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All Children Are Gifted

Editor's Reflections
By Michael C. Thompson,
Editor, Our Gifted Children

Originally published in Our Gifted Children,
February 1999, No. 55, pp. 3-4
Reprinted with permission of the author

Also read A Response to the "All Children are Gifted" Comment speech to IAGC

Differences, Disregarded

At times, I am as incredulous as I might be in the presence of someone insane, who obsessively and irrationally repeats the same nonsensical phrase, over and over, and over, no matter what you say or do. Come to dinner, we might say, and the pathetic soul replies, "Chicago! Nine point six!" Would you like to watch television, we might ask. "Chicago! Nine point six!" is the reply. Please don't say that any more, we might request. "Chicago! Nine point six!" screams the victim. Why do you keep saying that, we might ask in pity and frustration. "Chicago! Nine point six!" hollers our friend.

Chicago. Nine point six.

It must mean something, it must have -some significance to the poor desperate soul who can say no other, but for the life of us, we can't figure out what it's about. It is something beyond reason, something beyond public experience, something beyond the phenomena we share with our tormentedly compulsive friend.

Or, take another example. We might say, this child reads six years beyond her grade level, and can read things she has never seen in a school, and will not see for six more years. In fact, as a first grader, she reads seventh grade texts better than the typical seventh grader.

"All children are gifted!" shouts our disputant.

We might say, here is a child who is doing quadratic equations and calculus in the fifth grade. He knows all the mathematics planned for his class in the middle school, and almost all of the mathematics planned for him in high school and early college. He could take AP Calculus right now.

"All children are gifted!" shouts our theorist.

We might say, why do you keep shouting those words. A child who reads at a ninth grade level in the second grade is different from a child who reads at a second grade level in the ninth grade.

"All children are gifted!"

Look, we might say, here is a little child who is struggling profoundly to learn. She needs hours of daily individual support and tutoring, and even then her reading scores are four years below grade level. She is in the sixth grade, but she can not read a newspaper. In fact, she has a special teacher who is struggling to teach her to read at all. The student in the row next to her is completely engrossed in reading Jane Eyre, and says it's her favorite book that she has read this year.

"All children are gifted!"

Not so loud, we might whisper. We just don't know what you mean when you say that. Here is the achievement test of a student in the fourth grade. Look, this student is in the 99th percentile in language skills, but that still doesn't reveal how capable the student is. This fourth grader loves words and can define infralapsarianism and supercilious. In fact, he knows that the sparks you see when you rub your eyes are called phosphenes. He has been studying Latin on his own for fun, and says it's "cooler than English" because the grammar is more "convoluted." In his class, they are reading a big print book about some kids and a dog. He is becoming a serious behavior problem because he is "bored all of the time." He says fourth grade is "tedious."

"All children are gifted!"

OK. Look, what if we were to take a rigorous gifted curriculum, calibrated at three to five years above "grade level" in every subject, and start teaching it to everyone, canceling all present standard classes. If all children are gifted, they should benefit from this advanced work.

"All children are gifted!"

But what do you mean by that? Highly gifted children can have ethical comprehension that is many years beyond their peer group; it can give them serious problems trying to play with their age-peers, who operate by elementary developmental rules. Gifted kids can feel isolated when they realize that their friends don't understand the way they think. Highly gifted kids need other kids who can understand them and communicate with them and share some of the things they care about, just like everybody else.

"All children are gifted!"

Do all children hear complicated things for the first time and understand them immediately and remember them forever in the absence of repetition or drill?

"All children are gifted!"

Do all children score in the top range of achievement tests?

"All children are gifted!"

What is this bell curve? Who are the kids in the middle of this big middle bump, and who are the kids to the left of the center?

"All children are gifted!"

Here is a high school sophomore who has just spent the year reading the complete works of Carl Jung.

"All children are gifted!"

Here is a high school senior who claims never to have read a "whole book" and who has failed basic math three times, even though he knows he needs the credit to graduate.

"All children are gifted!"

Here is a child who did algebra in the third grade, who attended advanced college mathematics classes in middle school, and who is going to Harvard without finishing high school, in order to find math advanced enough.

"All children are gifted!"

Here is an infant who in his stroller noticed that the mailboxes on the right side of the street had even numbers, and the mailboxes on the left side of the street had odd numbers.

"All children are gifted!"

Look, what do you mean? Here are two children in the same "grade." Sixth grade. One functions primarily at a first grade level, and the other is functioning at an 11th grade level in most subjects. Their teacher has assigned them to write a report about "animals." The first student wrote about her dog. She wrote a third of a page. The biggest word is two syllables. The second student turned in a three page paper on the amoeba, in her own words, but researched. She describes the pseudopods and the nucleus of the protozoan. She goes on to make her own comparisons about the differences and similarities between amoebas and human beings! She typed the paper herself on her word processor, and wouldn't let her dad help her. She worked on it for two weeks and said that "protozoans are really cool."

"All children are gifted!"

A curriculum for gifted kids would hurt most kids.

"All children are gifted!"

The typical curriculum in our schools bores gifted kids; they don't learn a thing, and they hate school.

"All children are gifted!"

They are not! What is the point of refusing to educate gifted kids???

"All children are gifted!"

That does it; I'm going to go watch a basketball game. The Bulls are playing.

"The Bulls? Wow! That Michael Jordan is really special!"

Copyright 1999 by Michael C. Thompson

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