Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


14 Comments

Why Care About Gifted Children?

photo courtesy of eye-for-ebony, Unsplash

Talking about giftedness is tricky. It can sound like discrimination or elitism. And it is discrimination when kids of color are ignored and excluded from gifted programs in schools, which, sadly, they still are in many places. In my mind, it is a no-brainer to understand that giftedness comes in all races, religions, cultures, and ethnic groups. But not everyone agrees. 

And even when I talk about giftedness in children, including kids of color, it might still be said that I am creating an elite group of smart people and discriminating against the children who are not as intellectually advanced. That I am saying that the gifted are better humans, somehow superior to others.

Nooooooo. Puleeze. I am not saying that. 

So, what am I saying? 

Some background: This misunderstanding has existed as long as I have been in this field. Which is a long time. I started teaching gifted children in the mid-’70s. Yes, that long. And, yes, it is surely awkward to say that some children are more intelligent, faster learners, and more complex, deeper thinkers and feelers. But it is not unlike saying that some children are naturally much more talented at athletics. Most of us will never be a Michael Jordan or a Serena Williams, no matter how many hours we practice. And we are fine with that. 

But when it comes to intellectual giftedness we are not so fine. 

In my experience, all 35-ish years of it, gifted children are naturally passionate about learning, thinking, feeling, arguing, creating, perceiving, and empathizing. At an early age, they ask probing questions, feel for others’ suffering, and grasp complex ideas. Their favorite places are often the library, the bookstore, and their vivid imaginations. Of course, these kids are also all different and unique based on multiple factors, but, they often have many of these characteristics in common. Even with differences in race, religion, and culture, many of these gifted traits are still apparent. 

OK, then, some people say. Sounds like these gifted kids have so many advantages. Why bother? There are more important issues out there that need our attention. 

Well, yes, there are so many important issues. So many.

But, I don’t have to convince you, dear blog readers. You understand why I bother.

I do not need to remind you of the years of serious bullying in school because you were super enthusiastic about learning and wanted to answer all the questions. Because you spent every recess hiding in the library, your only safe place. Because some of your teachers were annoyed by your relentless curiosity. Because your passions for classical music, paleontology, Richard Feynman, BBC documentaries, Van Gogh, and brain specimen coasters were not understood by the other eight-year-olds. Because you spent weeks waiting to learn something new

Because the loneliness and rejection you felt then, is still with you. It shows up in the workplace when you are waiting for your coworkers to grasp what you are saying. For a supervisor to be a faster thinker and better leader than you are. For colleagues to have more integrity. It shows up in your sensitivity to injustice and your compassion for suffering humans and for a planet in crisis.

You feel it when the pressure to be smart means you are paralyzed by a fear of failure, of disappointing others, of never living up to your potential. You feel it when you can’t find a partner who knows how to listen or who is willing to dive into the depths with you. You feel it when your intuition and spirituality are dismissed as irrational and irrelevant. You feel it when you have to slow your thoughts, limit your vocabulary, numb your sensitivities, and hide your true self.

That is why I bother.

And if you are part of a marginalized group, if you are a person of color, there is more. There is racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism. Socio-economic disparities. Climate injustice. It is a long list. It can be quite discouraging and overwhelming.

So, here is a thought.

What if, then, what if we could agree that this is the perfect time to embrace our gifted children. Because if there ever was a time to let them flourish, it would be now. To encourage their curiosity, creativity, and sensitivities. To nourish their capacity to seek answers to complicated questions. To appreciate their intuition and larger spirituality. To support their quest for justice for all. 

Let us deepen our understanding of giftedness in ourselves and our kids. And together, we will build a more just and peaceful world.

______________________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: If you are looking for resources on giftedness and people of color, here are a few that I know of. Thank you, as always, for being here. We would love to hear from you. 

The G Word Film  due for release in 2021

“Defying popular myths that assume most gifted people are wealthy, white, and will do fine on their own, THE G WORD reveals the economic, cultural and gender diversity of our nation’s gifted and talented population at every stage of life, highlighting their educational challenges, social isolation, and deep emotional sensitivities…It also reveals a large and lively community of people around them working hard to meet their needs while challenging the prejudice that comes with being labeled “smart” in the 21st century.”  from the website

Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners by Joy Lawson Davis

“Being gifted and talented and also African American makes children double minorities, and the issues they face can be different from those faced by most other gifted children. This book provides helpful insights and guidelines for the parenting and education of Black gifted children. In addition to the challenges that are frequently experienced by many gifted children, …Black gifted children often must also deal with issues like discrimination and low expectations of them…”  from the publisher

Running the Long Race in Gifted Education edited by Joy M. Scott-Carrol and Anthony Sparks

“The editors have assembled authors representing a range of racial, ethnic, regional and cultural backgrounds. Their narratives reveal a wealth of successes, challenges, inspirations. Speaking in their unique voices, these culturally diverse and gifted adults describe…:  from Amazon


12 Comments

Educators: What To Do About The G Word (#Gifted)

logo courtesy of The G Word film

You don’t have to use the G Word.

Even though, let’s face it, you use it for athletes, artists and your quirky Aunt Millie.

But you do have to recognize that gifted children exist in your school.

Because they do.

I’m talking about the kids you know who, from a very early age, are faster learners, deeper thinkers and more sensitive feelers. Who ask questions you can’t answer. Who correct your spelling. Who know more than you do about black holes. Who cry when other children are hurt on the playground. Who are overwhelmed at birthday parties. Who annoyingly hang out at your desk because they’d rather talk to you about Darwin than talk to the other six-year-olds about the letter A.

You know who I’m talking about.

This is not about loving these kids more or singling them out as superstars. They don’t want that. That doesn’t help them.

If they’re told things like: You’re so smart. You can do anything. You’re so lucky. Or Why did you get that B? Learning should always be easy for you. Or Stop asking so many questions. Nobody likes a know-it-all. Or No, you can’t read ahead. They’ll get anxious.

They’ll feel like they can’t ask for help. Like they can’t make mistakes. Like they have to know everything before they learn it. Like they’ll disappoint you if they don’t live up to your expectations. Like they have to hide their abilities and their enthusiasm.

But, still.

You don’t have to use the G Word.

But you do have to find ways to meet their academic needs and to understand their extra-sensitivities. Some of those ways are described in this post and this one. It’s not as hard as it seems. In fact, these kids will love you if you make the time to listen to them. Start an after school club for philosophers or mathematicians. Nourish their interests and let them read ahead! Don’t assume that they aren’t doing the homework because they’re lazy or defiant. Get creative with your curriculum. Use Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets to reduce the pressure on your (gifted) students. Explore Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences model if you want to help all of your students understand learning differences and abilities.

And one more thing.

I’m not saying that you can’t use the G Word.

In fact, it could help.

One of my students, years ago, was relieved to hear that he was gifted. His response, Oh, that’s what’s wrong with me. He had his own label. Several of them: weirdo, alien, nerd, crybaby, loner, freak, crazy.

But. You don’t have to use the G Word.

_________________________________

(Note: Whether you label or not, gifted kids will need help understanding their complexities. Their perfectionism, sensitivities/ empathy, loneliness, existential depression and anxieties. Their rainforest minds. Send them or their parents to this blog, for a place to start. And thank you, dear teachers, for your caring hearts.)

Thank you to my niece, Alicia, for inspiring this post and for being an extraordinary teacher and human.

Speaking of The G Word, a powerful documentary on that topic will be released in 2019. Here’s some information about it.

To my bloggEEs: My niece sent me this video from Stanford professor, Jo Boaler. It inspired this post. Let us know what you think. Thank you, as always, for being here.


6 Comments

For Gifted Kids And Their Teachers — Strategies For Success

Photo courtesy of Ashim D’Silva, Unsplash

Maybe you are an enthusiastic, hungry learner. You have so many questions and so many answers; your drive to analyze and create is massive and never ending. Your intense curiosity annoys your fellow students and rattles your teachers.

Was this your experience in first grade? Is this your story even now that you’re in grad school? If so, it can be deeply painful and frustrating. You may blame yourself for your too muchness and your seemingly inadequate communication and social skills. You may have been labelled a know-it-all but you wonder how that’s possible when you feel like a want-to-know-it-all and a slacker.

Maybe you’re a teacher who is working valiantly to serve the wildly different abilities of your students. You love your kids but are overwhelmed by their academic and emotional needs. How do you manage their range of abilities, their fears and doubts, and the demands of their parents and your administrators? And what about those kiddos who always finish work early and are asking questions that you can’t answer? Who are passionate about learning but don’t hand in their homework? Who are sensitive to the suffering multitudes but don’t appear to care when correcting your spelling?

What are some ways rainforest-minded learners can navigate the education system? How might teachers meet the needs of the gifted student?

Yep. These are HUGE questions. The following are some tiny answers. (But a place to start.)

For students (and parents):

Look for allies: Ask your favorite teacher to start a philosophy club. Look for mentors during your after school activities and entice them with your sense of humor. Find the other rainforest-y kids and talk to them. Go to office hours with the professor who loves your inquisitive nature.

Don’t believe that something’s wrong with you when teachers misunderstand your effervescence, your high standards, your disappointments or your need to correct others’ errors. Ask to meet with your more sensitive instructors over lunch and explain what you know about yourself and rainforest minds. (Show them my blog!) Ask them to advocate for you. Negotiate a flexible plan to get relevant work completed or to design alternative assignments.

Find inspiration from your research online. Contact fascinating people like Maria Popova from Brain Pickings or Krista Tippett from On Being.

For teachers:

Recognize the importance of your work and the powerful influence you have on children.

Find ways to nourish yourself. Attend conferences like this one. Join NAGC and access their resources.

Use some of the ideas suggested in this blog post such as: “It won’t take much to get your gifted students to adore you. Listen to them. Let them know that you appreciate how hungry they are to learn, then find ways to feed them…”

Read Parker Palmer‘s book, The Courage to Teach. Let his positive vision guide you.

Access curriculum guides published by Prufrock Press and Free Spirit.

Don’t miss the important documentary on gifted children and education titled The G Word that will be out in 2019.

Find inspiring words to tape to your refrigerator such as: “The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts — the place where intellect, emotion, spirit, and will converge in the human self — supported by the community that emerges among us when we choose to live authentic lives.” Parker J. Palmer

For students, parents and teachers:

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”   Wangari Maathai              

___________________________

To my bloggEEs:  Tell us about your experiences in school as a student or a teacher. How might you shed your fear and share hope with your self, your family, your school, your community or your world? Thank you to the reader who inspired this post.