Unchallenged and Disenchanted: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child

A friend of mine recently forwarded me an interesting article from Time magazine on gifted children; more specifically, on the idea that we may be failing our geniuses by not allowing them to pursue academics at their own rate. Schools often refuse to let gifted children skip grades; instead, they are sentenced to study information that they already know. They are left unchallenged and become disenchanted with school – the dropout rate for gifted children is similar to that of learning disabled children.

I encourage you to read the article; it outlines some of the more recent measures that have been taken to ensure that gifted children receive the support they need to excel. There are now several schools in the United States that are exclusively for gifted children. By all accounts, children who were slipping through the cracks in traditional classrooms are flourishing in these new schools.

Montessori and giftedness are often linked. When I applied for a job at a Montessori school for the first time, the only association I had with Montessori was that it must be for gifted children. I’m not sure why I thought that, but that misconception was quickly put to rest as I learned more about the materials and the theory behind them.

Clearly, the Montessori method is successful with children of all levels of academic ability, but parents of gifted children often wonder if their child would flourish in Montessori. In this post I’m going to define giftedness and talk about it a little bit to lay a good foundation for further discussion, and next time I’ll tackle the sticky issue of Montessori and gifted children.

What is giftedness? It’s hard to define but easy to spot – most of us have known children who were precocious beyond their years: reading early, making incisive observations, and generally confounding parents and teachers who try, often unsuccessfully, to make sure they are given appropriately intriguing material to study.

The United States defines giftedness this way:

The term “gifted and talented” when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities. (P.L. 103–382, Title XIV, p. 388)

Parents and schools often use a variety of methods to determine giftedness. These include grades, portfolios of schoolwork, test scores, and classroom observation. The gifted child faces many issues that other children do not; oftentimes, intellectual giftedness is paired with delays in physical development, social skills, and emotional growth. This combination of an extremely bright but very immature child can be difficult for parents and teachers to deal with.

Many people are put off by gifted children. Something in our naturally democratic nature shies away from labeling some children as smarter than others. It doesn’t seem fair. Time magazine puts it succinctly:

As a culture, we feel deeply ambiguous about genius. We venerate Einstein, but there is no more detested creature than the know-it-all.

This attitude seems to be changing in more recent years. Now being smart is in vogue – more than one internet millionaire began their career as a gifted but socially ostracized teenager. Parents are beginning to realize that their gifted children need more than a traditional school can provide, and as they look over their options, one question is asked again and again: Is the Montessori classroom the right place for a gifted child? Tune in next time…

For further reading: Intellectual Giftedness at Wikipedia – an interesting article with links to other relevant sites.