And gifted parents can't win either, because if we brag at all about our kids' accomplishments, people secretly dislike us, and if we complain about their underachievement or their brattiness, people secretly wonder how our kids could be "deserving" of the gifted label and services, or they secretly are smug in knowing we don't have the perfect kids that they assume the gifted label should be gifted to.
The kids who slide under the radar and are gifted without the label and high expectation from society are also often losers as well. They may not have people judging their achievements and failures against the stereotypes that go with the formal gifted label, but they certainly are missing out on the social emotional support and self-understanding that comes from having access to gifted education trained staff in their academic world.
So gifted experts, who often are not winning high praise from their peers or financial accolades to fund their important research, themselves, are struggling to prove to the world that our kids need help as much as other special needs kids do. Their articles tout the issues surrounding gifted youth- titles about asynchrony, anxiety, depression, at-risk behaviors and the plight of the underachieving gifted kid. Or we highlight the successes of gifted kids who against all odds and biases and other life challenges, have succeeded, and we hope that other people will see the value in our amazing kids.
But the reality is that we just keep paddling in circles, tossing out fuel to those who already swim alongside us, rather than really making huge progress. And life is tough for so many kids. Gifted kids are only one little line in a huge book of special interests begging for their fifteen minutes of fame and their line item in a budget somewhere. So the media game is often not somewhere we can win many new followers. We keep the interest of about 3-5 percent of the population, or probably less because not every gifted person knows or maybe even cares about giftedness anyway. But 3 percent of the nation wouldn't be that bad, if we could excite them all, I suppose. I'm sure there are many causes who don't even get that many people to care. But what do we really achieve for all that effort? School systems continue to go down hill, and charter schools seem to just recreate the standardized system wheel, where kids sit in classrooms listening to teachers talk for hours about things they could look up on Google in a few minutes themselves. They sit inside, often without physical exercise or the ability to move out of their chairs. And they learn how to regurgitate information by filling in bubbles on score sheets. Some lucky kids may have innovative teachers and get to do more, but often those are in more well-to-do neighborhoods and less diverse areas, unfortunately. Even when a program touts itself as a gifted class or gifted school, often those are only really for top academic performers- the kids who follow directions and turn in homework. The kids who often have parent support and don't have so many gifted traits that would otherwise cause them to rebel against the awfulness of siting and waiting their turn to learn. And they often aren't the high energy kids who wiggle or talk too much- those kids are often weeded out by test scores too.
Students and teachers are not winning these days in the school system, as legislators and big corporations dictate what they must do, and school boards who have no clue what they are doing allow the outsiders from across the state and nation to make decisions about what should happen with their unique local children. Administrators can't possibly feel like they are winning, as they can see the burn out with teachers leaving the profession and many kids leaving to homeschool or find alternate options outside of the mainstream public classrooms. Not to mention the kids who are still dying from side effects of stress and feeling worthless from not succeeding in the system or in their communities- from drug abuse, violence and suicide.
We can't just keep writing articles and sharing them amongst ourselves. We must not keep shouting loudly at school board meetings or causing fights with our district educators and leaders. We will continue to lose this fight by creating barricades instead of bridges.
So what can we do, instead? We have to find ways to create ties between our kids and others. Oh, your child is autistic? We have a lot of twice exceptional kids who are also autistic, can we join your meetings and conferences too? Oh, your child has behavior issues, many gifted kids have behavioral challenges and maybe if I could attend your support groups or your conferences, I could learn more about how to help my kid too.... Oh, you are funding a program for at-risk youth who need somewhere safe to go during the summers? Well so many foster kids and kids who are struggling with issues related to low income families and other social challenges are also gifted, can we help with your event so we can help them all together?
Because by reaching out to other groups, our arm length for supporting our kids and sharing our stories expands too. And then more people will stand behind us when we need support. By not isolating our gifted kids in classrooms for only those with formal gifted labels, we change the elitist overtones that some communities have. Oh, your gifted kid has special learning needs? A truly well trained gifted educator can certainly support them if they are also allowed to continue to advance through topics of interest and curricular areas as needed. But all kids should have access to the appropriate level of challenge (here in Florida we are trying to meet that need for all students through our Accel law that requires schools to provide acceleration opportunities for kids who are eligible.) So what becomes the most important is how well the teacher and class are able to meet the social emotional needs of gifted kids. And that doesn't have to happen in segregation or isolation.
But what does need to happen is we all need to be finding allies to work with to counter a national culture of standardizing our schools. If we make school so miserable that even the teachers consider it to be harmful to the kids (which many now have spoken out to say they do,) then something must change. And that change is going to come by refiguring our strategies and better targeting our goals.
The more we keep trying to convince the public to listen to all the reasons our kids need help, the more we push away our potential allies. Our gifted kids are all unique and span multiple labels and subcategories of "types of needs" or "types of kids". So let's pull those subcategories closer and find ways we can start gaining some bigger wins for not only our formally labeled gifted kids, but kids and families out there who also can benefit from our support, and who might stand up next to us when they realize we do the same for them.