On Dropping the G-Bomb: Twelve Confessions from a Gifted AdvocatePosted: May 1, 2014
I’m uncomfortable using the g-word in public. Why? Because many people outside of gifted education circles react to the word in a negative fashion. In his 1869 essay, “On Liberty,” philosopher John Stuart Mill noted a similar reaction to the concept of genius:
People think genius a fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do very well without it.
Although I can’t control the reactions of other people to the word “gifted,” I can and do carefully decide when and where to use the word. More and more, I use the g-word only with others who understand the nature of individuals with high intelligence.
I have two versions of my resume—one freely sprinkled with the g-word, and one scrubbed clean. I was happy years ago when job-hunting gurus started saying resumes should be limited to one or two pages—that limitation made g-scrubbing even easier.
I have no set method for determining who is gifted and who is not. In Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote about hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
I feel that I know giftedness when I see it. Sometimes my recognition of another’s giftedness comes simply by noticing the quickness of a reply, the leadership of others, the novelty of a solution, the “getting” of a joke.
I accept that a negative result does not always equal “non-gifted.” Giftedness is not always as apparent as the color of a flower. I respect my psychologist friends who use careful, validated, and respected methods for making g-word determinations.
I feel anger whenever someone thinks it is fine to have a child sit through a lesson that the child already knows. Sometimes my vision narrows and my pulse pounds when I see children forced to sit in inappropriate education environments. Which leads to my next confession.
My caring for individual students is sometimes excessive. By “individual students,” I mean all students.
My work with g-word kids has spurred me to revere the uniqueness of all children. But sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of differentiating lessons, assignments, and assessments to meet the needs of all students. I feel the heavy burden that weighs on teachers who care.
I feel conflicted whenever asked to advocate for money for gifted children rather than for money for all children.
Yes, I do advocate for gifted programs, but in some public education spheres where money is limited, I prefer education finance plans free from labels. I prefer plans targeted at moving education forward to a future that will include individualized education experiences for all children and easy ways for teachers to facilitate those experiences.
Sometimes I turn gifted causes down. A few times, I have purposely decided to forgo advocating for funds for gifted children. Take for instance when we lived in one of the poorest Ohio school districts—a district where some children had to ride the school bus for two hours each morning, where teachers sometimes had to buy paper and pencils for children, and where my husband, a science teacher, collected roadkill and other specimens for his biology classes.
In extreme poverty situations, the mere thought of advocating for diverting general school district funds to gifted pull-out programs feels immoral. When I first felt those feelings of immorality, I moved from local level advocacy to state-level advocacy on behalf of not only the gifted children in that district, but all children in that district. No child deserves a deficiently funded education. Ever.
I never want to tell a child “you’re not gifted.” Full stop.
I realized that public education systems require some sorting of children in order to come close to meeting their individual needs. I admire those in the trenches who make the hard decisions of which children fit the criteria for admission into a gifted program and which children do not fit the criteria. But I count my lucky stars that I have never had to tell a child, “you’re not gifted.” There is no version of that sentence that does not sound wrong.
I enjoy the irony of people wishing their kids were among the most g-word kids in the classroom, but the same time disliking the idea of anyone recognizing that intelligence levels differ from person to person. You cannot both want the cake and dislike the existence of the cake.
I love it when small, scrawny, g-word kids grow up, become valedictorians of their medical school or law school classes, and watch those who despise the g-word flock to their waiting rooms and pay big dollars for their services. The old saying “success is the best revenge” comes to mind.
As a board member of the former National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in the United Kingdom, I fully supported its decision to drop the g-word and change its name to Potential Plus UK. The vote was unanimous. I am proud of our decision.
Although I am 100% happy with the name change here in England, I suspect that not all of my g-word connections in the United States are proud of my vote. Which brings me to my final confession.
I wonder whether it’s time to drop the g-word.
I recognize that the g-word has a positive connotation among gifted education professionals and among families served by the gifted education programs in the United States. Decades of research, literature, and conferences attest to the power and poignancy of the g-word among people of high intelligence. The g-word has positively affected my life and the lives of thousands of people I’ve met during my years of gifted advocacy.
Advocacy, however, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Advocacy for additional funds to serve the unique needs of children with high intelligence requires interaction with people for whom the g-word lacks a positive connotation. I’m beginning to sense that among the general population, the g-word now carries a negative connotation.
I recognize that politically sensitive words and phrases that label people pass through phases of “ok,” to “questionable,” to “banned.” Negative connotations invariably attach themselves to innocent words, dragging them down into the realms of non-political correctness. I sense that the g-word has become politically incorrect.
A New Word?
But what new word should we adopt, if any? My preference would be for a word relating to what brain researchers see when they examine brains of highly intelligent people. Or perhaps a word that psychologists use when describing the psyche of those of high intelligence. Or perhaps simply the phrase, “people with high intelligence.”
If we drop the g-word, we remove several bug-a-boos from conversations with the general public. First, we avoid any idea that high intelligence is a gift bestowed by one’s chosen deity.¹ Second, we change the conversation from “gift or no gift” to a conversation about levels of intelligence that might change throughout an individual’s lifetime. Finally, we buy ourselves time; we give ourselves a few decades before negative connotations attach themselves to the new word or phrase and inevitably drag it, too, into the realms of non-political correctness.
Think about it. Do we want to avoid speaking of high intelligence as an immutable characteristic bestowed by a deity? Do we want to change the conversation to better match recent discoveries by brain scientists? Do we want to use words not yet dragged down into the realms of non-political correctness?
I’ll let you decide.
Notes & Credits:
¹I first read and loved the wording “[any]one’s chosen deity” in young Madison Kimrey’s excellent blog article, “Being Gifted is a Beautiful Mess,” where she wrote,“We don’t need anyone’s chosen deity to suddenly miraculously help unwrap us like presents. We need real solutions both inside and outside the classroom to help us reach our individual potential, better understand ourselves, and find our place in the world around us.”
I took all the photos on April 26, 2014 on the grounds of the Polesden Lacey UK National Trust property in Surrey, England.
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_the_g_word.htm
I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions. Please click on the graphic above (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies Blog Hop participants. Please click on the graphic below (created by Tara Hernandez–thanks!) to see the titles, blog names, and links of other Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop participants.