Monday, February 06, 2006

Why Gifted Students Need to Flock Together

There is an undercurrent of feeling that putting gifted kids in classes and activities with other gifted kids only reinforces their feeling of superiority over the "average" kids in their other classes. This elitist view is the exact opposite of why it is important to group gifted kids together. Gifted kids, with IQs ranging from 130 to 180 (and beyond) are even more different from each other than a spread of 50 IQ points in an "average" classroom, say from 80 to 130 IQ. But these gifted kids are sailing along at the top of their "average" class. They don't have to work, so they don't. They don't have to learn study skills, so they don't. Why bother trying to better yourself if you're already better than everyone in your peer group (i.e. your class)?

More importantly, they don't realize that they aren't the be all and end all of intelligence. And why should they? Classwork comes easily to them. The teacher and other adults in their lives constantly reinforce how smart they are and how easy school is for them. They spend much of their day entertaining themselves while they wait for the rest of the class to catch up. They have no opportunity to struggle and fail, much less to challenge themselves and grow.

In a gifted classroom, or summer camp, or Saturday program, most gifted kids will find for the first time that they aren't the smartest guys in the room. Surprise! In the Nov/Dec 2002 issue of BizEd, Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, described the moment he realized he had to work in school:

"In my first quarter, I distinctly remember sitting in my accounting class after we had taken a test. Before the professor handed out our tests, he put the distribution of grades up on the board, so he showed how many people got As, how many people got Bs. There was one person who had the lowest grade. I remember sitting there thinking, wow, that poor bastard, how embarrassing to be that one guy at the bottom! There weren’t even two people at the bottom, just one! Well, he handed the tests back, and I was that guy. And I remained at the bottom of that list until I figured out just how much work was required to get an MBA and I started doing it.

I know that I came out of the MBA program much, much better prepared to do anything. And when I encounter people who have not had a similar educational experience, the thing I’m amazed at is that they don’t know what they don’t know. So they don’t know they’re missing anything. That’s the scary thing. I didn’t know that I was missing anything. And frankly, I didn’t go to school to learn; I went to school to get a degree so that people would think I was smart, but I wouldn’t actually have to be smart. My biggest surprise was that I actually took away from that experience skills so valuable that, for me, they made the difference between success and not success."
(emphasis mine)

Adams' experience in his MBA program is exactly what I want my boys to experience, although preferably earlier than graduate school. Some people think gifted students will learn this lesson "only when they are forced to spend time in an average classroom." It is simply not the case. And I believe my job as parent is to make sure my boys don't buy into the notion that they're better or smarter than anyone else. I want them to know that the point of living is continuing to learn and grow, that challenge and struggle are good things, things to be sought out at every opportunity. This is why I'm advocating in the schools for them to be in gifted classes and why I'm spending our vacation money to send them to camp. Scott Adams learned to work only when he got to graduate school. Imagine what he could have done if he learned that lesson in junior high.

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