Public Attitudes Towards the Gifted: Myth and Reality

Gifted and talented students are defined as:

“Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school to fully develop those capabilities. – The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act

However, that definition fails to highlight the day-to-day realities of what it truly means to be a gifted student in modern America. So, let’s discuss some commonly believed myths vs. realities.

Myth: Teachers love gifted students and favor them.

Reality: Research shows that gifted students are actually often less favored by their teachers.

Why this is a problem: Gifted students who are deemed “teacher’s pets” are subject to bullying and more.

Myth: Gifted kids love school.

Reality: There is a lot of evidence to suggest that gifted students feel misunderstood, sad, and unsupported in school.

Why this is a problem: Gifted students may not be getting the mental and emotional support that they need from their teachers.

Myth: Gifted students are boastful.

Reality: Research shows that gifted students often try to hide or deny abilities in social settings, especially with peers.

Why this is a problem: Children are less likely to want to be identified as gifted for fear of seeming conceited or arrogant.

Myth: Gifted children are highly sensitive and emotionally fragile.

Reality: There is no evidence to support this stereotype – which persists even amongst educators.

Why this is a problem: This is obviously troubling because being gifted somehow has become correlated in society with being fragile emotionally which causes kids not to want to be identified as such and teachers to regard them as different and difficult to deal with.

Myth: Gifted students are inherently different from their peers.

Reality: Many factors contribute to giftedness, and gifted children are not dissimilar from their peers, aside from their unique abilities.

Why it is a problem: Gifted students are treated differently and should not be.

Myth: Gifted students all go on to be doctors, lawyers, and/or wildly successful.

Reality: There is a disparity between childhood giftedness and adult eminence.

Why this is a problem: This assumption leads to a wide array of problems and causes kids to feel bad when they do not feel that they meet expectations. Moreover, it keeps change in gifted education from happening.

Myth: Giftedness is all about ability.

Reality: Ability is necessary, but not sufficient. Students need to be motivated and committed and must be given appropriate resources from teachers.

Why this is a problem: Teachers and parents often leave gifted kids to “fend for themselves” when they require support.

Myth: Gifted and talented programs are highly funded, and educators focus a lot of energy toward these students.

Reality: Gifted students are not protected in the ways that children with disabilities are. That is to say that if they are not appropriately challenged, there is no legal recourse as there would be if a disabled child did not get his or her needs met. The funding and interest in such programs are actually quite low, as well.

Why it is a problem: Gifted students need protections in place, and the lack of funding and research has led to lackluster programs that aren’t developing children to become successful adults.

Myth: Gifted students don’t need to be taught, and everything is effortless for them.

Reality: Gifted children who excel typically do work very hard and have high levels of commitment. They are not just effortlessly brilliant.

Why it is a problem: Students do not feel appreciated or understood, and their commitment and hard work is dismissed as “natural talent.”

What does it mean to be gifted? How do we decide who is “gifted?” Aren’t we all gifted in our own ways? How do we define and identify giftedness? It is an abstract concept. There is no doubt about that.  But, when we dispel myths, we get one step closer to fully understanding.

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