Creating an Unschooling Nest
"GENIUS CLASS TO GO"
from the online workshops of the old AOL homeschooling forum, some of which were edited and available for download in those old days before good websites. By figuring out when my kids were 3, 6 and 9, I can date it to between July 29 and November 2, 1995.
PERRY1279 : small group today
Margmom : hello
PERRY1279 : Hi
HmSchDodd : There are potentially seven. Seven signed up anyway.
Some of the names are unfamiliar and I don't know if they all know how to find this place. The bad thing about one-shot workshops is by the time you find it and get settled in it's over, and, kind of like a one-question test, if you miss one you miss the whole thing.
HmSchDodd : PERRY is Karen.
PERRY1279 : Yes
HmSchDodd : MGocek is Melissa, and Margmom is Margaret?
MGocek : Yes
Margmom : yes
HmSchDodd : So that nobody has to explain why they're in here, I'm going to address the group as though we have some kids who have been dubbed "gifted," some parents of gifted kids, or parents who grew up as "gifted kids" and some people who are just curious about what the heck I'm talking about. Let's operate on that assumption and nobody has to make any confessions.
I'm Sandra Dodd, I have three kids who are 3, 6 and 9. They've never been to school. I went to school from 1959 to 1974, summer school for most of the last six of those, Extra classes here and there after that, taught Jr. High English for six years, I practically LIVED in school. I figured I'd had enough school for a lifetime--heck, a couple of lifetimes. I've dropped out of grad school three times.
If there were a book for this session, it would have been Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind_The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,
Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1983. Have any of you read that or at least flipped through it?
PERRY1279 : never heard of it
HmSchDodd : It's well worth looking into. You can probably get
one from the library or maybe borrow one from your homeschooling library.
MGocek : I Have not heard of it
Margmom : heard of it, haven't read it.
RDragon19 : hello
HmSchDodd : In the first half of this century, in this culture,
there were two things prized above all--
MGocek : Hi RDragon
HmSchDodd : RDragon, do you want another name used here besides
RDragon19 : RD
HmSchDodd : Okay, RD.
HmSchDodd : (Hey are you guys in suspense about what the two
things are going to be, or do you already know?)
MGocek : I don't know
HmSchDodd : I'll give you a clue. In the pioneering culture, where people struck out for the middle of nowhere, they prized physical strength/stamina, and industry--being able to make and do practical things.
After the turn of the century, school became a prime institution in this country, and strength was no longer the glorious thing it once was, and industry became, well, industrialized , and what came to be valued were verbal ability and mathematical skills.
In school people honestly don't get all too excited about history or science. If a kid can't write or"do math" other things are very much downplayed. The Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) cover math and language. You get two big numbers--one for mathematical and one for verbal. That's it. In school science is taught with reading and some math (chemistry, physics), and history is taught as reading comprehension--read the chapters and answer the questions. Music and P.E. are freebies--a few kids get sports or music scholarships, but the school will often disqualify them from participation in those "electives" if their English or math grades are bad.
What Gardner says in his book is radical but beginning to be very openly and widely accepted. He proposes that there are several "intelligences"--
He gives honor and credit to those people whose "gift" is in physical skills, artistic ability, inter-personal relations / management / counseling. Music! He sees music as an intelligence as valid and complex as mathematical ability.
I invited you all here today to discuss some issues I feel are important but rarely addressed in discussions of "giftedness."
One is parental pressure/excitement/expectation/fright.
One is the danger of one having been so labeled to have a harder time getting along with others. When families are homeschooling
children they consider to be gifted or who have been labeled gifted outside, they face some dangers and problems.
I'm going to use an analogy--so hold on a minute and figure out how this applies. If you have a child who is five years old and five
feet tall, and you start plotting a growth chart, you might expect that this same child will grow to be nine feet tall. You could start saving money for an extra-big bed, a bigger car, a house with a higher ceiling, BIG SHOES, and you could start planning on a basketball scholarship. (If it were the 19th Century you could contact the circus and start negotiating a big career in the freak show). But realistically speaking, and knowing how curves work, and what "growth curves" mean, it would not be a good use of resources or emotional energy to do that. And if you had made all those arrangements and plans and the child grows up to be six feet tall, wouldn't you be disappointed?
I had a friend who WAS really tall in 4th grade--taller than the TEACHER! I always thought of her as Really TALL, and when we were grown she was 5'2"
We had a friend who couldn't reach the water fountain in third grade, and he grew up to be 5'4"-- you know what that says for giftedness?
It's just a mark on a curve.
If someone looks like a genius on third grade tests, it doesn't mean he'll forever be 50% smarter than people his age for the rest of his life.
If someone's 5th grade test shows an IQ of 95, it doesn't mean his parents can cash [out] the college fund.
I know a couple of lawyers with big houses and nice cars who were very average in Jr. High, but one day when they were about sixteen or seventeen, things started to make sense--a LOT of sense-- more sense to them than they had been making to a lot of the rest of us, and they just zoomed away, making up for the days they'd been confused and wondered why they weren't keeping up.
If parents start treating one child differently, as though they're raising a queen bee (see royal jelly and related issues in a bug book around your house), it's not good for that child OR the others. Sometimes a kid gets very excited for having special mathematical talents, and starts to think he doesn't have to take the trash out anymore! Sometimes a parent will spend more money on one child because "she's smarter" and "needs it."
If you're the parent, please try to avoid such language and action.
If you're one of the kids (labelled one way or the other, even if you're labelled "normal") you might save some of these ideas, think about them, and use them to make people's lives better (possibly starting with your own). We had this problem in my family when I was a kid, so these are not ideas I learned out of a book, folks, and I've seen some kids' lives nearly ruined, socially and emotionally, because they were wearing a "gifted" tag nearly as prominent as a dunce cap. I honestly believe that I read as well and understood English as well in 8th grade as I do now.
WHAT IS THAT GOOD FOR?
I'll tell you.
Anything in your life is good for your current and future happiness and peace of mind.
If your parents set up a chart you're expected to follow which leads from where you are now to being the head of the United Nations, they are setting you up to fail.
Kids don't need to fail.
If your goal is to be a doctor, think about WHY. Being smart needs to be good for making smarter decisions. Go past "what" to "why?" If you want to be a doctor because biology and chemistry are fascinating and easy for you, and you'd be dissecting sharks anyway, so you might as well go to medical school, then you should do it. If your parents have pressured you to become a doctor just so they can borrow money from you when you're rich, resist this pressure! :-) There are a lot of unhappy doctors in the world--some experts say MOST of them. Stress, frustration, etc.--why aim for frustration?
The next time you are doing anything with charts and curves, the next time you're playing around with a math workbook that's talking about probability or statistics, look at those curves and think about what they really mean and what they're really good for. And when you're considering who's gifted, look at that list of Howard Gardner's-- **Linguistic, Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial,Bodily-Kinesthetic, Personal-Interpersonal**
I'll tell you about me. I'm great in the linguistic area. I can convince people of things, can express myself six different ways, talk up, talk down, talk all around.
Musical, I'm pretty good--no genius, but I can have a lot of fun with music and I understand it and have a good ear.
Logical-mathematical, so-so. I can "get good grades" but that's usually because of my linguistic ability--I can read the book and spit parts back at the teacher. I don't usually think mathematically.
Spatial? NO, no no. I can't estimate size/space, I don't have a good idea of what "100 yards" is, I can't find my way home sometimes. You can't tell that from where you are, because we're in VERBAL LAND!!!! Words are everything here. I could be seven feet tall and look like a movie monster, I could be typing this from the state hospital for the criminally insane--it doesn't matter because all that's being "graded" on AOL is linguistic intelligence.
AACHomeSch : ←---often wondered if that was the case *ggg*
HmSchDodd : (Well not all...because I'm getting to another one)
Bodily-Kinesthetic. MY WORST. I'm not only not gifted in bodily/kinesthetic ways (movement, physical talent) but I'm "retarded." I couldn't hang by my knees from monkeybars to save my life. If we really needed someone to run five miles and cross a river, I would be a worthless human being. I would have made a CRUMMY pioneer wife! (see strength/stamina/industry above). I can't dance, act, --and I bet a lot of you can. You do NOT want me on your volleyball team. :-)
Then there's personal-interpersonal. This is the newest of the intelligences, in a way. It has not until recently been considered a talent worthy of praise or research.
HmSchDodd : Does anyone need me to stop, go back, clarify, slow
PERRY1279 : no
HmSchDodd : Here's another true story which might touch on something in your own real life, either now or in the future:
One of my good friends is bright, quick, talented in every single one of Gardner's categories... He was getting married to a longtime girlfriend, and confided in me that he was afraid she wasn't "clever enough." It's a scary thought in a way, but he pointed out that she was very sweet. You know what? She IS very sweet. What is "sweet" worth in our culture? One thing we need to do as homeschoolers is to re-evaluate everything we can. "Sweet" was never on a report card in my school. It might help you get a better grade in "conduct" or "gets along well with others" but is sweetness a gift? Is it something that should be valued in a person? I believe it is.
What her sweetness consists of is understanding, friendliness, a mental healthiness and openness which affects all her friends, her baby boy, her relatives, every stranger she comes in contact with...
If we continue the school tradition of valuing verbal and mathematical skill over all else, we will not be free of some of the pathology/sickness such thinking inflicts on individuals, families, classrooms, support groups... People should not be divided, segregated, cut apart from the group, on the grounds that they are "gifted," because there are too many gifts to count and too many to measure.
If you're gifted, you need to look to the future, and look out beyond your small circle of daily people to those beyond. What will your mathematical or musical or kinesthetic gift be good for?
--Making a living? Great!
--Passing on to others? If you want to teach, there will be those who want to learn.
A gift, even a bundle of matching monogrammed gifts, will not make you happy. Your gifts will not make your parents happy.
People can use gifts as tools, though, to get what they want or need. The trick is to find out what you want and need.
One thing you need, whether you're old enough or wise enough to know it or not, is that you need other people. If you consider yourself gifted, or people keep TELLING you you're gifted, here's what I think is the best advice of all: Practice hiding it.
I don't mean deny it, lie about it, demure when people compliment you. I mean don't flaunt it. Don't make it YOU.
I have some friends (I bet you have some like this too) who were so good looking as teens that they grew to adulthood with this thought in mind: "I am beautiful!" They based their friendships on beauty, got jobs based on beauty, made decisions based on beauty, and the beauty has, in some cases, begun to fade. Their old tricks don't work! They get thirty years old and all of a sudden they have no tools to make friends, get a job, etc.
This can happen with "giftedness" too--particularly as when people are past school age, people no longer care how old you were when you learned your times tables, or how old you were when you could read Edgar Allen Poe.
So about the hiding business...
All I mean is to nurture your friendships with all kinds of people. Don't try to look for other "smart kids" and shun the rest.
Parents, if your kids are quick or bright, maybe you can subtly encourage those other 'intelligences.'
If a kid has talent in all fields BUT linguistic or mathematical, the tradition in this culture has been to brand him "slow" and retarded. Please do what you can, whether you're a kid or a parent, to edge people away from this. Here's what gifted children CAN do, and you can start today. You can use your skills to make your life and other kids' lives happier, more peaceful, more satisfying. You can defend other kids who are being put down or pressured, either by talking to them away from adults or by appealing to the adults to appreciate what IS good about the other child, whether sibling, friend or stranger.
There are subtle ways to do this, and if you have any skill in the personal/interpersonal area, this is the place to use it!
If you are low on the skills in interpersonal (as some physics-whizzes seem to be :-)) what I've seen some friends do successfully is to watch their friends whose interpersonal skills ARE good, and just basically mimic their actions. If you see them offering chairs to old ladies, you can do that too. Some people just don't think of those things, because that's not where their talent lies, and where their gifts are. You can fake it though. It's one of the easiest talents to fake, because there are etiquette books!
You can fake math with a calculator.
You can fake language skills to some extent with a spell checker and a thesaurus.
Bodily and musical skills are hardest to fake--once you slam your hand in a drawer, as I have done several times in my life, you know it! No denying that sort of clumsiness! :-) Be careful driving cars if you're low on bodily AND on spatial reasoning. (I'm not kidding on this one.)
When you look at people's vocations and avocations after this, think of which of Gardner's intelligences they're using--Race car drivers have logical/mathematical, physical/kinesthetic and spatial. You can do this with any job or skill. Figure out what it needs, what it takes to be really good. Not only will it help you to appreciate other people's talents, but it will help you advise your children or your friends (or yourself) about what types of jobs or hobbies might best suit your skills, your gifts.
If you can use your gifts, whatever they may be, to help others, to make other people's lives warmer and richer, you will improve your life and those of others too.
If you can learn to live with your personal combination of talents and shortcomings (if any) in peace with yourself, happily and comfortably, and if you can foster that in others, you will have used your gifts for the best possible purpose.
One more skill I want to brag up, and I'll let you guys go. If you are, or if you know anyone who is, a person who can prepare a big meal and get everything ready at the same time, still hot and the table is set, that is one of the COOLEST and most useful skills in all the world, and is rarely praised. If you can do that, I salute you.
AACHomeSch : :)
HmSchDodd : If you know someone who can, next time you get a chance, tell them how wonderful it is.
PERRY1279 : now that is one thing I CAN do
AACHomeSch : Cool!
HmSchDodd : Thank you all for coming. If you have questions or want to discuss any of this by e-mail later--I'll be around.