The Race To Nowhere for the "Gifted" Kids

I hate labels…I despise labeling kids.  I understand it, but to say that I am less than a fan would be a gross understatement.

When our middle son, Lucas, was having some behavioral issues in kindergarten our old elementary school wanted him tested, immediately, for ADHD.  I fought tooth and nail to keep any label away from Lucas.  He was a six year old boy, I thought ~ let him be a six year old boy, for heaven’s sake!  I fought against having him tested and when we finally had him tested we did so at a child psychologist’s office where he put him through rigorous testing.  It was then that found out he did have off-the-charts ADHD.  I kept silent with his school.  I didn’t want them ever knowing his diagnosis.  Lucas, himself, didn’t even know that he had/has ADHD until he was in fourth grade. I didn’t want that label attached to my child.

Our youngest, Claire, is over-the-top enthusiastic about school.  She loves school.  She loves everything about school.  She thrives on the academic challenges set forth by her teachers.  And she has been fortunate to have teachers who taught to her…not at her.  Her teachers have been second to none, each one building on the successes of the last.  Claire took their academic gifts and ran with them.  And then she was labeled…”gifted.”  I couldn’t keep that knowledge from her because her label meant she was put in a specialized class.  She excelled in her last two years of elementary school, being in the gifted class.  But I still didn’t like the label.  I prefer to think of her as a school enthusiast who was pushed in exactly the right way by educators who knew how to get the most out of every kid in their classes.

For the sake of what I’m trying to say in this blog I need you to know that not all of the kids in Claire’s classes would necessarily fit what some may consider the “gifted” mold.  Some of the kids were square pegs, but not once did I see the teachers try to fit them into a round hole.  Sometimes that had to be the most challenging part of their day…not stuffing a square peg into a round hole.  These teachers recognized that not all kids who are identified as “gifted” learn the same way…some needed to be challenged a little differently and they were. Claire had one child in her class whose diagnosis was on the autism spectrum.  That child needed to be taught a little differently.  The child was challenged in a way that worked for them and that child succeeded in the “gifted” class…a perfect example of a square peg not being forced into a round hole.  I don’t think Claire’s teacher’s focused too much on the “gifted” label on the children ~ I think they focused on educating the child.

This “gifted” label on Claire is not one I talk about frequently and it’s for a few reasons…

The first reason is what I told you above ~ I dislike labeling kids.

The second reason is because I never want anyone to feel I am bragging or that I think my kid(s) is/are perfect or better than anyone else’s.  Labels set everyone up for that.  I know. I’ve seen how it could have swung the other way with Lucas.  Lucas could have easily been labeled a trouble maker or the kid with ADHD or a slow learner.  A label would have been detrimental  and unfair to Lucas.  Claire could face the same type of repercussions, only in reverse.  The nerd.  The geek.  The brainiac.  Those words are tossed around and are fair game for the middle school-er and the high school-er alike

Reason number three for me disliking the label is because I believe all kids have the ability to be gifted in one area or another…we are all given gifts when we are born, it’s how they are brought out in us and nurtured that we all succeed.

One last reason I dislike the label is because sometimes it’s not accurate.  Sometimes, the label “gifted” is not because it’s the child who has this desire to learn more and more, it’s the parents who demand absolute academic perfection from their kids.  Therein lies the rub…it’s not the kid’s label, it’s for the parent’s ego.

I don’t demand perfection from any of our kids.  I want them to strive to be the best they can be, not only in school, but in life as well.  It makes life much easier to just work at being your best rather than to try and live up (or down) to a label.  I don’t want Claire, or any of my kiddos, to depend on a label.

I have a reason for telling you all of this…

Things changed this year at Claire’s old elementary school ~ not just at her elementary school but at elementary schools across our county.  And to me, they’re kind of unnecessary and ineffective changes.  But the directive came from the Superintendent of the School board ~ only teachers who have a specialized certification are allowed to teach the kids who are identified as gifted.  I know these changes don’t affect my own kiddos anymore but they affect my friends’ kiddos and these changes don’t look like the right ones…to me at least.

I’m not an educator.  I don’t pretend to know how this whole education thing works.  But what I do know is that the teachers who taught these identified kids for years, and did a fabulous job of teaching them to love learning and encouraging them to push themselves a little harder all the while respecting the individual child’s learning style, are no longer allowed to push the kids who strive hardest to learn the most.  Now, in this new school year, there is a new crop of gifted teachers at Claire’s old elementary school.  From what I’m hearing the changes are not in the best interest of those kids who have an innate desire to learn but who go about it a little differently than others.  From what I’m hearing, there are instances of square peg kids trying to be stuffed into round  holes.  Those differences in a child’s individualized learning style don’t seem, to me (and I know I’m just a mama and not an educator), to be supported by the new curriculum. One of my friends, whose child is in the new version of the gifted class, said “There is a difference between a gifted kid and one whose parents are obsessed with their ‘success’ or the idea of success.”  My friend’s son is a bright, almost too bright of a kid, but he dances to the beat of his own drum.  He doesn’t fit any mold.  He’s a square peg and his teachers are not too pleased with him.  And that, to me, sums up why labeling kids fails…he’s a square peg being forced into a round hole by teachers who just want to work with the “easy” kids.  Not all kids who are super smart and thrive on challenge are easy.  And this bright kid who has a different way of learning is now being asked to leave the gifted program.  I may not be an educator and I may not know how this whole education thing works but to me this situation reeks to high heaven.

So is this the right path ~to weed out kids who truly want to learn and grasp concepts easily?  Is it a good path?  To me, this whole thing stinks of “The Race to Nowhere” where our kids are pushed harder and harder academically by shoving more and more down their throats, rather than helping them to expand on their own desire to learn.  I realize it’s a challenge and a balance to teach all kids and probably more so with kids who have labels but I think, in this situation, this child is being served a big plate of disservice.  I think if schools are going to take the time to test and label kids as “gifted” they need to be given the opportunity to prove their smarts and not asked to leave the program after a month.

I’m not sure Claire would have succeeded in a classroom where respecting individuality wasn’t the norm.  She’s her own little piece of work.  She doesn’t like being forced to sit and do worksheets…she’s an all hands-on-deck kind of learner.  It seems to me, this new program is doing away with individuality and focusing more on cookie cutter.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I hope I am but I don’t  like the thought of our kids racing to nowhere and then have an opportunity taken away from them because they don’t conform to a specific ideal of what they think a gifted child is.

I think the “race to nowhere” and labels are detrimental to our kiddos and I think forcing a gifted label on a kid and then taking it away because they don’t fit a certain “mold” is even more detrimental to a child.  So, what is it we, as a county, as a state and as a nation, are trying to achieve with the labeling of kids?  Is it right?  Is it good?  I’m not so sure but I do know I’m not excited to see where the race to nowhere takes us and how labeling kids “gifted” or otherwise is a good idea.  And as far as I’m concerned neither of these things are for the love of my children…

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