Monday, November 29, 2010

Gifted Girls

Some gifted children are easy to spot. They show their boredom with classroom work that is not sufficiently challenging by becoming verbal pests or by acting out. They are clearly bright, but are underachieving because the work they are asked to do is not meaningful to them. Or they just demand to know, “Why?” about everything, all the time.

But there are gifted children that are overlooked. Those who are bright, but who are compliant: willing to do what is asked of them because they don’t want to make waves. Or those who hide their gifts in order to fit in socially. Too often, these overlooked gifted children are girls.
My son needs to be in your school. He is bored in his current classroom and is becoming a behavior problem. We are pretty sure he is gifted and just isn't being challenged enough. His sister? No, she isn’t gifted. She gets A’s in school, has friends and likes her teacher. She is fine. She doesn’t need anything different.
I have heard those words so many times from so many parents. The daughter, who is more socially aware at an earlier age than her brother, has looked around her classroom and has realized that the way to make the teacher happy is to be polite and do what she is told. And the way to make friends is to do what everyone else does and not raise her hand too often. It’s not a conscious choice she has made. It is more of a subtle process of recognizing what it takes to fit in and following the social rules. And yet when she and her brother are both given IQ tests, more often than not, her scores are as high or higher than her brother’s. Her talent is not recognized and is, therefore, often not being nurtured or developed.

Advocating for gifted girls is a passion for me. Perhaps because I was one of those girls. If you had asked my parents if I needed something different in elementary school, they would have said no. I was fine. I liked school. I liked my teachers. I had friends. But then I got to junior high school and was placed in a gifted program humanities class. I had no idea school could be like that. That discussions could be so stimulating – leaving me thinking even after I left class. That I could connect with other kids my age on such a deep level. That we could share ideas and insights and be excited about making interesting connections or tossing around intriguing ideas. It was in that classroom that my passion for gifted education was born. Both for those kids who obviously need something different, and for those kids who are doing “OK,” but who could be doing so much more if they were given the chance to be in a stimulating environment in which being bright was an asset – not something to hide.

In an article on the NYU Child Study Center’s website titled Gifted Girls - Many Gifted Girls, Few Eminent Women: Why?,  Dr. Anita Gurian, writes about some of the challenges gifted girls face in school. As I read her article, I found myself thinking about my own experience as well as the experiences of the gifted girls I have been privileged to work with both in public school and at Seabury. I look around our Seabury classrooms and see girls who are not afraid to raise their hands. Girls who see being smart as an asset rather than a liability. Girls who relish being part of interesting discussions and who are willing to step up and show their leadership ability. Girls who get to spend the day laughing and learning and exploring with their intellectual peers. Girls who have had the chance to attend a school where it is safe to be smart.

Do all gifted girls hide their talent? No. Does this phenomenon apply only to girls and never to boys? Of course not. But as we look around at the girls in our families, our neighborhoods and our communities, it is good to be aware that the girls (and boys) we see may have potential that has not yet been discovered or developed. And as we look at our Seabury girls, we can be grateful that they are in a place where their talents are nurtured and developed. Where they can become the creators and leaders and thinkers they are capable of becoming.  Where they can discover the full measure of their gifts in a safe, supportive environment.  What a gift...

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