When I was a child, at five years old, I was labelled “gifted.” In kindergarten, I was pulled out of my classroom and transported to another school, a few miles away, to attend a MG (mentally gifted) program once or twice a week. I was the youngest child in the program, too young, in fact, to be able to get on the yellow schoolbus with the other kids from my school. I remember that my pastor from church would come and pick me up and take me.
At my elementary school, I was an academic star. After kindergarten, I skipped the first grade; I remember the day when during an art project the principal came to my first grade classroom during the first week of school, told me to gather my things, and took me to another room. It was a second/third grade split room, but there were only about five second graders and the rest were third graders. During the rest of my years there, through the fifth grade, I did things that the other children weren’t allowed, or didn’t get an opportunity, to do. I participated in science fairs, but I remember doing the project in the vice-principal’s office, making my three panel board on the table in her office. I wrote a poem, that my mother still has, and performed it at a city-wide Blue Ribbon assembly, when I was in the fourth grade, talking about the different things I wanted to be when I grew up, which colleges I would attend. And the kicker was that when I graduated from the fifth grade, the mayor sent a representative to the graduation and I received a citation from the city. My mother still has that too.
For middle school and high school, I went to Masterman, a public magnet school for “gifted” kids. At that time, I believe that admission was based on city-wide test scores, a test that all students in the city took. I consistently scored in the 99th percentile. At Masterman, I wasn’t an academic star anymore, in that I wasn’t the best. For some kids, that leads to this great identity crisis, but honestly that was okay with me; I just kept doing me. Maybe because my parents never made a big deal out of me being “gifted.” I was just encouraged to be me, and gifted was just a part of what that was. I was still really good at what I was really good at. I was a balanced kid – I sang and had lots of friends, I worked and had other demons to face. When it was time for college, the giftedness came out again; my SAT scores were in the 90+ percentiles and they were exactly the same, both math and english. I went to Penn on a full scholarship but again wasn’t an academic star; I didn’t have straight A’s and academics were not on the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t until my last year when I wanted to graduate with honors that I decided that grades were really important, so I buckled down and got straight A’s that last year. But what I was really proud of were all the university wide awards I won that had little to do with grades – I was a leader who everyone knew.
But now I’ve been rethinking this whole gifted thing, now with my own children. Determining who is gifted and who isn’t is like a whole industry now, with three and four year olds taking intelligence tests. I’ve never taken an IQ test, except for those on the internet, so I have no idea how I’d score. But to get into a “gifted” program nowadays, I’d have to subject my children to IQ tests, personality tests, and a whole bunch of other tests. What if their IQ right now (since we know intelligence can grow) is not above a certain cut off? Would I feel differently about them? Would IQ scores even capture giftedness anyway, and not just parent’s education and preparation?
I don’t remember what the impetus was for my mother to push for me to be put in a gifted program. I doubt that I was disruptive in class, indicating that I was bored with what was going on. I think I knew how to read by 4, and Ahmir is starting to read now. If most kids don’t know how to do that, is that a reason to suspect giftedness? Children of color are seriously under identified when it comes to giftedness – is that a reason to have my children evaluated? And is giftedness something more than heightened intelligence, something that cannot be taught or grown, something that really is innate and can be identified? Is giftedness more than just being “smart”?