The Problem With the Gifted & Talented Program
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
When I was younger, school always came naturally to me. By the time I was in preschool, I could recite all of my multiplication tables up to 12, and by the time I was in fifth grade, I had memorized at least half of the periodic table. Yes, I was placed in the enrichment program at my elementary school. In fact, I leapt from the English Language Learners (ELL) program, which offered specialized English classes for non-native speakers, to a program for students who were beyond the grade’s standard.
In middle school, my grades were phenomenal; teachers praised me for my work, and I myself believed I was brilliant. This is where the problem unfolds. I rushed on my homework assignments and avoided studying because I thought it was a waste of time. It didn’t matter how much effort I put in because I ended up getting the same grades. But I started to leave big projects to the very last minute. I was forced to sleep at two in the morning not because I was busy with extracurriculars, but mostly because I felt no motivation to complete my work. Thus, I missed out on what middle school really should have been: a time to build strong study habits. I always had a nagging feeling that my terrible work ethic was going to catch up to me. And it definitely happened sooner than I thought.
In freshman year, I enrolled in many rigorous classes since my teachers thought I could handle it. I immediately found myself drowning in projects, tests, and assignments the first week of school. Even after investing hours upon hours of studying for biology, my scores were always below the class average. I ended with three B+’s in the first quarter — a shock that jolted me into reality.
This phenomenon is known as the “gifted kid burnout.” Spire Magazine defines this term as “perfectionism, the subconscious resistance to challenge, and feelings of low self-worth which they attribute to gifted programs in public schools” (Trotter, 2019). Students who are pampered with constant praise as children may have a difficult time adjusting when faced with a new environment. They realize that they are just one among many other high achieving students and start to develop self-esteem issues. The so-called gifted students are so focused on achievements instead of work ethics that they get burnt out: They constantly need to study for school, read for school, to the point where they lose intellectual curiosity. Academic achievements and intellectual curiosity, though both under the same umbrella term, have very different meanings. To earn an award, a student naturally must put in lots of effort. However, excessive focus on achievement can lead to overexertion of effort that comes in limited quantity. Not only is this a problem that many students face, but it is also a testament to the faults in our education system. Instead of underlining sentences we have to memorize, we should be underlining sentences we actually like.
Being caught up in this frenzy of praise and validation of natural intelligence impacts the mental health of students who suffer from "gifted kid burnout." It’s unhealthy to tell kids that their worth depends on how well they perform on standardized tests. In fact, in December of 2019, the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group voted on phasing out the “gifted and talented” project as a whole. They believed that it “perpetuate[s] stereotypes about student potential and achievement” (Potter and Burris, 2019). Intelligence is not a very accurate predictor of success. There are plenty of stories of people who got to where they are because of their sheer effort and hard work. Our education values are in need of change, to favor curiosity and perseverance over competitiveness and achievement.
Potter, Halley, et al. “Should Gifted Students Be In Separate Classrooms?” The Century Foundation, 13 Dec. 2019, tcf.org/content/commentary/gifted-students-separate-classrooms/?agreed=1. Accessed 18 May 2020.
Trotter, Aoife. “Gifted Kid Burnout-Social Media Phenomenon or Mental Health Pandemic?” SPIRE MAGAZINE, 3 Oct. 2019, spiremagazine.com/2019/10/03/gifted-kid-burnout-social-media-phenomenon-or-mental-health-pandemic/. Accessed 18 May 2020.