By Pam Kenney
Sean* is ten and a gifted child. He reads voraciously, thinks way outside the box, and is on a personal quest to understand the world around him by learning as much as he can about everything he can as fast as he can. Like many other bright kids, his social skills aren't as well-developed as those of some of his peers, and he finds many of his classroom assignments needlessly repetitive and not particularly challenging (and says so, of course); he can be a know-it-all.
I know Sean well, and I imagine he can be a handful for his teacher and often irritating to his classmates. His school, though, thinks he may have a "problem". Maybe he needs a social skills class or would benefit from some other type of intervention... After all, the kids in his grade have complained about him because he brags sometimes, and he thinks he's so-o-o smart, and he's quite touchy, reacting verbally when they tease him.
Sean does not need a social skills class. He doesn't have a problem---he's smart. And it's time educators started celebrating the uniqueness of academically gifted students instead of labeling their eccentricities as problems that need to be fixed. Yes, Sean should learn that tooting his own horn isn't the way to make friends, but his classmates need to be taught that their behavior toward him, manifested solely to bring him down a peg or two, is equally inappropriate.
Classrooms are composed of children of every stripe and are ideal environments for teachers to initiate discussions with their students about differences among people, including intellectual and personality-related ones. Kids already know that some of us are more athletic or musical than others; some are good with their hands while others are more awkward. They've been told since they were toddlers that we're all different, and that that's a good thing. Yes, it is a good thing, but schools today are so intent on bolstering children's self-esteem and reassuring them that they are up to every challenge, that they have shied away from celebrating the gifts of unusually smart kids.
Gifted children can be hard to deal with; but so can star athletes, and reluctant readers, and good math students, and introverts, and computer geeks, and kids who sit and stare into space. The personalities and attendant behaviors of all of them are affected by their strengths and weaknesses. They don't need special classes or therapy; they need committed teachers and parents who will take the time to discuss all the ways people differ from one another and how those differences affect how they act. Through example and lots of practice at home and at school, I believe kids are perfectly capable of understanding and accepting each other's idiosyncrasies, not with scorn and ridicule, but with grace and pride.
*name changed to protect the child's identity