The Cost of Anti-Intellectualism: Hypocrisy & Confusion

You know those rabbit trails of youtube videos that you wander down and find yourself waking up from the droggy blur wondering how you went from checking out the latest Fringy Bit podcast notes to laughing at talking guinea pigs discussing world politics?  Please tell me you know what I’m talking about.  Well, I was on one of those falling down the rabbit hole toward Wonderland mind-numbing journeys when I found I was watching repeated clips from the Ellen Show.

Many of these clips involved cute little intense and fringy kids.  Ellen would ask a question that the adults around couldn’t answer, the child would answer, the audience would applause with amazement, awe, and appreciation. 

Later, I was perusing through facebook and saw articles posted across many feeds (some geared toward gifted kids and some not), exalting the achievement of two young brothers who were finishing high school and college years ahead of the typical schedule.

I logged onto yahoo and saw CNN reports highlighting amazing musicians and young entrepreneurs.

I listened to ReplyAll, a great podcast, and heard an interview with a gifted individual, who as a young child was repeatedly interviewed and thrust into the public eye because he acted like a pint sized adult and gave adult-like responses with adult-like vocabulary.

Aside from seeing that I spend way too much time accessing various types of media, I also saw very clearly just how much we like to glorify the outliers.  We like to highlight and feign awe and support of our gifted kiddos who perform well in some particular area.  And I suppose this is, at least temporarily, nice for the people who are being highlighted and it feels good to be supported, but I find this to be a highly subversive form of anti-intellectualism and to be confusing for the vast majority of our society’s gifted people.

First, it highlights that performance determines value and sends the false message that to be gifted means you have astounding achievement in some area.  It sends the message that we’ll value you, if we can be entertained or amazed by your talent.

Second, it perpetuates the false understanding that to be gifted means to be profoundly gifted.  Yes, profoundly gifted people exist and need recognition and support.  No, most gifted people are not profoundly gifted.  When we only highlight the kids who are graduating from college at 14, we neglect a large segment of the population who are differently wired than the majority of people, but are not as extremely differently wired as the people they see portrayed in media, whether fictional or non-fictional.  I hear so many people minimize their own giftedness because they are comparing themselves to these media standards.  I hear so many people (myself included) who struggle with imposter syndrome because they don’t match up to these intensely intense gifted people.

Third, it creates a performing monkey expectation.  We can easily forget that these little souls are little souls.  They are people.  They are more than their gifts, talents, intelligence, and quirky abilities.  It sets us up to enjoy the performance of the individual and lose the individual and their needs.  One perfect example of this was in the ReplyAll interview.  They played a clip from when the boy was co-hosting an evening talk show and was surprised by something unpleasant.  He experienced full on emotional meltdown right there for the world to see, and couldn’t finish the show.  This surprise had been planned by the show and the powers that be knew that it would be emotional for him.  I just wanted to reach out and hug the poor little guy.

Fourth, the publicized applause and support vastly conflicts with most gifted individual’s daily experiences.  Kids learn very quickly that it’s not cool to be smart.  They learn to hide their abilities to try to fit in.  Many gifted kids get bullied because of their uniqueness.  Gifted kids see money being poured into athletics and not into differentiated services for them.  2e kids especially have a difficult time finding people who understand and appreciate the ins and outs of their unique wiring.  Seeing kids being praised for their uniqueness directly contradicts most of our kids’ personal experiences.  And kids and youth are pre-wired to take these things personally.  They are pre-wired to believe that there must be something wrong with them that they aren’t receiving that same notoriety or support.

I generally believe in the goodness of people and that all people do the best they can with what they know.  I don’t believe that most people who are perpetuating these special interest stories are trying to promote anti-intellectualism or cause confusion for our gifted kiddos.  But, I do think we, as a society, need to figure out how to make some changes.  We need to allow people’s talents and achievements to be encouraged, while also normalizing all levels of giftedness.  We need to close the gap between what we pretend to think about giftedness when the spotlight is lit, and how we actually think about and treat gifted people in real life.


This post is part of an anti-intellectualism series on The Fringy Bit.  Check out the other articles in the series here.