American school system
just so you know, the ‘gifted area’ isn’t much fun either
I saw your tags and I would really like to comment with personal story if you don’t mind.
The gifted area really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The children all look like they’re smiling, sure, but let’s be real— they go home and stress and cry.
I was a “gifted and talented” kid, and it was far from this. My whole life, things were harder because I was expected to be better. I was expected to be reading higher-level books, but the school didn’t allow me to read higher-level books because it was “unfair” to the other students. Teachers subconsciously graded me harder than other students, even on things I was not “gifted” in, like math (a subject in which I have always struggled). We had extra homework and extra tests. In my program, we were removed from regular classes once a week to learn bonus material. Not only were we expected to learn the bonus material, but we were expected to make up the missed material and pass the tests on it; only no one was there to teach us the material we missed, because we were expected to already know it. It was pounded into my brain every day of my life from the moment I started school that I had to be perfect, and if I wasn’t perfect it was the result of some character flaw. If an average student got a B, it was cause for celebration, but if I got an A I was simply meeting expectations. If an average student got a D, it was sad and they needed extra help and it was the teachers fault for not helping them; if I got a B or a C, it was the end of the world and clearly there was something wrong with me. I was slacking, or goofing off, or expecting the teachers to just “hand” the A to me because I was “special”.
I skipped a grade because I was “gifted.” When I tell people of this, they assume I must be a “genius.” You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people tell me, “Wow, you must be really smart or something. You’re a genius.”
Fast forward to college. I was told I should go to Yale or Harvard. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to go to college somewhere where I could learn but also enjoy myself. People make fun of me for my choice of school because someone as “gifted” as me could have “done so much better.”
This “genius” can’t pass Intro to Biology 1010, because no one ever taught her proper studying techniques—they just assumed she already knew. This “genius” cries herself to sleep over a B in an difficult science class. This genius faces crippling anxiety because she knows she’ll never measure up to people’s expectations of her. This “genius” sometimes cuts herself because the pressure to be perfect is too much for her. This “genius” feels like throwing herself off a building if she gets anything less than a B, because she’s been taught her whole life that if she doesn’t get perfect grades it is some sort of character flaw; she must be a worthless idiot.
I don’t know what it’s like to be in the “Nothing Special” area but being gifted is no walk in the park as the cartoon suggests. We both face challenges; they are different challenges, but they are both challenges.
This is so accurate.
"It was pounded into my brain every day of my life from the moment I started school that I had to be perfect, and if I wasn’t perfect it was the result of some character flaw." god thank you
I was identified as “gifted” in third grade and routinely taken out of classes (some of which I should have stayed in) to go to the GT rooms, where we were given “activities” rather than instruction. I think they believed that if we were given free, unstructured time, what we would teach ourselves would be more useful than what we’d be getting in class. I used the time to do what I was already doing as much as possible — reading everything that I could get my hands on that interested me. This wasn’t inherently bad, but it was short-sighted, since I had no natural inclination towards math or logic but was expected to know them anyways.
Most of what I got out of it was that normal rules didn’t apply to me as long as I didn’t cause trouble. I therefore became pretty protective of my privilege to do what I want when I wanted — a problem that sometimes led me to waking up at 2 am to sneak downstairs and desperately try to complete homework I’d procrastinated on so my parents wouldn’t know. This is still a problem for me. It took a long time to work out what mistakes I was making in the lab because I tried to hide them from my professor, and in the end those mistakes are why I was let go.
I resented imposed structures even when it was clear to everyone but me that I needed them, and looking back now I’m grateful I had teachers who took me aside and told me that even though I can write very well, I needed to order my thoughts. At the time I took it as an affront, even a personal attack, because so much of my identity was tied up in being a good student. I cried, because I didn’t believe that I could do better — I was already trying as hard as I could, and I thought that aptitude was innate, not the result of practice.
I still have trouble with that.
Looking back, though, I had specific teachers smart enough to teach us explicit skills to prepare for college, and who made us practice again and again until they became second nature. God bless those people who knew that “honors” means “elevated expectations”, and taught us how to meet them. I owe them my ability to prepare for and take difficult tests, as well as how to structure and write an essay under pressure. It wasn’t a one-time thing, either; I was only able to build these skills because they gave me specific feedback on every task, every time I tried, and helped me see I was getting better. There is no way these people were paid enough, even in a wealthy district like mine.
If you’ve read this far and feel hopeless, or overwhelmed, or scared, drop me a line. I’m not a tutor or a counselor, but I’ve taught a few classes and I have advice to share, if you want it.