I swear just about all kids in the public school system these days are card-carrying members of the “gifted and talented” brigade. How do I know this? Because their parents yak about it every chance they get. Ironically, for me it usually comes up at my most embarrassing moments, including, but not limited to, when I’m:
- At the bank contesting an overdraft.
- In line to buy tickets to an R rated movie for my teens.
- At the liquor store stocking up for the winter, er…I mean a party.
- Emerging from a public restroom stall after ingesting too much Mexican food.
- Selecting feminine products at the grocery store. (OMG, get away from me!)
Why these people can’t accost me about their junior achievers when I’m volunteering at the Red Cross or teaching illiterates how to read is beyond me. It could be because I’ve never done either of those things, but that’s beside the point.
I’m always amazed when you casually ask people, “How’s your family?” that they think it’s an open invitation to offer up their kids’ core test scores and third grade GPA. And if that happens you KNOW the inevitable punch line will be, “AND they think our little miracle is gifted.” (Whom ever the hell they is.)
Actually, it’s not entirely the parents’ fault. In 2009 The New York Times identified an upward trend of more kids testing into GATE (that’s Gifted And Talented Education for us boneheads), which is actually reflective of what’s happening in several parts of the country. This astounds me because obviously the people doing the testing have never taken a statistics class. Everyone CAN’T be in the top 10%. And if they are, then you need to readjust your test.
But parents are reluctant to question such results, because they reaffirm what these parents already know; that as humans they ALL carry the seed of genius and have thus passed it on to their brilliant offspring.
Oh Yeah? You’re Just a Poor Loser
Now you may think I’m simply sucking on sour grapes because I have stupid kids. Not so. My kids do just fine in school. Some educators have even tried to convince me that my kids are gifted, as illustrated by an experience I had when my older son was in the fifth grade. At the end of the year his band teacher ominously asked to meet. Oh great, I thought. What’s my kid done? Not practicing enough? Using his clarinet as a light saber? Tormenting some girl with a spit rag?
“I think your son might be gifted in music,” said the band teacher when we finally rendez-voused in the hall. I looked at him stunned and then laughed. “Oh, really? Have you heard him play?” I asked. “I get better tone by stepping on my cat’s tail.”
Fast forward to now. He’s a junior in high school and yes he’s an above average musician when it comes playing reed instruments, however, he got that way because HE PRACTICES four to six hours a day (I’m not exaggerating). He’s also had some great music teachers who saw his potential and thus challenged him. Too often we forget that good teachers are a huge part of the gifted equation, as shown in this brief, comical video about two dopey parents who think their kid is the second coming of Charlie Parker:
Sure I admit my son has an affinity for music, and he does have perfect pitch (but then again so do most dogs). However, the fact remains that if you do anything a lot you get good at it. And talented or not, if you don’t practice then you won’t excel, which means you won’t be “gifted.” I promise that’s how life works.
Everyone Can Be a High-achiever
I think too often parents confuse “gifted” with “high-achieving.” If a child gets straight A’s or does something better than anyone else, nine times out of 10 it’s because the child puts forth the effort. In my case I had a weird little kid who preferred playing the clarinet (and later, sax) to skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking or doing whatever kids do who grow up in a resort town. Does that mean he’s gifted? No. It just means he’s determined and has a passion, which, trust me, will take him further in life than being gifted at anything.
So parents, lighten up. Just because your kid made the Honor Roll doesn’t mean she’s going to grow up to cure cancer. And even if she does (someday cure cancer, that is) it’s not because she was born with that knowledge, but more likely because she felt compelled to crack cancer’s genetic code the same way she refused to let a Rubik’s Cube go unsolved as a kid.
A gifted and talented child is summed up by two things: Having the passion to take something further than anyone ever dreamed AND having teachers smart enough to recognized that passion. Anything beyond that is just extemporaneous chatter that we could all do without.
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Stacy Dymalski is a stand-up comic who gave up the glamorous life of coach travel, smokey comedy clubs, and heckling drunks for the glamourous life of raising kids (who happen to be bigger hecklers than the drunks). This blog is her new stage.
For more of Stacy’s comedy check out her hilarious book Confessions of a Band Geek Mom available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon.com.