Four Reasons Folks Don’t Want to Talk about Giftedness

There’s a lot of pushback I’ve often gotten from some acquaintances on the topic of giftedness. After talking with the person, the resistance seems to stem from values of egalitarianism (economic and educational), as well as assumptions about how fast and much children and adolescents develop in the various spheres of their lives. Educators in particular seem disturbed by the idea of giftedness. It’s easy to speculate some reasons for this: that giftedness is disruptive to the “normal” rate that a teacher presents material, the concern that gifted children need teachers less and thus reduce the need for their presence, and finally, outright envy of the child: envy!

How did this happen? Why don’t people want to talk about giftedness? Here are some reasons:

  1. Giftedness is easier to dismiss than other talents like athleticism. An athlete has an opportunity to perform in front of hundreds or thousands of peers with very easy-to-gauge metrics (points on the scoreboard, crossing the finish line before others). Those without the same ability can hardly argue athletes’ ability. Gifted people’s accomplishments, however, can only be proven by those with the capacity to understand the accomplishment. Those “in the know” must vouch for the gifted person’s accomplishments: an artist’s work must be vouched for by those in the art world, a scientist’s breakthroughs must pass muster in the scientific community (and even then, there is infighting and back-stabbing within these worlds!).
  2. Giftedness makes things look easy. Much like Sherlock Holmes regretting his explaining his deductions, the gifted person’s insights seem less significant after it is described. “Just some studying, and I could have figured that out,” one might sneer after seeing the curtain pulled back. Yet sneering has never rivaled accomplishment for importance: though made of its opposite, it has never been been its equal. Having more correct (and higher quality) deductions separates the exceptionally gifted Holmes from the gifted Watson, and the gifted Watson from the clients they both aid.
  3. Giftedness is rare. The freak factor! This is a rather weak rationale and yet I hear it so often I must include it. Suffice it to say that ostracizing someone for having an ability is easy when one doesn’t seem to benefit; tragically, this often provokes the gifted to deny the reality or relevance of their own ability. This brings me to:
  4. Giftedness is threatening in ways that athleticism is not. This seems counterintuitive, yes? An athlete surely poses a physical threat to others. Yet there is strength in numbers.
    Giftedness, on the other hand, touches on the mind. There’s something about the mind that, perhaps because we spend so little time reflecting on it, is unnerving (ironically). We know there’s more to be seen and known because we know we can learn something new every day. In short, we know how little we know. We also are aware that anyone else could take advantage of their knowledge to make millions, to betray and ruin us, to betray and ruin our country, and so on. Geake and Gross (2008) suggest that this outsized impact of a difference in perception may touch on evolutionary concerns about threats to the group.

The list above is not exhaustive, but worth exploring. If you want a guide, feel free to reach out!

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