Monday, September 14, 2009

To Label or not to Label? - that is the question.

A mother walked into my art center last week looking to sign up her daughter for an art class. As she began to talk to me about her daughter, who had been tested and labeled as "gifted" with a high IQ, she was relieved to find an understanding ear. You see I too raised a "gifted" daughter who went to a wonderful, fully funded, gifted program, school in Palm Beach County, FL. However, when we moved back to my home town of Billerica, there was very little offered in the schools and town in the arts to stimulate her "gifted" creativity, so I ended up sending her to Mass. Art in Boston each summer as she went through her high school years. This was a big part of my reason for opening up Colleen Sgroi Gallery & Art Classes. I wanted to offer a place for the gifted and artistically creative out here in the burbs.

So what is giftedness and is it helpful to label a "gifted" person?

According to, Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D. the Director of the Gifted Development Center, It is developmental advancement that can be observed in early childhood. But the child doesn't advance equally in all areas. As she asks what happens after you die and “How do we know we aren't part of someone else's dream?” she still can't tie her shoes! An eleven-year-old highly gifted boy gets off the plane with his calculus book in one hand and his well-worn Curious George in the other. The higher the child’s IQ, the more difficulty he or she has finding playmates or conforming to the lock-step school curriculum. The greater the discrepancy between a child's strengths and weaknesses, the harder it is for him or her to fit in anywhere.

Ms. Kreger goes on to say, Gifted children and adults see the world differently because of the complexity of their thought processes and their emotional intensity. People often say to them, “Why do you make everything so complicated?” “Why do you take everything so seriously?” “Why is everything so important to you?” The gifted are “too” everything: too sensitive, too intense, too driven, too honest, too idealistic, too moral, too perfectionistic, too much for other people! Even if they try their entire lives to fit in, they still feel like misfits. The damage we do to gifted children and adults by ignoring this phenomenon is far greater than the damage we do by labeling it. Without the label for their differences, the gifted come up with their own label: “I must be crazy. No one else is upset by this injustice but me.”
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D says, Gifted children often lose interest in school because they're bored. They don't always get top grades because they think in unconventional patterns. Gifted adults can be misunderstood. Those who read books like Jacobsen's The Gifted Adult often feel relieved: "Finally, someone understands where I'm coming from!"
However, according to Patrick Welsh of the Washington Post, of all the labels that we give students, none seems more absurd -- and few more destructive. When we apply this label to a tiny group of children, we are in effect saying that the rest are ungifted and untalented. We're denigrating hard work and perseverance, telling children that no matter how much effort they put forth, they just can't measure up to their special peers.

We all seek to be understood and for me, as a mother raising a "gifted" child, understanding her giftedness helped me to not only understand her, but also to enjoy her.

To label or not to label?

My conclusion:
As long as it works to promote greater awareness in understanding and serving our children call them “gifted”.
Otherwise simply call them “loved”.

Colleen Sgroi is the owner of Colleen Sgroi Gallery & Art Classes on 12 Andover Road in Billerica.