In this thread on early readers, I made the following comment:
There are a lot of people on this board who indicate that they tested off the charts as children, learned to read at a very early age (i.e. college-level reading comprehension by kindergarten) or had an unusually high IQ. I’m not terribly skeptical of these claims myself, I suppose where I’m skeptical is the notion that such advanced understanding of anything as a child has any practical meaning.
I think parents have a tendency to overestimate the value of being a child prodigy or gifted child – this is understandable, because they want their kid to be successful. But how often do those children retain that level of intellectual superiority well into adulthood? My argument is that, for the most part, they don’t. We’re always going to have our child prodigies like Mozart who go on to create amazing masterpieces for the rest of their lives, but this doesn’t happen very often. Eventually, I predict, the vast majority of our world’s gifted children become smart adults with above-average abilities just like the other smart adults.
I suppose by any general definition I was a ‘‘gifted’’ child, at least in reading, writing, and to some extent the arts. I don’t care to make any specific claims about my level of ability because they aren’t really verifiable. I know that memory is very subjective, and I believe constantly receiving messages that you are brilliant can warp your brain into thinking you were more brilliant than you actually were. Left Hand of Dorkness points out in the ‘‘Your Baby Can Read’’ thread that he was a verifiable, legitimate child prodigy in the playing of the violin, and yet when he reviews his childhood performances as an adult he is rather stricken by the low quality.
The only claim I think I can legitimately make about my experience is that it set me up for a lifetime of feeling like I could never do good enough. College… well, that was a humiliating experience. When you’ve been taught your whole life that you’re Someone Special and then you join up with about 50,000 other kids who were told the same thing, it sort of rocks your world. As a relative of mine who attended the same school describes the welcome speech during orientation week: ‘‘Oh, you graduated Valedictorian, did you? Look to your right. So did that guy. Look to your left. So did she.’’ Sr. Olives is a smart guy, always in the top 10% or so of his class, but he never got the ‘‘gifted’’ treatment. College therefore did not shatter his sense of identity the way it did mine. And I mean it really shattered my sense of identity. I lost confidence completely. It took me a long time to get over it.
Because of my experience it’s hard for me to really believe that giving children the gifted treatment will do much more than make them feel overconfident and disproportionately superior to their peers, thus setting them up for crushing despair when they eventually reach adulthood and people mysteriously fail to worship their extraordinary talent. Because a person who has grown up to define ‘‘success’’ as ‘‘vastly outperforming everyone else’’ is going to feel like a failure again and again until s/he learns that his or her expectations of constant praise and superior performance are totally unrealistic. Some very talented people never do learn this lesson, and spend the rest of their lives with crippling insecurities about above-average ability.
So where am I now, this gifted child? I’m halfway finished with a Master’s degree in the prestigious field of social work. I chose social work as a career because when I’m working with people who share my values, none of that overachiever shit seems to matter. In addition to preparing to start a family of my own, I’ve got the following pressing concerns on my mind:
-eating well and exercising
-getting into a regular housecleaning routine
-forming lasting intimate friendships
-finishing Paper Mario on Wii Console (I have all seven star spirits, I just need to beat Bowser.)
So yeah, contrary to my teachers’ apparent expectations, I’m not in my basement working on my 37th Great American Novel or anything (I don’t even have a basement.)
Gifted Child, where are you now?