Bill of Rights for Gifted Kids


Bill of Rights
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I first saw Melissa Lingen's Gifted Kids Bill of Rights years and years ago when my son was young and frustrated in grade school.  My first thought was that this document should be posted on the wall of every classroom, and not just gifted classrooms. It would serve as a reminder that gifted kids deserve the opportunity to learn and to be treated with the same respect given to other children. Here's an overview of those rights

  1. I have the right to challenge myself
  2. I have the right not to have other people interfere with my learning
  3. I have the right not to be physically or mentally abused for being gifted
  4. I have the right to be looked at as a human being
  5. I have the right to make mistakes
  6. I have the right to ask for help
  7. I have the right to be my age
  8. I have the right not to be forced into your notions of childhood
  9. I have the right to an advocate
  10. I have the right to some privacy

1. I have the right to challenge myself

Girl Looking at Model of Solar System
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"I have the right to challenge myself.  I should realize that my interests and my thoughts are valid and should be pursued.  If you don't limit me, I'm less likely to limit myself."

Gifted children are often held back from pursuing their interests and their desire to learn. I've known gifted children who were reading grade levels above their classmates, but who were not allowed to check out books from the library that were for any grade but their own.  I also heard a parent who refused to allow her child to check out a science book from the library telling the child, "You can't read a science book now.  You're going to study science in school next year."

2. I have the right not to have other people interfere with my learning.

Girl helping other students
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I have the right not to have other people interfere with my learning. I am not a teacher's aide, nor am I the sole source of all group projects--I should not be treated as if I was.

Because gifted kids tend to be ahead of the other kids in class, already know what's in the lessons, some teachers will have the gifted kids act as classroom helpers, which means they will tutor the other kids. 

Some gifted children enjoy tutoring others, but others resent being put in that position.  Most of these kids actually like helping others learn, but they don't like being forced to do it, particularly at the expense of their own learning.

Many classrooms are based on heterogeneous grouping so that gifted kids are placed in different classrooms.  Many teachers like this kind of grouping because they'll believe they will have at least one smart kid who can help the others learn.  Even if gifted kids are cluster grouped so that they are all in one classroom, some teachers will not let them work together. 

Instead, they will create groups with one gifted kids to a group with the idea that the gifted kids will be good role models for the others. What usually happens, though, is that the gifted kids end up doing all or most of the work the whole group is responsible for.

3. I have the right not to be physically or mentally abused for being gifted.

Kids and teacher laughing at gifted student
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I have the right not to be physically or mentally abused for being gifted. If a teacher looks the other way while others taunt me or beat me up, he or she is in the wrong--there is nothing wrong with me for being smart. If a teacher or other authority figure is doing the abusing, it is still wrong, and I have the right to recourse.

I have a hard time understanding how adults can allow any child to be teased and taunted and an even harder time understanding how an adult can be the one to do the teasing and taunting. Yet I know of teachers who have done just that with gifted kids in their classes.

One highly gifted middle school boy I once knew was made fun of in his classroom nearly every day.  The teacher in that classroom did not participate in the teasing, but she allowed an environment to develop in the room that made the teasing possible.  She literally looked the other way whenever that boy was teased by the others.  She never once came to his defense.

Sometimes it's the teachers themselves who do the taunting.  I've known gifted children whose teachers say things to them like, "Oh, you don't know the answer?  So you don't know everything then, do you?" 

4. I have the right to be looked at as a human being.

Unhappy boy looking out a window
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I have the right to be looked at as a human being. Nobody should ever assume that everything in my life is okay just because I'm smart.

Many people assume that gifted kids have no problems. They're smart, so what could be wrong? They are expected to perform, to excel, and to be happy. They aren't expected to fail at anything or need help. They are supposed to be the helpers. And if they don't fit that image, well, then, they aren't really gifted!

But gifted kids are kids. They're human.  And like all humans, they aren't perfect (even if some of them try to be). They make mistakes. They don't have all the answers. And sometimes they are unhappy. Sometimes they have trouble with friends or even making friends. Gifted kids deserve the same kind of respect and attention that all children get. That means that no one should assume that gifted kids need no help, that they'll do just fine on their own. 

5. I have the right to make mistakes

Girl holding
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I have the right to make mistakes. This right I must guard most closely against myself. Chances are pretty good I have always been my own worst critic. I must remember that I am not perfect, and that that's okay.

It's my favorite because so many gifted kids are perfectionists and they need to learn it's okay to make mistakes. Perfectionism can lead to problems , including underachievement, so the last thing we want to do is make kids feel they must be perfect. When we treat gifted kids as though we believe they know all the answers or when we act surprised that they don't know something, we contribute to their feeling that they must be perfect. And when we lavish excessive praise on them because of their abilities and accomplishments, we can be nurturing not their self-esteem, but their perfectionism.

We want to make sure that our children feel good about themselves, even when they aren't perfect!

6. I have the right to ask for help

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People often expect gifted kids to know everything, to be able to figure things out all by themselves, to be just fine on their own. But that's not always true. It's not even true all the time for every gifted child.

I have the right to ask for help. If you cannot help me, don't pretend--try to find someone who can. I learn quickly, but I don't learn by osmosis. Sometimes I will need a hand, and my needs are just as valid as those of students who learn slowly.

This right says it perfectly: gifted kids do not learn through osmosis. It may seem like it sometimes since they do learn quickly and often easily. However, they may need help at times. Some people can feel uncomfortable when a child asks a question they can't answer. Rather than admitting they don't know the answer, they may dismiss the question or they may give an answer that really isn't correct rather than admit they don't know the answer.

Gifted kids can ask a lot of questions.  It's unlikely we'll know the answers to all of them.  It's okay if we don't have all the answers. All we have to do is help the kids find the answers.

7. I have the right to be my age

Little girl pouting
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The seventh right in the Gifted Kids' Bill of Rights is one that parents, not just teachers, need to consider.

I have the right to be my age. If I'm a smart 7-year-old, I'm a smart 7-year-old, not a short 30-year-old.

Because gifted kids have such advanced reasoning abilities, the adults around them can easily forget that they are dealing with a child. That means that when they are interacting with a 6-year-old who can think like a 13-year-old, they expect the child to also act like a 13-year-old. But a gifted 6-year-old is still a 6-year-old. Most 6-year-olds don't have complete control of their emotions and prefer to play rather do household chores.

Thinking like a 30-year-old while acting like a 7-year-old is a result of asynchronous development . This uneven development is quite typical of gifted kids. It's so common that it is one of the identifying characteristics of gifted kids.  Parents, teachers, and others who spend time with gifted kids need to keep in mind that gifted children are still children and should try to avoid expecting more from them simply because the children sometimes appear to be older than they are.

8. I have the right not to be forced into your notions of childhood

Young girl working math equation.
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I have the right not to be forced into your notions of childhood. If I want to be a marine biologist when my classmates want to be firefighters, so be it.

A gifted kids' idea of fun may not be the same as other kids' idea of fun. Not all five-year-olds, for example, want to spend hours studying constellations or reading about presidents or conducting simple science experiments. But for a gifted child, this can be fun. Parents who not only allow, but encourage these activities are told they are "pushing" their children, that they are depriving their children of their childhood.  But this IS the childhood of a gifted child and nurturing a child's interests , whatever they might be, is not pushing.

9. I have the right to an advocate

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I have the right to an advocate. Please remember that the system is skewed against me, for you adults. If you see these rights being violated, speak for me, and help me speak for myself.

The parents of gifted kids that I know did everything they could to get their children an appropriate education. Sometimes they succeeded, but most parents I know didn't. It wasn't for lack of trying, though! Our education seems to be based on a deficit system, which means that teachers tend to focus on a child's areas of weakness, not strengths. If a child has already mastered the material for the grade he's in, then there's nothing left to do! When we advocate for our children, our chances of success increase when we follow some simple tips for talking with the teacher .

The second part of this right is important, too, though. Not only do we need to stick up for our kids' rights, we have to help them learn to stick up for themselves.

10. I have the right to some privacy

Young girl giving presentation in class
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I have the right to some privacy. Not everything I do should be put on a microscope slide just because I'm smart. Let me decide what to share with the world and what to keep.

Too often gifted kids and their work are used as examples for the other kids, often without permission. While using good work as an example seems like a good idea, it often creates resentment. The other kids start to resent the gifted kid for getting attention and excelling, and the gifted kids start to resent being put in that position.

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