Why are our exceptional children denied exceptional treatment?

susan-paynter-headshot-resizedBy Dr. Susan Paynter

It must be a dirty word because teachers, legislators, and even the parents of the gifted kids seem to be reluctant to use the G word. From No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top, the focus is on bringing the low performing kids to the middle. We have to level the playing field, which means insuring that our brightest kids don’t get too far ahead of the group.

It’s not fair, is it? Those gifted kids have it all — they are smart and things come so easily to them, they hardly have to work at anything! And besides, everyone is gifted, right? Every child deserves a trophy for playing in the Little League, and every kid is a winner.

But wait, what happens if everyone is gifted? And what happens to the kids who truly are cognitively exceptional? Probably exactly what would happen to our most talented athletes if we made them sit on the bench until everyone was equally ready to play.

Recognize their unique needs

We acknowledge that some children need special services because they struggle. Without recognition of the unique needs of the bright kids on the other end of the learning continuum, the gifted become an oppressed class, the ones who are denied services, and appropriate support. If we tried that with a cognitively challenged child we would be sued, right?

Does oppressed seem like a strong word? What’s it like when the gifted are sitting in a classroom learning things they have known for years waiting for the rest of the class to understand …. learning your letters when you already know how to read, or learning to count when you can already multiply? And while they are waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, they are told to sit still.

No one wants to use that dirty word “gifted” since, after all, they don’t need anything because they are already so smart and know everything in the common core curriculum. And talking about them makes you an elitist. What if you were asked to sit in a room and learn how to tie your shoe for hours each day, even though you have known how for years. Would you feel lucky to be smart?

Children in one of Dr. Paynter’s workshops for gifted students participate in a floating experiment.

‘Grit factor’

What about that “grit factor” everyone is talking about? It is widely accepted that one of the most critical attributes of success in adulthood is grit. If a child is spending their day learning things they already know, then how do they develop the grit that is essential for success? How do they learn resilience? How do they snatch victory from defeat if they never fail?

It’s time we fought for the rights of our brightest students with as much energy and effort as we have fought for the rights of our struggling learners. And let’s shout that dirty word “gifted” from the roof tops because we are mad as hell and we are not going to be average anymore.

Dr. Susan Paynter lives in Woodstock and is a national presenter on programming for gifted children. Dr. Paynter served as the Director of Gifted Programs for Montclair University and is a New York state certified school administrator and experienced teacher of gifted and twice exceptional students. For more information on advocacy and support for gifted children, visit www.giftedmatters4kids.com or email giftedmatters4kids@gmail.com.