let’s get off the seesaw (false dichotomies)
I find myself hearing certain talking points frequently in the world of advocacy, and I think I have some pretty reasonable responses. Since I can’t be in every single one of your meetings or discussions, perhaps it would help if I shared. Let’s try one…
The issue is a legitimate one, which is the importance of serving gifted kids’ “social-emotional” (which is what educators use instead of “psychological”) needs.
This applies to adults, too, by the way. There is a lot of kerfuffle in the world about whether gifted adults exist (we do!) and whether we also might have psychological needs (yep!). So please don’t assume I’m only talking about kids. It’s just that in advocacy situations, it typically is a bunch of grownups arguing about how to deal with kids, and it’s easier for me to use that language.
I’m very sensitive to implied frames (if you want to read more about that, try the writings of George Lakoff or Drew Westen), and this one is important. The metaphor is that of a seesaw — academic-intellectual needs are on one side, social-emotional needs are on the other. But a seesaw is a zero-sum game: the more you serve one type of need, the less you serve the other. That is, we cannot meet a kid’s academic-intellectual needs without sacrificing their social-emotional needs, and we cannot meet a kid’s social-emotional needs without sacrificing their academic-intellectual needs.
If you accept this metaphor, you will always lose. Face it, you’ve accepted being in the position of saying, essentially, “I don’t care about my kid’s psychological well-being. I just want him to win a Nobel Prize.” You are playing right into the image of the crazed Kumon parent (anyone besides me notice that the kid face in their logo looks distinctly miserable?). You are convincing the educators that they are right, that they need to save your vulnerable child from your demanding, and perhaps abusive, parenting. Even if you acknowledge that some academic needs might need to be sacrificed so that the kid doesn’t commit suicide before proving the Goldbach Conjecture or curing cancer, you’re still accepting the frame that the one of these can exist only at the expense of the other.
Side note: while I would be the first to agree that some parents do take things way too far and do push their kids too hard, the overwhelming majority of the time when I’m sitting with parents and educators considering this problem, folks are actually going too far in the other direction in their attempts to avoid it.
By becoming aware of our implicit frames, we can step outside of them. I don’t agree with the seesaw. Except at the extremes, social-emotional needs and academic-intellectual needs are not a zero-sum game. They are tied together. We meet them at the same time, by doing the same things.
One of the most important social-emotional needs of every human is to experience and overcome meaningful challenge. Every human. Gifted humans included. It’s just that school often does not provide meaningful challenge for gifted kids the way it routinely does for kids closer to the middle of the curve. Wouldn’t you agree that an appropriate curriculum would be one that would enable a kid to develop self-efficacy, which is the fundamental building block of self-esteem? You wouldn’t want to deny a kid the opportunity to develop self-esteem, would you? I sure wouldn’t. Glad we can agree on that.
Another one of the most important social-emotional needs of every human is to connect with real peers, people who can get your jokes, who can understand what it’s like to be you, who share similar experiences, who can support you and you can support them. Gifted kids are just like everyone else in that regard, too. For typical kids, though, if you randomly pick a bunch of other kids with a similar manufacture date (thanks to Ken Robinson for that phrase), you’ll stand a pretty good chance of finding similarity of experience and interest. Go outside the realm of the typical in any way, and manufacture date is no longer your best bet for finding real peers. We take it as given that people who have a particular disease, or who are in a particular cultural minority, or who have a particular gender or sexual identity, might want to flock with other birds of a feather without being accused of looking down on everyone else. We tell heartwarming stories about those connections (particularly when they’re things like summer camps for kids with disabilities). No one is rejecting the notion that it’s good to interact with a wide variety of people. Of course it is. But it’s not normal to give kids access to only one or two other likely friends (usually of the cootie-bearing gender, as gifted kids are spread around most thinly and “fairly” in most schools). We normally give typical kids in school a lot of possible friends. Why wouldn’t we do that for gifted kids, too?
Let’s think about what experiences friends in school often share. Um… the experience of being in school? Doing that work, having that teacher, you name it. But if twenty-nine kids experience, “sweet teacher who gives tricky work that I can work hard on and do it pretty well,” and one kid experiences, “teacher who doesn’t know that much about genetics and has never heard of Doctor Who and whose work is trivially easy and who thinks everything I do is awesome even when I know for a fact that it’s terrible,” (more on that and the development of pathological narcissism in another post) that’s not a shared experience. Does that kid ever call a friend to work on the homework together (one of the major bonding experiences of school-bound people)? No, they just get called when someone needs them to act in loco educatoris (more on that and social isolation in another post, too).
So get off the seesaw. One of the most important social-emotional needs for gifted children is, just like everyone else, to have real peers with whom they share real serious academic-intellectual challenge. Now that we all agree, let’s talk about how to meet that need.
- game on! (using games to teach habits of mind and build connections in gifted families)
- let’s get off the seesaw (false dichotomies)
- hello excuse me, can you tell me where I am? (introducing yourself or your child)
- really actually not dead, and might even be able to blog again
- testing, testing, one, two, three
- coming up for air