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Metaphorically speaking: Metaphors for Gifted Education
and the persistent myth, All Kids are Gifted

Collected by Carolyn K. director, Hoagies' Gifted Education Page

(some sources unknown)

Many people do not understand what the gifted child goes through when the educational system does not recognize his unique abilities and need to learn at an appropriate pace in his areas of high ability. Sometimes a metaphor can emphasize that far better than any other description. Here is a collection of metaphors, that might bring about better understanding, empathy and insight into appropriate educational solutions for the gifted child. Hope you find an metaphor that works for you! And please share these metaphors with others...we could ALL use a little help.

Also read Stones Across the River, a metaphor for the Twice-Exceptional Child and School

During this latest round of the "All Kids Are Gifted Chorus," we've heard some new verses for our obvious responses.  Check them all out!  Yup, they're playing our tune...

All Kids Are Gifted, A Sports Metaphor by Cathy Marciniak

Some older metaphorical musings on this topic never grow old.  All children are gifted by Michael Thompson addressed the issue almost a decade ago. Also read A Response to the "All Children are Gifted" Comment Recommended A speech delivered at the Indiana Association for the Gifted 1998 Annual Conference, by Michael C. Thompson.  This one comes around, again and again...

The Legend of the Pink Monkey Recommended retold by Cici Clovis

TV set

If we were TV sets, some of us would only get five channels. Others are wired for cable -- the general population -- and some of us (the gifted) are hooked up to a satellite dish. That makes these gifted children capable of making connections that others don't even know exist!

[Betty Meckstroth, in Merely Bright--or Brilliant?]

What the Tui Tells Me by CreatingCurriculum

A metaphor for the 2e child! "Have you ever watched the tui fly? The straight line, which we are told the crow flies, holds little interest for them.  When tui fly for fn, they are iridescent, aerobatic speed machines.  They take risks, wheel and dive, and experience flight to the fullest..."

Spread His Wings and Fly!

My son was "invisible" to the School Folks at his old school. I made up a story in my mind that his giftedness was like a pair of huge, heavy, invisible wings, that most teachers couldn't see. These wings were filled with light, and sparkled so brightly that looking directly at them could be painful.

Most people only saw the way those invisible wings knocked things over and made my son wobble when he walked. Everyone could tell he was different, and most thought he was just clumsy and awkward, and he was clumsy at walking, flying and sitting at a desk. His flying was clumsy because he was young and inexperienced, but I did sometimes observe tremendous grace. But didn't every mother find her own child to be miraculous at times?

There was almost no place to practice flying during the school day. We were concerned that he hold his wings politely in and not knock over the other children. It was sad that he came home so tired and worn out from holding those wings tightly against his body, but we didn't know what else to do. The wings would take care of themselves until the wonderful day when he could use them, wouldn't they?

It doesn't work quite that way, and we got quite an education. I'm grateful to my son for opening my eyes. It is sad as it is when a teacher doesn't see a child's wings.  But there isn't anything sadder than a winged person who can't see his own wings, but only feels a vague heavy weight, and sees people around him get mysteriously knocked down.

The number one reason for educating ourselves about gifted issues, and unraveling our own pasts, is to be able to hold a mirror up to our children so they can see and understand themselves better, strengths and challenges both. -- Grinity

Shoe Size

Going into the shoe store, the salesperson says..." Do you have a size 7 foot? I have a size 7 shoe that should fit you very nicely, and may be just what you need. No? You have a size 9 foot? Well, all I have are size 7 shoes. Just wear this one anyway."

"I can't get it on."

"What's the matter with my shoe?"

"Nothing is wrong with the shoe. It is a perfectly fine shoe." [i.e., program/curriculum is great, just not a good fit. We are not putting down your program/curriculum.]

"Well, maybe you would like my shoe if I put this pretty bow on it. Or maybe a shiny buckle? Now put it on. I don't understand why it doesn't fit. How about if I give you more size 7 shoes? Will three be enough [more of the same!]? Well, then something must be wrong with your foot. What's wrong with your foot?"

"Nothing is wrong with my foot. I have a perfectly good foot."

In order for shoes to work well for you, they have to be a good fit. And imagine what happens when you have to walk around all day in shoes that are too small--you get a little cranky, don't you? Or maybe you decide to stop wearing shoes altogether! Good programs and good kids need to be matched for a good fit.

The Race Car

Envision a turbo-charged race car driving up a hill on a two-lane highway behind a large, overloaded truck. As much as it may want to "behave" by going at the same pace as the truck, it isn't at all easy. And what is happening to the engine? How long can this go on before permanent damage is done to the engine? Will it ever be the same?

Feeding an Elephant

Highly gifted children learn not only faster than others, but also differently. Standard teaching methods take complex subjects and break them into small, simple bits presented one at a time. Highly gifted minds can consume large amounts of information in a single gulp, and they thrive on complexity. Giving these children simple bits of information is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at a time - he will starve before he even realizes that anyone is trying to feed him.

[Excerpt from Helping Your Highly Gifted Child by Stephanie S. Tolan, ERIC EC Digest #E477, 1990]

The Marathon

People get very uncomfortable with the idea of students getting ahead of others through the use of acceleration. It is seen as an unfair advantage for gifted students. As if the whole process of education is in some way a race, with only winners being the ones across the finish line first.

Look at it in terms of a marathon. How many people run in the Boston Marathon? Thousands. How many of those thousands believe that they have the slightest chance of winning? eight? fifteen at the most? What on earth are those other thousands even doing there then? What do they gain by being part of such a hopeless venture?

The value for them is in the process, being a part of the event, as each individual challenges him- or herself to a high standard, gaining in confidence and ability through training and improvement.

The speed and success of the winners IN NO WAY diminish the accomplishments of the other runners, or the value of what they gain by participating. Is it valid to recognize the success of the winners? Absolutely! They deserve our admiration and applause. Seldom does high achievement come without hard work and dedication coupled with talent. By valuing excellence, society as a whole benefits.

Thoroughbred Race Horse

Consider the thoroughbred race horse that is confined to a small corral. The horse doesn't know why it is uncomfortable--nothing seems to be right. It is very active, but what is there to do about it? How does it's "acting out" look to the owner (who never knew the breeding of the horse)? If the owner ever does try racing the horse, would it really perform well after being confined for years without proper training? And if it does race, is it performing as well as it could have if it had begun training at an earlier age? Do gifted children have to wait until high school to begin the race? What about all that lost training time?


(being able to take pride in one's giftedness)

Imagine a kid on the basketball team at the middle school. He is the star player, and one of the reasons is that he is thirteen inches taller than the next tallest kid on his team or any of the other teams in his division. He also has some talent, and he really enjoys the game. He is always the leading scorer, and everyone is always telling him he is great, and congratulating him on his fine performances.

He is on top of the world at first. The problem is winning is just so easy. It just doesn't take much effort, so the accolades seems like empty words. He starts feeling worse and worse about himself the more people praise him. He realizes that he does so well because he is tall. When he starts slacking off, people think they are putting too much pressure on him to score.

Along comes a perceptive coach who understands about talent, and what having it can be like. He pulls a couple strings and gets the kid on a team that consists of mostly older players, taller, with more experience. The kid is so excited, but has a tough time--he's is no longer the star of the team. The coach has to work hard to get him over the rough spots. There are many shocks to his confidence and ego, but he is working very hard and learning a lot. Now he feels a sense of pride in his accomplishments, even though to others his performance seems less outstanding than before.

BEWARE of a child who continues to maintain his self-esteem through accomplishments too easily attained--the easy A's. It is a dangerously fragile situation.

What you are able to do is only half as important as what you choose to do.

How Would You React?

A savvy administrator was asking his staff about their feelings about in-servicing and educational coursework. Several replied that they really appreciate learning new methods to apply in the classroom. In fact the longer, more difficult classes that involved much hard work--the more satisfaction they derived from their efforts. The administrator continued, "And how did you feel the time when discovering as you listened to the presenter give an overview of the day--the in-service you had signed up for was an exact duplication of information you had previously learned?"

The answers came shooting back--I got up and demanded my money back, I wasn't about to sit through THAT again, I have better things to do with my time, I stayed but fumed inside the whole time--how dare they waste my time!

The administrator then quietly asked, "And what did you tell your second grader?"

Experience and Processing: The Funnel and Cylinder Analogy of Giftedness by Shulamit Widawsky

And saving the best for last...

Is It A Cheetah? by Stephanie Tolan


Last updated December 01, 2020

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