It's the hot topic of the week... should we identify the gifted child as "gifted?" Should we label him? Once she's identified, should we share the "gifted" label with her? Or should we ignore this aspect of the child, hide the identification if we do become aware of it, and pretend that there is nothing unique about the gifted child?
The answer is so obvious, it makes me wonder why we're asking the question!
Let me ask this another way. If you have a son, do you label him a boy? If you don't, will he eventually figure it out? You bet! What if your daughter is good at soccer? Do you help her grow and hone her skills, sign her up for clinics to improve her play, and allow her to try-out and play in the elite travel soccer team? Or do you have her stay in local youth soccer, playing alongside the average soccer players instead, as her soccer peers go off to the travel team?
The answer is clear. We can't hide the child from himself for very long; to think we can is just silly. That boy is going to figure out that he is more like the other boys than like the other girls. There are obvious physical differences. The child may be a boy, blond, brown-eyed and tall, and not telling the child that he is all of these things will not change that he is. And he will certainly figure it out for himself.
How about that young soccer star? No one tells a parent of a child who has a talent in sports not to label the child talented in that arena. No one frowns at the parent who allows his child to play in elite programs or encourages his child through advanced skill clinics. No one counsels the parent, "No, don't enroll your child in the travel soccer team; it might make her age-peers in the youth soccer league feel bad."
But isn't this exactly what is asked of the parents of gifted children? Some education professionals suggest that we should not identify our gifted children at all, that gifted identification creates excessive expectations for the gifted child. These excessive expectations of their teachers and parents might pressure the child in ways that aren't good for her, ways that might "take away her childhood." Others tell us that, once identified, we should not share that identification or its implications with the gifted child. "Don't tell your son he's gifted, it might give him a big head." "Don't put your child in the gifted program; it might make the kids in the regular classroom feel bad."
If we do not label the child "gifted," he'll never know, right? Wrong. Gifted kids are different. The differences vary from child to child. Often, the gifted child is more sensitive than his age-peers. What is the gifted child to think? I'm supposed to be just like them, but none of them care about or even notice the homeless people on the street, none of them are overwhelmed by the bright lights and loud noises in the school gym... Why am I so different? And as the gifted child quickly learns, different is bad. Suddenly we've gone from not telling the child he's gifted, to giving the child the impression that he is bad. We should never do that to a child!
If we ignore the talents the gifted child shows in academics, and we do not encourage him to join the gifted classroom or program... what are we saying to the child? Kids, all kids, need encouragement. They need to know they're accepted for who they are. They need to stretch, to learn and to grow. The parents of that young soccer star know that, and they enroll her in the travel soccer team to get that encouragement and growth. But the parents of the gifted boy are not supposed to label their son "gifted" and enroll their him in the gifted program, where he might be accepted, encouraged, and learn to stretch his abilities?