On Dropping the G-Bomb: Twelve Confessions from a Gifted Advocate

Confession #1

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.


Confession #2

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.

Confession #3

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.


Confession #4

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.

Confession #5

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.


Confession #6

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.

Confession #7

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.


Confession #8

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.

Confession #9

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.

Confession #10

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.


Confession #11

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.

Confession #12

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.



20 Comments on “On Dropping the G-Bomb: Twelve Confessions from a Gifted Advocate”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Your sentiments ring loud and true with me. It is unfortunate that the general public may view our concern with the term with the same scorn as they view those who have the g- bomb label.

  2. Matthew McBee says:

    Wanda, I agree with so much of what you have written here, though I take it even farther than you do. I think that, while the term “gifted” may be useful in the research context, it simply has no place in K-12 education and we could do a better job of serving bright students without that idea. I’d like to send you a copy of my book (co-written by Scott Peters, Betsy McCoach, and Mike Matthews) entitled, “Beyond Gifted Education.” Please contact me and I’ll make sure you get a copy. Also, I’d like to refer you to the work of Jim Borland.

    • Matthew McBee says:

      Typo: I meant to address my comments to “Wenda”, not “Wanda.”

    • Wenda Sheard says:

      Thanks for your comment and letting me know about your step further. Thanks, too, for offering me a copy of your book. I’ll email you my Ohio address…I would love to read your book and look again at Jim Borland’s work.

  3. Susan says:

    The phrase I use is “high ability” or “high potential”. This leaves it open to interpretation and allows broader discussion without being off-putting to many. Most people I run into use the word “smart” which I associate with high test scores in school. Ability and potential define a whole other animal that for children, one that is completely undefined. Their future is full of massive potential – but to be realized, the potential needs to be guided, directed, harnessed…

  4. joshshaine says:

    Wenda, you’ve already heard many of my thoughts on this, some of which got pushed into my own blog entry.

    One of the two I wish to mention here is a repeat: High intelligence only captures a part of the gifted population and also somewhat forces the focus of the needs of highly intelligent kids (people) on to the intellectual sphere, when a) there are many folks who are gifted in non-academic spheres and b) the issues for many who are highly intelligent are in the social/emotional realms in addition to or even instead of the academic.

    Nor does it actually avoid the deity issue, even if it sublimates it for some people. The nature/nurture issue does not go away. The anticipated reduction in public bugaboos seems certain to me to be at best short-lived and more likely non-existent. “Highly intelligent” already has those negative connotations, as witnessed by the bullying for difference without the “G” word’s being a factor!

    I think we would be naive to expect that benefit – the evidence goes in the other direction.

    The other piece is not a repeat: With regard to the impoverished schools, I don’t have the research at my fingertips to support the following assertion, but am pretty sure I have read it multiple times along the way.

    a) Raising the top students of a school tends to raise the whole school more than any other approach we have tried.

    b) The argument that one should not ask for specific spending on gifted is, to me, like not asking for SPED money for special education students –> gifted education is not a FRILL. It is a need.

    c) When you consider that gifted programs are often getting less than a penny on the dollar, asking for spending on gifted is not exactly asking for much – As a quick example… in the Texas 2011-2012 legislative cycle, Gifted Education got $56 million. The full budget for that cycle was $91 billion. Gifted got .0006 (or .06%).

    d) The funding of gifted programs is itself a red herring. Pull-out programs are among the least cost-effective ways to meet the needs of gifted kids.

    If you want to serve the kids in poverty, then more attention to gifted kids (or even some!) is going to have a more beneficial result than less attention will. This is the sub-population within the gifted that is hurt *most* by abandonment of the fight.

  5. Really well-written description of the problems these individuals face, and how the g-word can complicate the situation. I am in agreement about the complexity of the word also: http://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/2013/01/lets-not-call-them-gifted.html

  6. paulaprober says:

    Wenda, I appreciate your thoughtful and thorough post. Perhaps you’ve seen my use of the metaphor of the rain forest to describe giftedness. Like the rain forest, gifted individuals are often highly sensitive, intense, complex, colorful, multi-layered, and misunderstood. I’ve struggled with the use of the word gifted for many years as an educator and now as a counselor. The analogy has come in handy when I’ve needed to help clients and others understand and appreciate their complexities. My post ‘Gifted Shmifted’ is here on Word Press at rainforestmind.wordpress.com. Thank you!

  7. N Myers says:

    One of the tests I used for alternative definitions suggested is, ‘what’s the opposite’? I hate “bright” students as a label … because the opposite is dull. All children are “bright” with lights in their eyes when given the chance to enjoy something, to be engaged, no matter what their skill set. All children are bright, amazing, delightful, gifts to us. Not one is “dull”.

    So… “high potential.” Not really a big fan of that one… because no child should be considered with “low potential” in a true educational or life-sense… they have their whole life in front of them to do something surprising. That term seems especially difficult in light of the research we have on grit and mindset, and motivation.

    “High intelligence”… it also seems to link up to a fixed mindset at some point. Sorry, child, this one has high intelligence, while you have low intelligence.

    My husband is gifted in math. I am good at math. I am ‘not gifted’ in math. And I’m okay with that. I do happen to be gifted in other areas, with a few distinctly different experiences from what most people encounter as a result. Even if I wasn’t “gifted” I’d still be plenty happy with what I am ‘good’ and ‘great’ at… and the fact that I stink at some other things and am not only ‘not gifted’ but truly struggle (don’t watch me at an aerobics class. I need 15-20 repetitions just to figure out where to put the right foot…).

    When I do trainings with parents and other educators, I point out the distinction that all children are a gift to the world. “Gifted” in math is an educational term different than “good” at math, great at math, and its opposite is simply ‘not gifted’ in math, which still leaves plenty of room for ‘good’ and ‘great at math’ to exist.

    I think no matter what term used, it’s going to be misunderstood, to have difficulties and to always have to be carefully defined. I don’t think we should stop the debate, but still continue to recognize that words matter, that definitions matter, and the discussion itself can continue to help us refine our thinking and hopefully, the support for these kids.

  8. I agree with most of your post, but I cannot agree with dropping the ability of people to name themselves. I can call myself a Jew without anyone taking exception to my inherently calling other people non-Jews. I can call myself a Red Sox fan without anyone taking exception to the implication that other people are Yankees fans. I can call myself a gifted person without implying that other people are of lesser human value. Noticing difference does not require value judgments.

    Fundamentally, what we cannot name is what we are calling “unspeakable,” and nothing unspeakable is ever good. If we tell kids that who they are is awful, we cannot tolerate even noticing its existence, that’s cruel.

    While I, too, hate the word gifted, I don’t have any clue as to what else we could use that wouldn’t just run us up into the exact same problem — people don’t hate the word, they hate the concept, and the concept is not something we can or should get away from. I tend to use the abbreviation GT in the hopes that someday it will not be an abbreviation but just a term that doesn’t have any linguistic meaning, the way “IQ” no longer means “intelligence quotient” (it doesn’t), but it’s really just a thing.

    I don’t generally say to someone, “you’re not gifted.” It’s not really a single-dimensional categorical variable. I say, “here is what you’re really good at, and you’re better at it than most people are, and here is what is much harder for you,” or even “here is the thing that works best for you.” I do say, “I know you were hoping to have your child go to X program, but the scores they earned on this test don’t qualify them for that.” That’s factual and can be said with clarity and compassion.

  9. […] weeks ago, my friend Juliet Thomas submitted a comment to my article, On Dropping the G-Bomb: Twelve Confessions from a Gifted Advocate. Juliet is the kind of person whose every utterance, even a mere blog comment, is brilliant. But […]

  10. I like the G word, though I’ve just recently discovered the door. Please don’t move it. I hasten to remove the word as the concept will always cause a fissure, but choose to instead allow all to pass through the door in an attempt to truly understand the differences. That said, I also fully support the evolution of learning for ALL.

  11. Whit says:

    My daughter found that the gifted label incited negativity from other students, as well as a general misunderstanding of her needs by faculty and staff. She suggests renaming giftedness with the term “intensified perception” so that others will better understand the emotional, cognitive, social, and physical experiences of gifted people. This could also allow the term IP Program to be used. Students would simply receive IP services.

    • Wenda Sheard says:

      Thanks for your comment, and for your daughter’s new name for the experiences of gifted individuals. I think she’s on target. I’m also thinking that we ought to plan a new name every twenty years, which is the time it takes for each “new” name to fall victim to the negativity that society heaps upon gifted individuals.

      One name I suggested for that negativity is “intellism,” which I defined recently as “noun (1) prejudice or discrimination based on the biological, electrical, chemical, functional, or other characteristics of a person’s brain; (2) the refusal to acknowledge that people differ from one another in intelligence; (3) the adherence to outdated educational beliefs that all children of the same chronological age can be educated by the same teacher in the same classroom.”

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