In Defense of the Term "Gifted"

There’s no denying that “gifted” is a contentious term.  To some, it implies elitism.  To some, it implies external locus of control leading to a fixed mindset.  To some, it just feels uncomfortable.  And to me, I think the former complaints are bollocks. 

To begin with, all the supposed better replacements are simply inaccurate and lead to furthering the stereotype that all gifted kids perform well at school.  The popular substitute “advanced learners” proves my point.  Many gifted kids do not appear to be advanced learners.  Advanced learners implies someone who excels in our current educational structures and perform above grade level.  Not all gifted kids do.  Many have been categorized as special needs (sometimes appropriately so and sometimes not), or EBD (emotionally or behaviorally disabled/disturbed/disordered).  Many gifted children who have a comorbid learning difference pass as average students because they are not “advanced learners”.

Another favorite of many schools is “high potential”.  Yech.  What does that even mean?!  Can we throw a little more pressure on these kids of ours?  As if little Veronica isn’t anxious and feeling pressured enough, now she’s got to live up to the label of having high potential?  Potential for what?  And how about all the other kids?  “Don’t worry Billy, you’ve just got mediocre potential.  Just aim for the middle.” 

Then there’s “high ability”.  Again, this excludes a vast portion of gifted kids.  Those who are struggling with poverty, trauma, injustices of being a person of color, will be less likely to present as having high ability.  They might be throwing all their ability into surviving day to day, which few of the identifiers actually get to see.  They just see a kid sleeping through class because they were up all night being daddy to their baby sister while their own single dad worked third shift.  And I’ve met many, many kids who are sharp as tacks, but have seemingly low ability due to executive functioning issues, communication disorders, sensory processing issues, learning issues, visual issues, etc.

The biggest issue with all these supposedly great substitutes is that they focus on performance, achievement, the output someone produces.  Giftedness isn’t about performance.  It’s about neurodiversity.  It’s about being wired differently.  It’s about experiencing the world markedly different from the norm.

Here’s the other thing.  It is a gift.  This neurodiverse way of perceiving the world was simply gifted upon me and within me at my birth and before.  There is nothing I have done, my kids have done, my husband has done, the hundreds of kids and adults I’ve worked with have done to earn this or achieve this wiring.  We were gifted with it. 

    1. Give (something) as a gift
    2. Present (someone) with a gift or gifts
    3. Endow with (something)

Whether from a divine source, our parents’ dna, our intrauterine experiences, or some combination of these things or more, we have indeed been gifted with a different way of living this life.  We have been presented with something, endowed with something.  And, just like with real gifts, sometimes we might like it, sometimes we might hate it, sometimes we might wish there was a gift receipt, but either way, it had nothing to do with us.

Nor does what I was gifted have anything to do with anyone else.  The fact that my brother received a weight lifting bench had absolutely no impact, influence, or assigning of worth about the keyboard I received that year.  His gift was his.  My gift was mine.  End of story. 

And that, indeed, is the end of the story.  Giftedness, defended.