I have to admit, if someone calls me or my child a “Special Snowflake,” I see red. It’s so dismissive and condescending. And gifted kids get called that a lot, because people snottily assume that the kids think they’re something special because mommy and daddy made such a big deal about them.
The latest video from Jo Boaler at YouCubed never actually uses the word “snowflake,” but the idea is there. The disdain is there.
For those who haven’t seen the video or don’t care to waste their time, it’s very simple. She picked a few college students who were identified as gifted early on and uses a few comments to demonstrate why the gifted label is bad. Then she asked a few 4th grade children very pointed, nuanced questions about how they would feel if their friends were gifted and they were not.
The whole point of the video is that the gifted label does harm, hard work can trump ability, and labels are bad.
Now, I have a LOT of problems with this video. It took me a few days to even be able to articulate them without getting angry all over again. I feel this is harmful ignorance spewed by someone with a personal vendetta against gifted folks. I’m particularly annoyed that she tried to dismiss giftedness by using the primary negative traits found in gifted individuals: imposter syndrome, perfectionism, the struggles of unchallenged gifted individuals who meet a challenge, and the high achiever assumption.
Here’s the problem: labels help us define what individuals need to succeed. If you remove those labels, you don’t change the person. You don’t change their needs. All you do is make it more difficult for them to get the help they need.
If all of the adults interviewed in this video had been educated in an environment that challenged them, taught them to persevere, and explained what gifted actually was, they wouldn’t be struggling so much. Why? Because their idea of gifted isn’t real. It’s made up. It’s fake.
- Gifted isn’t being a high achiever.
- Gifted isn’t about being better than others.
- Gifted isn’t about being smarter than everyone else.
- Gifted isn’t “special.”
Gifted is wiring. Gifted is intense. Gifted is asynchronous.
Gifted doesn’t make you better than everyone else, but it does define how you learn. And gifted has its own set of issues. Overexcitabilities that can make it difficult to relate to those around you, for example. Gifted is co-morbid with anxiety, sensory issues, and other medical diagnosis that make life difficult. Being gifted is not a gift.
All that aside, the video did make one very important, unintentional point. We need to tell our kids they are gifted. We need to explain what that truly means: explain the positive and negatives, explain the strengths and weaknesses. They need to understand that gifted isn’t about the unrealistic demands others put on them. Gifted doesn’t mean perfection and high achiever. And gifted doesn’t negate the need to work hard and persevere.
Just like everyone else, gifted individuals need to learn to work hard. They need to learn to struggle. And, they need to learn to fail. To fail over and over again until they finally succeed. That’s a life skill that the adults in the video didn’t learn well. For whatever reason, they didn’t have the opportunity to learn from failure and hard work. So Professor Boaler is correct in one thing: anyone can learn. That doesn’t conflict with natural ability, it just enhances it.
I think that Professor Boaler is doing a good thing trying to make math accessible and open. I also think that she should stop spouting nonsense when she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s harmful. It’s negative. And it’s hurting our kids, who need to know what gifted really means.
Want to know more about what gifted really is? Go here for a loooong list of articles that help define giftedness. Some of my favorites are Linda Silverman and the TedEd talks, and the classic Cheetah article by Stephanie Tolan.