Underachieving or Refusing to Play the Game?

I agree 100% with the article “Gifted Underachievers: Underachieving or Refusing To Play the Game?” I recently had a student tell me that he was not motivated to do anything about his D in a class because, even though he could get a better grade, that would send a message to the teacher that he cared about the class. He had no interest in the required class, and felt that the teacher wasn’t effective at teaching the subject. This student was making a clear statement about how he felt, even though it meant sabotaging himself. It often takes more integrity to let go of the system, than to suck it up and move forward with something a student finds irrelevant, uninteresting, with no meaning. Giving up is something that IS under their control.

When we label a student as an underachiever, the message we are sending is that they are lazy and unmotivated. Often, these same students are very motivated and passionate about something, often unrelated to school. They may be interested in areas that are quite different from what they are getting in school (making musical instruments, synchronized swimming, designing skis, composing music, coding, gaming, etc.) These students are spending great amounts of time and energy engaged in their personal areas of interest… their passion. Jim Delisle prefers to describe these children as “selective consumers”.

We are all about trying to help students find their passions, but if they happen to settle on an area that is not school-specific, are we as supportive? If their areas of interest happen to not be what school values as “highly credible,” or college-significant, those interests are often discounted and regarded as less worthy. I’ve talked to the parents of students who are gifted in music or in art, who are actively trying to discourage their children from pursuing these areas, and trying to get them to shift their energy to math and science classes. This sends a clear message to their child that their natural passions and interests are not valued.

I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s no doubt that school has value on many levels, both academic and social. I do think there needs to be more choice in school, with more meaningful applications of the material learned. For many students, school is just something to endure, and there is no joy of learning involved. If less time were spent on homework and testing, there would be more time for students to spend on things they do love. Instead, many go from enduring the school day, to being bogged down by homework every evening, taking up any free time they may have spent doing something they actually enjoyed. I feel that students must have time to develop their talents and interests beyond school. Doing things we love gives us the energy to do all the other stuff we need to get through.

I highly recommend reading Celi Trépanier’s blog Crushing Tall Poppies.

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Gifted students meet state lawmakers at Colorado Capitol

Today was the 16th Annual CAGT Legislative Day in Denver. This is an event that allows students (grades 8 to 12) the unique opportunity to shadow a state legislator for the day at the Colorado capitol building. There is also an adult component to the day where gifted advocates have an opportunity to learn about current legislative initiatives that affect gifted children in the state.

CAGT Legislative Day 2015We have a great turnout every year – this year 284 students from all parts of the state participated. Through an application process, 117 of them were selected to shadow a legislator. Of the 100 Senators and Representatives, 72 either agreed to take shadows or joined us for a discussion over lunch. Legislative Day is a favorite day for legislators (it’s a mix of Republicans and Democrats) because they love the diverse questions these gifted students ask, such as: the economy around mine reclamation areas, laws about special education, what’s being done about ISIS in Colorado, assessment testing in schools and even a question about how to become a legislator. The legislators truly enjoy being with these students, answering their questions and showing them around the capitol.

It was especially gratifying for me because five IB students from my high school, Fairview HS in Boulder, attended Legislative Day. Four of them are pictured here with me.

CAGT-Terry-Bradley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt honored to give the introduction to the hundreds of attendees to start Legislative Day. Here’s an excerpt of my welcome talk:

“The gifted population is quite significant in Colorado. Over 68,000 students, kindergarten through grade 12, are identified as GT.

The purpose of CAGT is to support all of those 68,000 gifted children and their various exceptional needs. CAGT advocates for appropriate education and funding for them. We do this through partnerships with educators, families, administrators, legislators, and the general public.

Legislative Day is the best opportunity for us to engage with legislators. Plus it gives all of us an opportunity to observe committee hearings. And Legislative Day also allows our legislators the opportunity to hear YOUR thoughts on what YOU want out of education.

GT students are covered by the Exceptional Children’s Education Act (ECEA). This is a statute that was passed by the state legislature that requires all districts to identify and serve gifted students. But there’s very little funding. So it’s been passed into law without appropriate money to make it work as well as it should. For many years, dedicated people have worked behind the scenes, on your behalf, to increase the funding.

Know that just by being here YOU are representing the 68,000 gifted kids in the state of Colorado. You make a difference!”

With all the special interest groups lobbying for increased funding, it’s important to get parents and students interacting with state elected officials at the capitol. It makes the issue of gifted education more real, more visible, and more immediate for the legislators. The lawmakers see that gifted students have educated concerns about the world they are growing up in, express themselves confidently and knowledgeably, and deserve an education that meets their needs.

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Talk less, listen more is key advice for parent group facilitators

One of the things I really enjoy doing is being a nationally sanctioned SENG facilitator trainer. I have trained hundreds of people, from many different districts, in how to run SMPGs: SENG Model Parent Groups. These are structured support groups for parents of gifted children.

SMPGs are led by educators, mental health professionals and parents who have been trained by SENG to facilitate a focused discussion on various topics regarding parenting gifted children. The topics come from the book A Parent’s Guide To Gifted Children and the discussions that ensue are based on the chapters in the book.

I am one of eight trainers in the U.S. that trains people to lead SMPGs in their local school communities. I received my training from Jim Webb and Arlene DeVries in 2003. Since then, I’ve led my own SMPG discussions, along with training others to do the same.

Recently, I co-facilitated, with Sheri Plybon from Plano, TX, a SMPG training in Denver with 20 people from Colorado, Utah, California, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Iowa and Connecticut. Yes, people fly-in for this valuable two-day immersion into gifted support. The goal is to educate and equip these people to go out and organize their own SMPGs in their states.

SENG training group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of this training, I asked participants, “How different do you think your style of group facilitation would be if you had been asked to facilitate a group without this two-day training?” They all said the same thing… they would have talked MUCH more TO the parents. They would have felt they had to TELL parents what they needed to learn instead of LISTENING to what the parents had to share.

One of the key points of training facilitators is communicating to them that “less is more.” Instead of being the expert in the group that the parents rely on, facilitators are trained to orchestrate the parents’ discussion, rather than to make it about themselves giving advice. There is certainly a time and a place to offer suggestions, but facilitators are trained to talk seldomly, and when they do talk to do so very subtly, and to always draw the attention back to the parents.

Another key point in training is to help the parents realize that, as important as school is to the well-being of their children, the parent’s role has a much greater long-term impact on their gifted child than school. The focus is about turning the finger inward toward themselves and asking “What things are going well in my child’s and my relationship that I want to continue to do” and “What things about our relationship could be improved”

SMPG facilitators are trained to listen, model openness and warmth, and encourage participation.

This particular group of people at the recent Denver training session was an amazing gathering of caring, intuitive individuals. They are exactly the type of people that I would want to help guide ME in becoming more aware about effective parenting skills. I am so grateful that these SMPG groups exist to help parents guide their gifted children and to strengthen their relationships. And I’m proud to be a nationally sanctioned SENG facilitator trainer.

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Live Purposely Raising Gifted Children

You know, some people just say it as it should be said. Dan Peters is someone I constantly learn from. I admire his wisdom, his attitude, his approachability, and his commitment to helping us all learn. He is a person who is highly regarded and highly sought out. His perspective and his writing just makes me “feel good.”

His recent article Live Purposely in the New Year is exactly the advice we all need to hear at the beginning, middle or end of a year.  Dan gives advice that’s not sugar coated; advice that’s easy to imagine following; and he does it all with a friendly “me too” attitude. It’s a successful formula that Dan uses whether he’s giving a keynote, talking with a small group of people, sitting one on one with a client, or having a casual conversation with friends and colleagues.

When you read Live Purposely in the New Year, think about your own life. I did. I reflected on what’s going well and what I’d like to change. Bring the best of what you have to offer to your life and to the people who share life with you.

• Accept reality
• Make conscious choices
• Live intentionally and purposely

So if we apply Dan Peter’s logic to raising gifted children, we need to 1) Be realistic about the children that are in front of us. While we as parents or educators may want less complicated children, these are the children we have. 2) Let’s face it, gifted kids have unique needs that take time and energy to foster. We need to make conscious decisions and choices based on what our children bring to the table in regards to their interests and their essence. 3) Embrace gifted children for who they are, not who you want them to be. As you do, you will be loving them with intent and purpose.

If we live intentionally, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that we are making realistic decisions, in the moment. Often, that’s the very best that we have to offer to others. Imagine if we all were present as we approached our daily lives and our parenting. It’s a challenge I’m up for.  Are you?

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STEM can push students beyond their comfort zone

Too many kids quit STEM because they don’t think they’re smart

NAGC logoI visited Baltimore for the first time when I attended the 61st annual National Association for Gifted Children convention. With four days of sessions and keynoters, I wanted to share with you my thoughts from the Opening General Session. Keynoter Freeman Hrabowski III, who has been President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) for the past 22 years, really set the tone for the convention. He advises President Obama on educational issues, and was named to the 100 Most Influential People in the World list in 2012 by TIME. His talk was “Engaging and Empowering America’s Students to Succeed in STEM.” The main focus at UMBC is on STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math majors.

Freeman HrabowskiHrabowski is an impassioned speaker. He’s been on 60 Minutes, TED Talks and has many compelling YouTube videos. In his NAGC session, as he does in many of his talks, Hrabowski talked about how his life changed significantly when he was a boy and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. He remembers MLK saying “You must not let anyone define who you are.” And, “The quality of what you do will have an impact on people not even born yet.” Hrabowski said “Of course that was true with the civil rights movement, but it’s also true of other areas in which you will devote yourself.”

Something Hrabowski said that has stayed with me since the NAGC conference and that I find myself repeating to teachers, students, and parents is “The higher the ACTs in high school, the higher the AP and IB course load in high school, and the better the college the student attends, the greater the chances are that he/she will switch out of STEM classes.” It was hard to grasp this concept when he said it because it seems backward. But after thinking on it, I get it. Hrabowski said it’s because when these highly capable students transition into college and gets something below an A in a math or science class, they very often switch their major. It’s common knowledge that students who are used to getting A’s freak out when they are faced with anything below an A, and if this happens in a STEM class they figure that they are not smart enough to continue in that area.

I know that many students believe that smart = easy. Gifted students, in particular, often don’t have to work hard to get an A. So, when a class comes along that really challenges them and requires that they work extremely hard and it still results in a grade below an A, they often back down believing that they aren’t smart enough to continue or it’s just too hard. They encounter the dreaded “fear of failure” that many gifted kids eventually face.

But what if instead they embraced the challenge and thought, “Wow, this is really hard. I’m going to have to really buckle down and use some different strategies to keep up with it.” Very often, the strategies that used to work don”t work anymore. In more challenging circumstances it often takes more hard work, more tutoring, more studying, and more repetition in order to succeed… even if you’re gifted. And that’s something that many students who feel entitled, are not used to doing.

We need to send a message to our gifted students, especially those who pursue STEM college degrees, that they need to stick out the rough parts, power through with hard work, and not give up when the going gets tough.

If they stick it out and work hard, the payoff can be that the class becomes more manageable and the learning is extensive and deeper. We have to remind our students (and their parents) that sometimes a grade less than an A can actually represent more learning than getting an A.

For more, see a related study: STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields from the U.S. Department of Education.

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Highlights from the 2014 Colorado Gifted Conference

I’ve been the Conference Chair for the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented annual CAGT Conference for the past two years. It’s been an amazing experience planning, organizing, and executing our state’s gifted conference – this year with 800 attendees, 5 keynotes and 80 breakout sessions. This year’s conference theme was The Many Faces of Gifted.

Dan Siegel-CAGT conference

There were so many highlights and take-aways to share. Here are just a few:

Dan Siegel-Terry Bradley-CAGTDr. Dan Siegel, in his keynote titled Brainstorm: Discovering the Hidden Power of the Adolescent Brain, talked about the ESSENCE of adolescence. We need to know that teens aren’t crazy, and we shouldn’t be impatient waiting for them to “just grow up” so they will be more like adults.  Changes during adolescence are not something to just get through; they are qualities we actually need to hold on to in order to live a full and meaningful life in adulthood.  We need to harness and model after their ESSENCE. Brain changes during the early teen years set up four qualities of our minds during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration.

Siegel’s views have made me regard my students differently. We can benefit from observing teens and the way they go about life. I want to live “more in the moment” as my students do.  What adolescents have going for them that is both a challenge and a gift is actually what adults need in order to maintain vitality in their lives.

“How we navigate the adolescent years has a direct impact on how we’ll live the rest of our lives.”

— Dan Siegel


Two keynotes were by teenagers. Kai Kloefper has created smart firearm technology that allows only the owner of a gun, and people the owner chooses, to fire the gun, thereby potentially saving lives. Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli Roske-Martinez are on a mission to educate and unite youth and adults around environment and climate causes through Earth Guardians.

Kai Kloefper-CAGTKai came to the conference wearing a suit with a briefcase looking very “professional” and business-like. He’s into technology, engineering, invention, innovation.

Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli have long, untamed hair and came to the conference wearing t-shirts and jeans. They performed hip hop and rapped to convey their message. They’re into environmental and social engagement, activism and music.

Earth Guardians-CAGTBoth keynotes were by gifted students who are very diverse in their passions. Both see needs – Kai with controlling gun violence and Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli with environmental problems. Both are using their strengths to serve those needs. Neither sees their age as a barrier. Both had the greater good in common…helping the world to be better.


Lisa Van Gemert-CAGTLisa Van Gemert delivered a refreshing take on giftedness in her keynote The Five-Headed Dragon.  Gifted individuals aren’t just regular people with higher intelligence. They have their own sets of “dragons” that present their own unique challenges. Gifted youth face many threats to their well-being, both cognitively and emotionally, that prevent them from achieving their dreams. She faced five of these threats head-on: Stereotype Threat, Imposter Syndrome, Bullying the Bright, Underachievement, and Perfectionism. These threats distort gifted youths’ views of themselves, create hesitancy where boldness is needed, turn victors into victims, deny gifts, and prevent academic risk-taking. Giving educators and parents the tools they need to ward off the five-headed dragon will allow gifted learners to soar to new heights of personal and academic fulfillment.

Lisa told a lot of touching, poignant, personal stories offered suggestions about what we can do to support gifted children. You can explore more on Lisa’s blog Gifted Guru, “Tips and resources for people who like smart.”


Rosina Gallagher-Terry Bradley-CAGTRosina Gallagher’s keynote was The Prism of Giftedness.

The Prism of Giftedness at its base, reveals cognitive ability, from above average to the upper limits of intellectual precocity. The left facet reflects varied learning styles, from acquiring knowledge through tangible media, concrete examples and hands-on experiences, to manipulating complex ideas, predicting consequences and generating multiple solutions in problem solving. The right facet reflects those personality traits such as curiosity, drive, and perseverance that enable individuals to develop their talents, creativity and resilience for caring, satisfying lives, the apex. The rear, sustaining facet, reveals a rich, nurturing environment that varies according to home, school, community experiences and eventual, chosen lifestyle. When the light of lifelong learning is cast upon its angles, the prism radiates the rainbow of talents, cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles that have built our great nation. Through this prism, we can become aware of and nurture the groups that emerge periodically in our midst.

Rosina Gallagher CAGT

Photos by Karen Larsen Photography

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8 Questions With Terry About Gifted and Talented

Michele Chambers is getting a Masters degree in Gifted and Talented education from Denver’s Regis University. An assignment for her class “Advocacy, Service-Learning, and Twice-Exceptional” was to interview experts in the field of gifted ed. Michelle and I are on the executive board of the Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented (CAGT) so Michelle asked me to be one of her “experts”. I wanted to share her questions and my answers.

Q: What inspired you to get involved in supporting gifted and talented education?

A: I started out as a first grade classroom teacher, then I got involved in supporting GT education because of my son. I realized that, at age 3, he was doing many things at or beyond the level of my first graders. I started reading all that I could on giftedness, starting attending graduate level classes on giftedness, and eventually got my Masters degree in GT from the University of Northern Colorado. It was a way of being the best mom I could be for my gifted son. I then transferred that knowledge and experience to also supporting my gifted daughter, and working in schools and in the community supporting gifted students.

Q: In your opinion, what are common characteristics of an effective and successful advocate for gifted and talented education?

A: First of all, an advocate needs to be informed. You can’t ask for something that you can’t express confidently to others. You also need to be aware of what is going well, and what could be improved in any given situation. An advocate need to be vocal, and be confident to stand up for giftedness and what gifted students need. An advocate needs to be aware of community resources in order to provide information on those to families and educators who need to be educated. An advocate needs to be passionate about supporting not only educational needs, but social and emotional needs as well.

Q: What advice would you give to an educator who would like to begin a new school or community program to support gifted and talented education?

A: Observe gifted programs that are successful and highly regarded. See what they are doing right. Listen to their philosophy and observe them teaching gifted children. Get advice from professionals who are doing it well. And, always talk with gifted students about what they like and what they feel they need.

Q: What are the essential steps that an advocate should take while designing and implementing a new program for gifted and talented education?

A: Awareness and self-education are always necessary. Self-reflection helps. “What is my agenda? Am I in this for my own self promotion, or for my personal family needs, or am I in this for the greater good?”

Q: What are the community resources/programs that you have been most influential in creating and/or supporting the development of? What are the key factors that made your resources/programs successful?

A: I am invited by districts to train educators and mental health workers throughout Colorado for SENG facilitator training so that they can learn effective methods that best support parents of gifted children. This program has been successful because it acknowledges that the parents are a huge part of the success of their gifted children. Regardless of the programming that a school offers children, parents need to be aware and responsive to their children, as well. It’s the triangle of support – child, parents, school.

Gifted children not only think differently,
they feel differently too.

“Creating and Facilitating Discussion Groups for Gifted Children” is a workshop I created because I have been successfully facilitating GT Discussion Groups with middle school and high school students for 14 years. I wanted to get others on board so I’m happy to train them in the art of discussion groups. That was the quote that changed my world. So many students have felt supported in these groups over the years. Discussion groups create a place where students can be themselves, express their ideas, gather support and advice from peers, and do it in a safe atmosphere, with a trusted adult. Why is this important? Because what they think matters. To quote Linda Silverman, “Gifted children not only think differently, they feel differently too.”

Q: Please comment about your thoughts regarding service-learning and gifted education.

A: I’m at a school that requires service-learning for students signed up for the IB Diploma. While it adds work to their already packed and stressful schedules, service-learning gives them the opportunity to think beyond themselves, and to take off their blinders. Often, children and adolescents can be self-centered and self-serving. Offering aid and support to others in the community promotes altruism. The gifted population tends to have a higher degree of altruism anyway, so this fits in with many of their natural tendencies.

Q: Have you had any experience with servicing twice-exceptional (2e) students? If so, based on your experience, what can teacher and parent advocates do to provide further academic and social support for twice-exceptional students?

A: As far as academic support, it is imperative that the GT teacher be involved in IEP and 504 reviews, and goal-setting. Often, it is the SpEd teacher that takes on this responsibility without the involvement of the GT teacher. Both need to be present at any meeting in which decisions/supports/interventions are being discussed. I am often included in the meetings for 2e students at my school, and I always bring the lens of “what they are doing right” and “meeting them where they are and moving them forward in their area(s) of strength.” This perspective must be offered. Generally, students are doing many more things right than not right, but we often focus more attention on what’s wrong. Let’s use what they are doing right to help build up the areas in which they are struggling. That builds resiliency.

Socially, one of the biggest 2e supports I’ve witnessed is the GT Discussion Group. In the discussions, 2e students keep right up with the other gifted students. They are generally very adept verbally and can express themselves quite well, which is honored and respected in a discussion. This levels the playing field and allows 2e students to feel that their GT label is not a mistake. 2e students can feel less of an “imposter” because these groups assure them to feel that they are capable and smart.

Q: What advice would you give to educators who are beginning their journey in advocating for gifted and talented education, students, and families?

A: Realize that it is often “two steps forward, one step back.” Our work in this field is really in its infancy. We have laid some hopeful groundwork in Colorado which needs to be nurtured by passionately and firmly staying the course. We need to “address the elephant in the room” and stand up for the rights and needs of gifted children. We need to respond to the myths, correct misinformation, and continue to point out how it is only fair that gifted students learn something new every day, too (as should all students). To do this, we need to meet gifted students where they are and help move them forward. They will not simply make it on their own. They need support, nurturing and guidance in order to grow. Varsity athletes do not make it on their own; they require the guidance of someone who can help them become better than they were — not necessarily the best, but better than they were. Don’t all kids deserve this kind of attention?

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Stop the Competitive, Stressful, Painful Race to College

Many parents are anxious and concerned about where their child goes to college. Many are convinced that their child must only attend an elite, top tier university. Why? To those parents, the university choice is a sign of future success for their child. Once accepted, nothing is in their way, they’ve arrived, and their future is set. Plus, parents think acceptance at a prestigious school reflects well on their parenting.

Getting into elite, top tier universities is not the most important thing for students. It’s more important to purse one’s passions, not a university name.  There are hundreds of schools that might be good options for personal interests and strengths.

Working at a high school with a very rigorous curriculum and competitive environment, I see the best and the worst that comes out in students as they plot a course after high school.

The best: so many students leave high school feeling prepared for college and the expectations it will bring. They have been pushed and they rose to the challenge. They leave confident, inspired, and prepared.

The worst: a rigorous, competitive environment can lead to too much student anxiety, depression and lowered self esteem. The pressures surrounding college applications and acceptance can be overwhelming. Many students lose sight of who they are, in a battle for the limited spaces offered at the elite, top tier universities.  They become divisive with their classmates because there are all trying to get in to the same schools.  The students sitting next to them in class can feel like enemies, even if they don’t really know them.

As parents and educators, let’s remain mindful of the most important aspects of happiness in life. It’s truly not about the specific university one gets into, but about how one takes advantage of the opportunities that are offered wherever one goes. “Blooming where we are planted” makes us unique, passionate, sensitive, and alive in the world.

Want more specifics? Here’s an excellent article that parents and educators need to read and put into action.

ivy league pennantsHarvard, Schmarvard; Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should Be the Least of Your Concerns

by Michelle Rose Gilman

It’s almost that time of year. I can feel it in the fall air and see it on the faces of parents and seniors everywhere. It’s almost college application time and the race begins, as parents and kids vie for the chance to get into their first choice colleges. For some parents, college acceptance approaches the culmination of every single parenting choice ever made. Continued…

 

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No, Not Everyone is Gifted

Jim Delisle is a Colorado favorite.  He’s a straight shooter, and does not mince words.  His new book, Dumbing Down America, is his latest attempt to highlight what is not working for our gifted students in the education system.

I asked Jim to post a guest blog.  He obliged with this blog, No, Not Everyone is Gifted, in which he refutes some of Malcolm Gladwell’s beliefs in Outliers.  Like I said, Jim is not afraid to speak out, especially if it will help people better understand the plight of the gifted child.


Jim Delisle
dr jim delisleI’m pretty tired of reading that anyone can be gifted as long as they try hard enough. The book that epitomizes this idea is the best-selling Outliers: The Story of Success, written by Malcolm Gladwell in 2008, with his follow-up volume, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, appearing in 2013. In the former book, Gladwell contends that what separates the intellectual chaff from the wheat is not aptitude, but practice. Naming it the “10,000-hour rule,” Gladwell uses select case studies to show that 10,000 hours of doing anything will turn you into the genius you’ve always wanted to be. In David and Goliath, Gladwell continues to dismiss the importance of high intelligence and the dominance of strong ambitions. Using yet more case studies of miscreants who made it big, Gladwell contends that overcoming personal hurdles and family troubles, in combination with lots and lots of practice, will turn you from generic to genius.

Of course this readily graspable concept designed to make everyone feel good about their own potential has mass appeal. Too bad that Gladwell’s convenient and simple ideas . . . are wrong.

When a bad idea like Gladwell’s goes viral—as did the 10,000-hour rule—other authors capitalize on it in their own books, as so many spurious clones appeared in subsequent years. In David Shenks’s 2010 volume The Genius in All of Us, the author states that the world doesn’t have a “talent scarcity” but a “latent talent abundance.” He is even so bold to title a chapter “How to Be a Genius,” as if intellect can be grown Petri dish style or baked at 350 degrees for 10,000 hours. And in Daniel Coyle’s 2009 The Talent Code, the author uses scientific evidence (so he states) to prove that science doesn’t have much of a role in development of intellect. With deep practice, ignition, and master coaching, you, too, can become as accomplished as Jessica Simpson—the pop singer used as an exemplar by Coyle to back up his claims. Seriously?

There is an aspirational attraction to a theory that says you can be greater than you think you are, and no one has the right to downplay the honest efforts of someone who genuinely wants to improve. However, this ambition to succeed is a far cry from dismissing the role of heredity (or downplaying it substantially) in determining intelligence, as these “everyone can be gifted” authors contend. You can’t just toss out 150 years of psychological evidence to the contrary to make the general population feel superior.

The real damage done by these Pop Psychology gurus is this: their theories are based on the idea that the best way to deal with giftedness is to make believe it doesn’t exist at all; rather, it is “created” through effort, practice, and the occasional raw deal that life hands you.

Yet those who deny or diminish a biological basis to intelligence are very selective in which branches of the genetics tree they prune. I can’t imagine that any of the above authors would deny that hair color, height, predisposition to diseases, or nearsightedness have at least some basis in the genes we are dealt. If this is so for virtually every other element of our human existence since birth, then how can they deny the rightful place of genetics in determining one’s innate level of intellect?

No one refutes the potential impact of personal lifestyle or the environment in which you are raised on the quality of one’s daily life. So even if you were born with a predisposition toward heart disease, exercise and a healthy diet can mitigate against your chances of coronary impairment. And although there’s not much you can do about increasing your height, even some great basketball players who didn’t “measure up” in the typical sense succeed professionally. (Case in point: Tyrone “Mugsy” Bogues, who at 5’3″ was the shortest man ever to play in the NBA, became a point guard for the Charlotte Hornets and had a successful 10-year career with them.) So of course a person’s environment and ambition can affect their performance in life . . . but so do genetics. By dismissing or discounting the relevance of our DNA on particular aspects of one’s being—like intelligence—some very smart people are making some very dumb assertions and, sadly, carrying a large number of readers with them.

In the 1960s, many new bands appeared during the “British Invasion.” I’m sure many of them rehearsed and performed for 10,000 hours or more, but only one of those bands turned into The Beatles. Their innate talent in music was enhanced by their practice, not determined by it. Gifted children are the same: they exist from birth. As wise parents and educators of these children know, we ignore the early signs of giftedness at our peril, and treating all children the same because we all have the potential to become gifted thwarts the minds of those who already are.


dumbing down america jim delisleJim Delisle, Ph.D., has worked with gifted children and their caregivers for 37 years. The author of 19 books, the above article is excerpted from his latest book, Dumbing Down America: The War on our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (and What We Can Do to Fight Back), published by Prufrock Press.

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Talking About Giftedness: the Elephant in the Room

My favorite session at the 32nd Annual SENG Conference in San Jose, CA this summer was Elephant in the Room: How to Talk about Giftedness. I run into a lot of people in my daily work life (parents, students, teachers, administrators) who don’t understand giftedness, who don’t agree with the premise of individuals being gifted, and have just general uncertainty about discussing giftedness.

seng-conference-2014This session, presented by Sharon Duncan and Joanna Haase, was very informative and empowering. It provided imperative information addressing misperceptions society has about giftedness.

Duncan and Haase encouraged us to think of promoting awareness of giftedness as a social change movement, just as GLBT rights and Civil Rights required educating people and changing their perspectives. They encouraged us to correct myths about giftedness every single time we hear them being uttered. For example: “How can he be gifted, he doesn’t turn in his assignments?” “You call her gifted? She’s failing math.”

Furthermore, Duncan and Haase say we need to OWN IT; to make direct eye contact when we address people who are spreading falsehoods about giftedness. If we can’t talk about giftedness, then we cannot get support for it and we cannot educate about it.

They identified the roots of the problem many of us have about speaking up about giftedness as:

  • We limit the conversation of gifted solely to education (IQ scores, test scores, grades, etc.).  We need to educate that giftedness is a psychological phenomenon, not an educational phenomenon. Gifted is a technical definition, not an elitist word.
  • Myths are entrenched. Until we can speak up and dispel myths as they arise, myths and misunderstanding will remain firmly entrenched. (“All children are gifted.”)
  • The concept of intelligence creates discomfort. If we identify an individual as gifted, that must mean other individuals aren’t.  Nobody wants to feel “less than.”

And, while we need to create empathy, it is not advantageous to try and show gifted kids as victims. We change mindsets through education and exposure. Not by being silent, or by being aggressive.

Further, if we correct the perception that giftedness is not required for eminence, achievement, and success, then society may not need to perpetuate the myth that “all kids are gifted.”

We need to mandate education for all the people who are working with/treating our kids. Why are these mental health professionals that work with our gifted children not required to learn about giftedness?

seng-conference-2015The Elephant in the Room: How to Talk about Giftedness was just one of ten highly informative sessions I attended at this year’s three day SENG Conference.

Next year’s SENG Conference will be in Denver. I hope you’ll attend! Info here.

 

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