Forced To Be A Schoolboy

Recently, a parent of one of my newly enrolled students told me his son had been intellectually starved at a past school. He told me that one school day morning, his 8-year-old son woke up and through tears proclaimed, “Born to be a scientist, forced to be a school boy.”

That statement so powerfully captures the struggle that most 2e children go through every day they are in schools that don’t work for them. They have exquisitely complex brains that rarely get the opportunity to think deeply and creatively. According to Dr. Miracia Gross, an eminent researcher on exceptionally gifted persons, children with profound giftedness waste virtually all of their time in a traditional classroom. They are not allowed to work to their full capacity.

Our education system has been stripped of most of the complex curriculum, whittled down to math and English test preparation, homogenized history, and hands-off science. No longer are children asked to consider deep topics such as philosophy or the origins of language. Nor do they get to truly experiment with science or discover nature. There is no place for freely dancing or drawing or daydreaming. Our children are starving, hollowed out by a diet of junk education. It is a tragedy of epic proportions that is creating a generation of people who will not know how to think freely or create change. Why can’t we educate our children so they don’t have to choose between their passions and their education? We need a system that will allow a school boy to be a scientist.


Bucking the Status Quo

I have never been a conformist and have beat my head against many bureaucratic brick walls. I’m pretty sure there were plenty of teachers, administrators, professors, and supervisors who were happy to see the door hit me on the way out. But I have always believed that institutions should be grafting in divergent thinkers, not weeding them out with biased protocols. How else can you disrupt the status quo? But that is the problem with the status quo, they are the ones in power.

When you are a child, adults are the status quo. They decide what is important to learn, what is acceptable behavior, and what constitutes success. In my experience, conformity causes suffering. If you don’t believe me, just watch a differently-abled learner try to succeed in a traditional classroom.

Why can’t children determine how, what, and why they learn? We are not privy to their world as adults. We don’t know what skills they will need to be successful in a world not yet formed. Why do adults feel we have the right to dictate what is important to learn?

Maslow has long been recognized for his hierarchy of needs theory, a five stage model of human growth that is divided into basic needs: physiological, safety, love, and esteem; followed by growth needs, whereby people are motivated to reach the highest level of self-actualization. In The Farther Reaches of Nature, Maslow (1971) discusses a society where people have a high synergic relationship to one another and help each other reach the highest and most inclusive levels of human consciousness. In this book, Maslow describes the ideal college to help people self actualize. Just imagine if we substituted the word “college” for “school” and taught our children utilizing Maslow’s recommended educational model!

“In the ideal college [school], there would be no credits, no degrees, and no required courses. A person would learn what he wanted to learn…In the ideal college [school], intrinsic education would be available to anyone who wanted it—since anyone can improve and learn…The ideal college [school] would be a kind of educational retreat in which you could try to find yourself; find out what you like and want; what you are, and are not, good at. People would take various subjects, attend various seminars, not quite sure of where they were going, but moving toward the discovery of vocation, and once they found it, they could then make good use of technological education. The chief goals of the ideal college [school], in other words, would be the discovery of identity, and with it, the discovery of vocation” (Maslow, 1971, pp. 182-183).

Visiting Dreams

This is the season for resolutions, we are seeking to fix flaws and change our lives. It is our human qualities that make us want to compare, judge, control, and aspire. We can be hard on ourselves, and on our children.

We tell them from an early age what is expected of them, what we fear for them, and how we want them to comply. We are trying to help them become successful, functional, and fulfilled. They are swamped by our own fears and desires.

We mean well, but considering that our children are becoming ever more stressed, anxious, depressed, and suicidal; shouldn’t we to take a real look at how we raise and educate our children? It is time to let go of our agenda, our need to control, and our desire for compliance.

How would our collective lives change if we allowed children to trust their own instincts and feed their curiosity? What if they could be free to learn what they want in the way they feel most comfortable? How would they grow if we trusted their ability to explore their own destiny? What if we gave them the message that they are perfect beings, fully capable of bringing their future to fruition.

This year, let’s give our children the gift of unconditional love and support as they determine what they need to make their own futures. As Kahlil Gibran said, “You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

Life Advice

Advice for 2e Adults

Many 2e adults are still struggling to figure themselves out. They often have depressing memories of how confused, frustrated, and ostracized they felt as children. These memories may continue to impact their lives as they mature. The adult world can be just as harsh and judgmental as it was when they were children; but they now have the added burden of needing to compete in the job market, be functional in relationships, and responsible for others. This is tough for any adult, but for someone who has always struggled to assimilate, it can be overwhelming. I can offer the following advice to help you figure out how to make your multi-faceted self fit into that round hole we call life.

Learn about twice exceptionality. Understand why you feel and behave the way you do.

Be your authentic self. Many 2e persons have difficulty fitting into “typical” social expectations. Allow yourself to create a life that may fall outside of societal norms. It is important that you feel comfortable and able to live according to your own wants and needs.

Embrace both your abilities and disabilities. People often see the disabilities more than the abilities, and that can prevent them from reaching their full potential. Disabilities should be accommodated, but should not be your only focus. Your abilities need to be acknowledged and nurtured too.

Don’t underestimate your abilities, 2e people frequently evaluate their competence based on their disabilities, which can lead to underachievement, disengagement, and depression.

Find your niche. Your passions and talents will be best utilized if you stay connected to what you love and find a way to build your life around those passions.

Find a group of friends who are kindred spirits and have intellectual synergy. It is important to be with those who understand your humor, share your passions, forgive your quirks, and allow you to be yourself.

Be your own advocate. Seek good professional support, but trust your own instincts too.

Accept that many “typical” school and work situations may not be a good fit. Twice exceptional people often reject expectations that feel meaningless to them. It is critical that you allow yourself to be autonomous, even if it means rejecting the status quo. Being an entrepreneur or finding a way to be self-employed may be a good choice for 2e people.

Embrace your intensity. Don’t let others denigrate your feelings and experiences.

Don’t expect to be brilliant all the time. Allow yourself to have periods of rest and reflection.

You don’t have to be well rounded. It is your right to pursue your passions with singular focus.

Others may have difficulty understanding your drive, moods, ideas, sensitivity, and intensity. Try to understand others’ perspective, but don’t give up your essential core to fit their expectations. Don’t dumb yourself down to fit in.

Many twice exceptional people are great at starting projects, but poor finishers. Sometimes it is because they have too many competing ideas, or they don’t feel they can produce what they see in their mind, or they are afraid they will disappoint themself or others. Work to build your self-efficacy and resilience, both will help you push through those anxieties.

Don’t give in to perfectionism, it will cripple your ability to pursue your work to completion.

Understand that you are essentially an asynchronous being. You will always have areas where you are far below “normal” and areas where you are far above. Your intellect, imagination, spontaneity, inquisitiveness, enthusiasm, sensitivity, impatience, and emotionality are an integral part of your make up, but are often out of sync with the world around you. You may not move through typical adult stages of life at the same time, or in the same manner, as “normal” people do.

Childhood struggles with twice exceptionality can be crippling, but they do not need to have the same impact on your adult life. You have more opportunity to avoid unhealthy situations and expectations as an adult. While you may continue to feel out of sync with others, you have more control over your life.

High cognitive abilities can lead to success, but can also lead to intense frustration if you are unable to fulfill your expected potential. You may have to reject society’s achievement-bound definition of success in order follow your passions.

Don’t let your intensity destroy intimacy. Build your ability to see another’s perspective and approach relationships with empathy, for yourself and for others.

Find a way to give back and help others. You have the capacity to see things others may not notice, utilize your unique vision to contribute to your community.

Stay tuned to your own developmental pace, but make sure you continue to progress throughout your life. There is always something more you can to do enrich your connections, accomplish your goals, and make a difference in the world.

Twice exceptional people don’t just march to a different drummer, they hear a whole new rhythm section. The world needs to hear that beat, it is the sound of visionary progress. – Dr. Hayes

School Trauma?

Yesterday I was asked by a parent of a twice-exceptional (2e) child if there was such a thing as school trauma. This was from a parent whose child reported that every day at school was a “living hell.”

Even if a 2e child manages to escape bullying, which is highly unlikely, as 2e children are bully magnets due to their differences. They still must spend their days in a classroom that is not designed to support their needs.

They often endure stultifying boredom, as nearly all of their time is wasted on going over material they already know; but often they are unable to demonstrate their knowledge because there are no accommodations for their dis/abilities.

Most 2e children’s intellect allows them to compensate for their weaknesses, so they often look like an average or underachieving child to their teachers and administrators. In many instances they are reprimanded for not turning in homework, doing messy work, not following instructions, and not completing assignments. Often these “failures” are due to fine motor skill issues, executive functioning issues, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or a host of other undiagnosed dis/abilities.

Moreover the sensory dysfunction that many 2e children endure: extreme sensitivity to their environment, including classroom or playground noise, or visually over stimulating classrooms, can be debilitating. It’s no wonder that many of these children view traditional school as torture.

Add to that their perfectionistic tendencies, asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, and their ability to see through much of the administrative and bureaucratic nonsense that is part of our typical public schools, and you have a recipe for disengagement, strife, and drop out.

There seem to be two main ways 2e children respond to this toxic environment, I call them the “exploders” and the “imploders.”

The exploders are the major behavior problems in the classroom, the defiant kids, the class clowns, the kids who run away, the kids who flip out and throw something.

The imploders are the ones who quietly check out and withdraw from all intellectual pursuits and social interactions.

Both of these responses are equally dangerous. The exploders are often labeled as emotionally disturbed and treated accordingly. The imploders may become depressed and even suicidal. Both imploders and exploders are seen as difficult, damaged children and parents are blamed for their failure to raise children who will comply with the school rules.

On the flip side, 2e children are also disciplined for their strengths. They are told to refrain from answering questions about topics they know, because they are taking away other student’s opportunities to learn. Or they are scolded for being disrespectful if they correct a teacher’s misinformation or incorrect instruction. Many 2e students are mocked by their peers for their knowledge and ostracized for being too smart.

We acknowledge that events in which an individual has been abused can cause emotional harm and even disorders such as post traumatic stress syndrome. Yet we have been turning a blind eye to the emotional, physical, and intellectual distress of the majority of our 2e students as they struggle through their days in a typical school environment. Is there such thing as school trauma? Yes, tragically, unequivocally, YES! And 2e children are paying the price for the ignorance about twice exceptionality and the bureaucratic disregard for their needs.

Has your child been traumatized by traditional school? At Big Minds we incorporate mindfulness and prioritize connection with our students so they can feel safe to enjoy learning. Contact us today!

Motivating Students

One of the central tenets of teaching is motivating students to learn; but our success rate has not been very good. This seems odd, considering that research has shown nearly all children are born with an innate desire to learn. Babies do not have to be bribed to learn to speak or walk. A preschooler won’t require a treat to encourage her to look at a book. Kids don’t have to coerce each other into learning a new game. Children are natural learners who possess an innate curiosity which motivates them to learn.

So what happens to this intrinsic motivation when the children start school? Why do teachers have to jump through hoops to convince students to do their work? Parents, teachers, and administrators are continually seeking solutions to this ever-present problem. Every year publishers hope to find a new curriculum or program they can tout as the latest educational solution to student motivation. Millions of dollars are spent, rather unsuccessfully, on motivating children to engage in learning.

It is the fantasy of every teacher to have excited, engaged students. Picture a classroom full of students who are so busy learning that they don’t have time to misbehave. Imagine kids who can’t wait to get home to do their homework. What would parents do with all their time if the nightly homework battles were eliminated? What would happen if grades and tests mattered less than real learning? Is such a scenario possible?

Perhaps this will happen if adults can shift their perspective. Instead of telling kids how and what they should learn, maybe it is time to ask them what they want to learn and how they want to go about it. Sugata Mitra*, the inventor of Cloud School, calls this approach, “self-organized learning” and believes it could revolutionize education. His approach is about providing ideas that spark curiosity, encouraging kids to ask questions, then standing back to let them figure it out with their peers. Students are taught how to search for answers, collaborate for solutions, and motivate others to help problem-solve. His “Cloud School” experiments, have demonstrated just how intellectually motivated children are when given the time, freedom, and tools to learn.

Cameron Herold*, a highly successful entrepreneur, believes our schools crush curiosity and discourage risk taking. He thinks schools should stop focusing all their time and efforts on their students’ failures. Instead, he believes teachers should help each student identify their own passions and strengths. Then they should connect their students to resources that would help them excel in those areas. Our children will live in a world that is very different from ours. If we teach to maintain the status quo, we cannot prepare them for the future. How can we expect our children to solve the problems of tomorrow if we disconnect them from their ability to question, explore, imagine, and invent?

Ken Robinson* has made it his life’s work to bring creativity back into our schools. He believes that the past focus on teaching to the test has squandered the talents of millions of children. Our school system has tried to teach children as if they were a uniform product, rather than diverse individuals. This model focuses on conformity and achievement in a narrow field of study. Consequently, many children have lost interest in learning. Robinson believes we have a culture of compliance that sacrifices our children’s talents. “All kids have tremendous talents — and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.” The role of teachers should be to mentor, stimulate, facilitate, provoke, and engage. Robinson believes if you spark curiosity, and give children the resources to explore, they will learn without too much further assistance. “One of the roles of education is to awaken and develop powers of creativity.”

Kiran Ben Sethi’s* Riverside School in India does just that. She has thrown out traditional schooling to focus on a “contagious” educational experience where learning is designed by the children and takes place in the real world. She asks, “When are we going to wake up and recognize the potential that resides in each child? When will you include the child?” Her approach takes children through a journey that builds awareness of what needs to be changed, teaches them to be open to being changed, and eventually empowers them to lead the change. Kiran asked children across India to pick one problem or idea that is important to them and figure out a way to take meaningful action, and they did. She reports that children were designing solutions for a diverse range of problems, everything from loneliness to adult illiteracy to plastic bag recycling. The children found ways to tackle big problems and change lives. They discovered what moves them to action, what skills they possess which enable them to take action, and the sweet joy of seeing their efforts bear results. Children are a powerful force.

Allison Gopnik*, a psychologist whose research has recently shown the sophisticated learning and decision-making of babies, states that, “Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species.” Kids are driven to figure out the world. Innate curiosity, restlessness, and unwillingness to accept the status quo are a student’s best assets, and a teacher’s best friend. It is time for educators to tap into that natural drive and help children reach their full potential.

That is the goal of my interest-based learning center lab, Big Minds Unschool. Here, a small group of twice-exceptional children are free to design their day, select their activities, and socialize freely. I facilitate student-selected projects that are based on their genuine interests. They are encouraged to dream, play, take chances, build, and explore. According to Socrates, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” I believe we need to give kids enough kindling to get them started and then stand back while they build a mighty bonfire.

(*To find out more about these projects, go to: TED Talks

The Best Gifted Myths of 2012

Here is the gifted version of “The Year’s Best” lists. The following are the best myths about giftedness that I have heard in 2012:

  • Gifted kids are not asynchronous in their development or abilities.
  • Gifted means gifted in ALL areas.
  • Acceleration is not good for gifted children because they will be too young to enter puberty at the same time as their classmates.
  • Children who are ahead in Kindergarten are not gifted, they are just early learners; the other kids will “catch up” by third grade.
  • All gifted kids read early and want to read all the time.
  • The “most gifted” children are gifted in math and science.
  • If your child is not academically inclined, they are not gifted.
  • If your child speaks like an adult, they must also possess the logic and reasoning skills of an adult.
  • Children cannot be learning disabled and gifted.
  • Gifted children are very mature for their age.
  • A child with advanced intellectual ability simply would not also delight in fart jokes.
  • Gifted children are always the product of gifted parents.
  • Your gifted child will be intellectually challenged in the classroom, because the school has a policy which supports differentiation for every child.
  • If your child cannot speak well or write well, that is evidence that he or she is not gifted.
  • Giftedness is the result of overly motivated parents who started flash carding their kids early on.
  • Any academic endeavor is easy for gifted kids.
  • Gifted kids need to do rote practice drills just like everyone else
  • There is no such thing as a “gifted underachiever.”
  • Gifted students are easier to teach.
  • Gifted children have an innate desire and ability to be peer tutors.
  • Your kid couldn’t possibly be gifted because she or he does (or doesn’t)…
  • Private schools will provide an appropriate education for gifted kids.
  • IQ tests can definitively identify all of your gifted child’s abilities (or disabilities).
  • Giftedness can’t be identified until third grade.
  • “Gifted” is elitist.
  • Your kid can’t be gifted because I quizzed them about ____ and they didn’t have the answers.
  • All children are gifted.
  • Gifted children learn the same way “normal” children do.
  • Your child is too young to learn about…
  • Taking gifted kids out of the school system is unfair because it will lower overall test scores and make it harder for the school to get funding.
  • Gifted children don’t get bullied any more often than any other group of kids.
  • All gifted children learn the same way and a “gifted curriculum” will work well for all of them.
  • Perfectionism is not a problem for gifted kids.
  • Giftedness is a harbinger of success in all endeavors.
  • Children should progress through school with their age mates, because otherwise, how will they find friends?
  • Your child is refusing to do the worksheet because he or she doesn’t know how, not because he or she is sick of the same boring work.
  • All parents overestimate their children’s intelligence and abilities.
  • Gifted children should be kept in school to be socialized, otherwise they won’t be able to relate to “normal” children.
  • Revealing to your child that she or he is gifted will cause social maladjustment.
  • GATE is enough.
  • Boredom never hurt anyone.

Happy New Year everyone. Hope 2013 brings you all a little less of the aforementioned #$*%&@ and a little more grace and compassion from those around you.