The third post in our series on perspectives on education, “Gifted” children. Who or what defines “Gifted” ? A parent’s perspective, an important and heartfelt perspective. 

A friend of mine once told me about how her son watched a ‘Your Baby Can Read’ DVD and started reading at the age of 2. I was a little skeptical as my own kids were only speaking in simple sentences at that point and it seemed like everywhere I turned someone was telling me about how their kid was especially gifted. Could it be that there were so many gifted kids or was I just befriending only those people who had gifted children? It wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized that my friend hadn’t been exaggerating. I was at her house when her now 4 year old son came up to me with a book and started telling me about the early geological periods of the Earth from the Pre-Cambrian to the Phanerozoic. I was completely floored by his deep knowledge of the subject. When I asked him a question that he didn’t know, he’d go to the index and find the page where he could get the information. I remember him studying a graph inside the book that charted all the different animals that existed during the different time periods and cross-referencing the information with another chart on a different page. I knew from his mom that he wasn’t autistic, he was just incredibly smart. It was at that moment that I put my own kids into perspective — they would never attain his level of genius and it wasn’t the ‘Your Baby Can Read’ DVD that made him that way.

In the South Asian community, so many parents are obsessed with their children’s academic achievement that they sign their kids up for every Kumon class and take them to every after-school learning program. I know my own parents stressed good grades and intelligence so much that my self-worth was completely tied to my academic ability. In a million little ways my parents let me know that they valued my academic performance in school over all else and I wondered if my parents would still love me if I was a bad student. In high school, I remember feeling suicidal when I didn’t get a good grade on a test or the highest SAT score. There was also a hierarchy of learning where subjects like math and science were valued much higher than the arts and I felt I had to choose a career in the sciences to please my parents.

Now that I have my own kids, I don’t want them to grow up feeling this way. I want them to do well in school but I don’t want to pressure them to perfection. I want them to know that I love them no matter how they do in school. 

My son didn’t start reading till 1st grade and he never asked the kinds of interesting questions my daughter did. My daughter started teaching herself how to read when she was three, and by four she was reading on her own. I still remember the day she read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” to her pre-school class. As an 8 year old, she plays violin well beyond her years, and, she’s self-motivated — her latest project was teaching herself Russian so she could speak to a Russian girl in her class. And yet, despite all these things she didn’t test gifted and my son did.

Knowing that my daughter didn’t test gifted put a tiny sliver of doubt in my mind about her ability to succeed in this world, whereas my son, who is not the most motivated kid, suddenly became an underachiever in my mind since his scores told me he had potential. The testing always introduces doubt into our minds. Why do we do this to our kids and to ourselves?

There are so many different types of human intelligence — while one person might have a natural ability in math, another person might have great kinesthetic skills which make them a great athlete or dancer. Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner identified seven different types of intelligence: logical-mathematical, musical, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic and bodily-kinesthetic. But in our current society we administer standardized tests that fail to measure all our childrens’ different abilities. Let’s embrace our children for who they are and stop judging them so harshly on their grades. We love them for so many reasons. Let’s let them know that.