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Myths of Giftedness

April 26, 2012

Information provided by Jeanne Wray, CGA Campus Rep for CHS.

“Competing with myths about the social and emotional development of gifted students” Read the full article by Tracy L. Cross, as printed in Gifted Child Today Summer 2002.

Purpose of article:

Cross hopes that by discussing these myths, gifted students will be better served and “barriers to their well-being will be broken”.  Challenge the myths, take action on behalf of gifted students, and create learning environments where gifted students can thrive.  We hope you find similar benefits to understanding the myths that influence the culture of GT education.

Overview of Myths:

The myths are widely held by parents, teachers, administrators and even gifted students.  The myths have negative effects on the social and emotional development of gifted students.  This list includes the most common and insidious myths.

Myth #1:  Gifted students should be with students their own age.

Supporters of this myth are concerned that multi-age children will struggle with inappropriate modeling and intimidation.  However, Cross has determined that acceleration is important for students who have mastered the material.  Research is clear that students need to be with intellectual peers.

Myth #2:  Gifted students are better off if they spend their entire school day amidst same-age, heterogeneous classmates.

Supporters claim this will help gifted students become socially astute and get along with a variety of people later in life.  Cross has found that gifted students should be together (clustered), otherwise learning is sacrificed and frustration increases.  Students have opportunities outside of school to interact with others.

Myth #3:  Being perfectly well rounded should be the primary goal for gifted student development.

The key word is “perfectly” – what does that mean?  Parents and teachers may encourage or even push a student to spend time outside of his/her passion area to do something the parent wants.  Cross believes it is better to encourage and nurture interests than to send the message that the student’s passion is unacceptable.  He suggests residential summer programs for gifted children.

Myth #4:  Being gifted is something with which you are just born.

A corollary to this myth is that “things come easily when you are gifted” or “being gifted means never having to study or try hard in school”.  According to Cross, this notion is debilitating to gifted students’ development.  Instead, talent developed with hard work and some failures is a much healthier and more nurturing experience. This change in thinking is especially important before age 10 or so. Otherwise children can internalize intellectual struggle as failure. If this occurs, exposing students to models who failed in the process of great accomplishment is important and have them go through processes that include great struggles as part of growth.

Myth #5:  Being too smart in school is a problem, especially for girls.

There are many facets to this myth: fear of not being accepted, fear of standing out (negatively), the typically anti-intellectual culture of schools, and the association of high levels of intellectual ability with low levels of morality.  A consequence of this myth is the nurturing of a high percentage of students who underachieve.  To deal with this myth, gifted students use up time and energy on social coping strategies which limits their opportunities, retards their learning, and even threatens their lives.

Myth #6:  Virtually everybody in the field of gifted education is an expert on the social and emotional development of gifted students.

Cross states that just because “we were all students once”, doesn’t mean we are experts on gifted students’ lives.  Children would benefit from those who specialize rather than relying on a model that requires its experts to know a little about everything associated with the field of gifted education.

Myth #7:  Adults (parents, teachers, and administrators) know what gifted students experience.

Adults refer to their experiences with bullying and drugs, sexuality, and social pressures.  Cross says that our culture is experiencing general anxiety and fear (fueled by the media). The suicide rate of adolescents rose more than 240% btw 1955 and 2009.  Students live in a different context than adults did at their age. Encourage parents to observe classrooms, talk with their children, and ask for descriptions of their experiences in order to develop a much richer understanding.

Myth #8:  All kids are gifted, and no kids are gifted.

This myth addresses the idea that developmental differences manifest across grade levels.  Instead, ask, in what?  All kids are great, terrific, valuable, but not necessarily in the way the term “gifted” is used in the field of gifted academics.  An undercurrent to this position is the perception that “gifted children” are better than other students.  “Giftedness” is not an anointment of value.  Cross’s definition of giftedness is,  “A person who shows extraordinary ability for high levels of performance when young and if provided appropriate opportunities, demonstrates a development of talent that exceeds normal levels of performance, is gifted.”

At the elementary school level, teachers typically perceive evidence of potential for extraordinary work as indicators of giftedness. As the student moves toward high school where the curriculum is more focused and the teachers are more passionate about their subject areas, giftedness is determined as a manifestation of success within a specific course.

When asked why they chose a career in education, elementary teachers and administrators typically respond that they want to work with young children.

High school teachers want to teach specific subjects.

Middle school teachers want to help with the students’ social needs and need to learn in a protective environment.

Bio of Tracy L. Cross, PhD., Professor of Psychology

Cross is currently the Executive Director of the Center for Gifted Education at The college of William and Mary.  He was previously at Ball State University in Georgia. For 9 years served as the Executive Director of the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities, which is a residential high school for intellectually gifted adolescents. He has published 4 books, written over 100 articles and book chapters, and given over 200 presentations in the field of gifted education. He describes himself as “a person who has dedicated himself to the study of the psychological and experiential lives of gifted students”.

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