If I can make one person think once more about one issue, I've done all I can. Maybe I take things too seriously...or maybe you don't take things seriously enough.

Friday, 11 April 2008


For quite a while now I've been wondering what exactly it is people mean when they say someone is gifted. I think the main reason I've wondered about this is because I've spent most of my life being put in that category.

I know this sounds conceited, but really, it's simply an observation. When I was in Melbourne, I was more or less the only white middle-class person in my year group, which was only 30 strong anyway. I knew more about computers than my teachers, and I was (depressingly) on excellent terms with the vast majority of the teaching staff. All in all, I was more or less a model student.

This theme was broadly repeated throughout my life. What is more weird is that I always suspect that people thought I did better than I actually did. I remember scoring good, but not amazing, GCSE results, and having everyone be really surprised. At the time, all I could think was: "I told you I wasn't that good."

I think the reason I find this strange is that I was always told I was good at something. People would say, "You're so good at Maths", or physics, or whatever. But from my perspective, I don't think that's quite true. What I was good at was learning.

I realised this in year 13. For some reason, anything that was put in front of my I would soak up. I'd write it down, do a couple of exercises, and then it'd be there. And I spent a long period of time confused by the fact that people didn't seem to catch on as quickly as I did. This also meant that I failed to develop a work ethic, and really, this is true amongst all gifted students. The question is: how gifted are you?

I ask this for one simple reason. When I got into highschool, I became friends with another of those 'gifted' types, who've had that label thrown at them all their life. And there's no denying, he was bright. And, like me, he had an awful work ethic. Chatty and easily distracted, we were horrible for most teachers, even though they barely had to teach us.

The difference is, come A-levels, I still did well. I walked into the exam having under-prepared, and came out of it having done far better than I had any right to do. He walked in, and came out with a D.

I was truly staggered. Here was someone who had performed amazingly well at every moment up until the actual test, and then he tanked. I was truly, truly shocked. And it put a lot in perspective for me. As it turns out, there eventually comes a time when raw talent won't carry you through any more. This differs from person to person, but eventually one has to realise that you simply aren't good enough to do this without help any more.

The problem, of course, lies in the treatment of 'gifted' children. It is incredibly difficult to integrate them into the standard strata of education, because if you do they will become bored and lazy due the fact that they will never be challenged. Conversely, remove them from the usual education system and they will lose their ability to reconcile their talents with those who lack them. The number of times I've seen 'gifted' students berate their colleagues for failing to recognise something ("It's so obvious, how can you not see that?") is almost uncountable, and it more or less boils down to a failure to understand that other people's minds may not work in the same fashion to yours.

Sadly, it's a tricky balance. What are your opinions of the 'gifted'? And, for that matter, of the 'entitled'? Let me know.


Iain "DDude" Dawson said...

I find being "gifted" to be extremely relative to situations. In my A-Level English Class, I will come up with an idea that I quite like, but it will amaze everyone else. It is a great feeling. Last summer I finished the first year of a Maths A-Level, and I have never felt dummer, surounded by Maths guys who knew a hell of a lot more than I did, and who I could just not compete with.

Gifted and Talented children, in a similar way to Special Needs children, suffer from the same problem of needeing to make lessons work for all, for they are hard to integrate into every lesson.

This suxz.

ImperialCreed said...

"Gifted" is such a tricky label. I remember as a young kid being considered "gifted" in a certain sense - I had a vocabulary twice the size of any of my class mates and I read voraciously, so when it came to reading and writing I was ahead of everybody else. This is not to say I was good at languages, sucking at and despising as I did my native Irish tongue (because of how it was taught more than anything else).

This continued into secondary school, where I continued to suck at Irish (and now German and Math too) and do alright at everything else - but English was where I excelled. Not, I think, because I was born with some inate gift, but because of the amount I'd read as a kid and my being willing to use what I'd picked up. Which as you've mentioned to me, is the tricky part when among schoolkids. Out of proportion intelligence is treated like a disease.

I occassionally envy so-called "gifted" kids, not least of all a classmate of mine who took Accounting with me when we were around 16/17. Beleive me when I say he did not do a tap most of the time, and I recall he walked into our final exam of the year 20 minutes late, hungover, took the paper and even left early (!). He received an A. The bastard.

Anyway, I think most national education isn't really education when you look closely at it - it's the memorisation of a large number of facts and formulas whose sole purpose (from the child's perspective) seems to be for them to be regurgitated onto paper at the next exam. And that's sad I think. Knowledge (in any field) is awesome. We should teach kids not only to love knowledge first but also how to learn properly, and then go and try and fill their heads with facts.

There's a great video from TED by Sir Ken Robinson entitled "Do schools kill creativity". Well worth the watch and related to what you've discussed.


DKMFan said...

I'm gona be an arrogent berk and say that I've always been told I was gifted.

Am I? When I did the GCSE, and was talking to my cousin about it, he said 'You'll be alright, you're naturally clever'. I didn't bother to respond, because I thought it was true. But then, I think I'm more like Luka. I can just pick stuff up. I'm amazing at maths, and english, but I suck at Art.

And now I think about, I know why. You can't LEARN art. You have to have an inner vision, and know what to make, and have some skill with it. Now, I never bothered with it, mainly because people always laughed at me while I was at Primary School, and I associated that with the bullying I had to face.

Now either I didn't have that creativity (I find that hard to believe, I can write a great story), or I didn't want to learn about that, since I hated the subject. Therefore, I didn't learn about Art. While I wait for those GCSE results, I'm not panicking. I did all the work. But hell no, I didn't. I did about 20 minutes of revision for French. That was it. So I have no work ethic either.

Maybe I oughta just accept it. I'm not actually smart. I can learn very well.

By the way, at an intake day, I was loved to pieces by the computing department. I even told them their answer was wrong. And proved it. And as such, their begging me to go to that college. Stuff them.