I often get asked, “Aren’t all kids gifted in some way?” I suppose you could say that all people have gifts. The word “gifted” is problematic in that way, but the difference between “gifted” kids and “kids with gifts” is that they think differently. They act on information differently, they have an intense internal drive to learn everything they can about any particular topic. They don’t take someone’s word for it, they have to research it for themselves. They are questioners of everything. (I acknowledge the problems with lumping all intellectually “gifted” kids into one category, but for ease of discussion, I have just gone ahead and done it.)
Here is a good example. In the months leading up to the elections, as in many households, the adults were talking about the issues and candidates. But in our household, it wasn’t just the adults. Not only were my kids discussing all the issues and candidates; but they were researching online and doing their own fact checking. My daughter debated each issue in depth and wanted to make sure her parents understood what was at stake when we cast our vote. She came with me to the polling station and said she can’t wait until she can vote. The night of the election, my kids watched the election with the same interest and concern as did my husband and myself.
Did the interest die out after the election was over? No. It was just the beginning. All the questions that arose during the pre-election discussions and research, such as, “What is the electoral college and how does it work?”, or “What is wrong with the First Past the Post voting system?” or “What is gerrymandering?” became the objects of intense research.
My son was really excited when he found that the entire Constitution, all of the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights were available online. And yes, he read them all and has discussed them with me at length. I am embarrassed to admit that I learn more from my kids’ research and discussion than they ever have from me.
When my son finally felt he had a firm grip on our political system and how it works, he moved on to reading diverse opinions about politics in America, trying to understand how “everyone else” thinks. Each topic he explores spins off many more threads to follow, and follow he does. He also remembers most of what he researches, so he becomes a formidable fount of knowledge.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once all the “serious” research is done, the “fun” stuff starts to happen. For example, did you know that Ronald Regan is the only president to have worn a Nazi uniform? (Don’t get to worked up, it was only a costume in a movie.) Or that Chester Arthur changed his pants several times a day? (President Arthur? I didn’t even remember there was a President Arthur!) Or that John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac every morning? How about the Lincoln’s holding Whitehouse séances? Did you know the United States of America was the first country to become independent from a Colonial empire? Or that it is theoretically possible to win an election with only 21.91% of the popular vote? Who knew politics could be so interesting!?*
From past experience, this intense interest in our history and politics will last several weeks, maybe even months, until my son feels he has a thorough understanding of the topic. Then his intellectual efforts will move on to another topic. Perhaps the obsession with knowing all there is to know, the drive to pursue that knowledge, wanting to find information from many resources, doubting and checking the “facts,” and the ability to retain the information are good examples of the difference between how a “gifted” kid thinks and how a kid with “gifts” thinks. It is not that a “kid with gifts” couldn’t do all those things, at some level, they probably could; but they are not driven to do those things. My guess is that most “kids with gifts” would not spend the bulk of their waking hours pursuing information on a given topic for weeks on end. So by all means, let’s celebrate all the gifts our kids possess; but please, can we also recognize that there is a difference between having gifts and being gifted?
*(Look up some of this fun stuff at http://www.usconstitution.net, CGPGrey’s Youtube videos, or Dan Brown’s Youtube videos).