Thursday, July 24, 2008

Celebrating the "gifted" child

Who doesn't want their kid to be accepted in a "gifted" program? Whether it is an official invitation from school officials due to "objective" criteria, like grades, test scores, or nomination, or making an elite team or association (i.e., competitive soccer), parents experience an emotional jolt when their kid is thus affirmed. They are proud, happy, and fulfilled, at least at the moment.

This sense of identification with the winner is not limited to parents. The more public or noteworthy the "opportunity," the wider the circle of pride goes. The boy who is the star of his all-star team receives dozens of notes paper-clipped to the three line description of his four hit game from neighbors and people at church. The pretty girl who gets the commercial deal in third grade has an entire school of fans who clamor to be identified with their little star. The kids who win the league championship, or whose cheer team is invited to Disneyland to compete on ESPN, or whose SAT scores grab the attention of teachers, administrators and colleges all know that they are celebrated for one reason - their accomplishment brings joy and pride to those who either never were able to reach such heights themselves or who use the moment to dust off their own trophies on their fireplace mantel.

Is this a bad thing? Is it wrong to celebrate a kids' accomplishment, or to feel a sense of pride when someone we know, even from a distance, gets honored and appreciated? The answer is neither simple nor obvious. Instead of taking a stand, then, there are two aspects of this that concern me:

First, what about the non-achievers, those kids who not only never make the all-star team, but got cut as a ten year old, or who struggle to get a B, or who build the sets or carry the equipment? How do we celebrate those kids, the ones who are in the vast majority, yet know that all of the accolades and praise that floats all around them will never even begin to dust their own souls? One teacher called these kids "middle kids," and warned me as a researcher-substitute teacher that I wouldn't like them. I worry for these middle kids - who celebrates them? Who throws them a party, sends them a note, or brags about them from the pulpit? What school publishes their name, what newspaper makes note of their Saturdays, what neighbor brags about them at work?

Second, what about the fact that athletics is fickle and standardized tests measure one tiny slice of what might eventually make a successful adult? How are we setting up our "stars" when all too soon they come to the realization that the slaps on the back, the notes, and the stares will only come their way as long as they stay on top. They know that its not about them at all. Their fame, their popularity, their status and prestige is actually more for the benefit of those who cherish them than a way to celebrate them as a person. When the day comes where they have a bad game, get cut, or get in trouble, or their grades slip, or they struggle with eating or cutting or addiction or loneliness, the crowds are long gone.

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Anyone who will not receive the kingdom as a little child will never enter it."
- Jesus of Nazareth


evan mcbroom said...

as a parent of two teen daughters with different gifts I appreciate your thougths on this. While neither has ever been labled as "gifted" they both have gifts and talents that get them noticed and affirmed. I find I am challenged sometimes not to place too much of their identity in the thing they do (one music the other swimming)but rather help them find their identity in who they are - their character - and who they are in God's eyes.

TX said...

Nice post, Chap. Welcome to Blogland.

We're dealing with this issue big time in Midland. Always looking for ways to affirm the "middle kids" who don't come into the room on a wave of affirmation and praise...the ones that are more like the disciples, I suppose. It'd be interesting to hear some of the "off the record" conversations that Jesus had with his "kids." How did he affirm them and remind them where their value came from as children of God?

Teach On Purpose said...

Great Post!!!
As a high school teacher, I also worry about the "middle kids". Their best is so often ignored when someone else's work is better-and most days it is simply that the middle child's "giftedness" is in a non-traditional area.

songsoflove7 said...

Hi Chap. Oh how I miss you and the Clarks dearly =) So refreshing to read your blogs. I was listening to a segment on NPR today about how it seems in today's world every parent's child is "gifted" and especially in Los Angeles more and more parents strive to put their children in the best private schools.

But to me, every being/person has a "gift" or special attribute that sets them apart. The problem is is that society has a select criteria of what "gifted" is. Love your blogs!

Please send my love to the family =)


Kate said...

O how often we live vicariously through others and so seek out giftedness (to be disappointed) - this of course does NOT apply to New Zealanders, All Blacks and World Cups...