Re-“Gifted”: Giving My Kids What I Don’t Want

My second grader has reached the second phase of the application process for the Gifted Program and my Good-Bad Dad muscles are pulsating.  Whether you know such a program as “Gifted” or “Extended Learning Program (ELP)” the concept is the same – providing more, different and focused learning to kids that show early educational promise.  In typical GBD fashion, I will try to maximize opportunities for all of my kids.   Completing the process for Gifted admission confirms that I’ll do so even if I wholeheartedly oppose the principles at work with such a program.

Phase Two of the application process is a free-form survey parents are asked to complete.  The survey begins:  “The information you provide is important and may show evidence that your child exhibits some gifted characteristics.”  I can decipher that statement for the non-gifted crowd reading – please explain why your son/daughter should be considered gifted by telling us about the extraordinary ways he/she addresses ordinary situations.

Phase Two: the Gifted Program survey for parents

There are six questions to be answered.  I’ll pick on two to share – answering them as I’d like to (to thumb my nose at the concept) and as a GBD who does not want his child to miss out on an opportunity for advanced learning.  Note that I will be guilty of submitting the latter.

Survey:  “My child finds humor in situations or events unusual for his/her age.”  Give an example.

What I want to say:  Lynden is a complete smart ass.  When he jokes with the other kids they typically don’t laugh – not because he is poking fun at them but because the punchline must be over their heads.

Official GBD response:   Lynden is subtly funny.  He uses humor to diffuse tense situations which emphasizes his ability to be calm during chaos.  He is particularly in tune with employing humor when he finds contradiction between current situations and lessons he’s learned.  His use of humor shows an aptitude to think on this feet and displays his uncanny ability to instantly recall memories.

Survey: “My child is a collector.”  Give an example.

What I want to say:   Lynden’s slingshot collection used to be a concern for us.  We now feel that this collection has helped with his dexterity.  The collection has enabled his leadership skills as he is now teaching his three year old brother how to appropriately line up a target.  We have come to appreciate the precision the slingshots have taught him although the neighborhood rodents do not.

Official GBD response:   Lynden is proud of his Pokémon card collection and takes great care to ensure he knows where all cards are located at all times.  He conscientiously organizes the cards in descending value order so that he can quickly assess his opponent’s strategy, flip the appropriate challenge card and win!  While playing, Lynden can quickly add together large numbers, displaying his excellent math abilities.

The fact that my official responses are well written will give Lynden a better chance of a successful application.  What about those kids selected to test who would not have the same support system at home?  The Phase Two survey feels more like a parental marketing assignment.

My discontent with Gifted Programs is more broad than the Phase Two survey I’m finishing up.  I generally dislike the use of the word “gifted” to describe anyone – especially a subset of kids.  The word is subjective and judgmental.   The label infers that kids in the program have special qualities that were bestowed upon them – qualities that exist only in a select few.

These prerequisite qualities are too often unknown and likely not standardized from school to school, district to district or state to state.  If you happen to be on outside of the program but want in, you can’t even help your kids develop those undefined, predestined characteristics that serve as the measuring stick for acceptance.

When I asked my son about what gifted meant he crystallized my line of thinking, “Dad, it’s a class for smart kids.”  I contend that being “smart” is overrated and over-played as it relates to achievement.  I rate working hard and the propensity to grind as exponentially more important that intelligence in being successful.

With every principle-centered piece of my GBD blood boiling, I am set to fold the Phase Two document into the envelope provided and send it back to the school.  I will expect my son to be accepted but secretly am disgusted at falling in line for a stacked process.  My Good-Bad Dad need to have my son included has trumped my objections to the pillars of the program.

Once the committee assesses my son’s fit for admission, I’ll leave them to convey the importance of being “smart” to him.  I plan to spend my time teaching him to focus on qualities that fuel passion like curiosity, stewardship, companionship, silliness, kindness and self-awareness.



  1. This survey does make it seem like only students with equally gifted parents (at least in writing and the politics of school) will be accepted into the program. Self-perpetuating?

    I was not allowed to be in the gifted program in elementary school because my mother did not like the way the teacher ran her classroom. Thankfully it didn’t seem to hurt me in the long run 🙂 Though I was sad when I was in a class separate from all my friends.

    • Tobin Walsh

      There is no doubt that a well spoken guardian would help in the process. I have no idea how much weight the survey holds but can assume that it very well may serve as the “tie-breaker” if the child is borderline.

  2. Katy

    Great article. I hate that kids need a good home advocate to “get ahead” and yet I’m unwilling to let my own kids be the sacrificial lamb by refusing to play the game, even if I don’t like the game.

    • Tobin Walsh


      So good to see your name on the blog! This is one of the topics I could fill pages with – the gap that exists at the lowest levels of schools as a result of what you call a “home advocate”. That is sad and creates a defeated mindset way too early on.

  3. Bev Watson

    It’s possible to be “gifted” in many different ways, a leader is gifted, a sport hero is gifted, a musician is gifted, an artist is gifted . . . are all of these in your programs?


    • Tobin Walsh

      Interesting point but I’m not sure I know the answer. The difference to me is that when you’re a great musician or athlete (ie: a Watson) those are proven on the field or in the concert hall for everyone to see. The Gifted Programs use subjective criteria that does not clarify how a kid is selected or rejected.

  4. (I apologize in advance for the novel. I had a lot of thoughts on this and hope that I can help address some of your concerns.)
    J is in gifted and I admit, I had initial reservations about putting him in there. I grew up in gifted programs, loving the learning experiences it afforded me, but irritated at times by the expectations placed on me due to the misconceptions of others as to what “gifted” means. The reality is gifted has more to do with aptitude and ability and less to do with honor roll student status. I grew up having the word “potential” shoved down my throat, to the point I rebelled in high school and ended up flunking a class. Or two.
    When J started school, I didn’t set out to have him placed in gifted. I was going to just “let him be.” Until I saw the classroom setting he was in and realized he needed and deserved more. I had to overcome my personal prejudices based on certain experiences I had and remember that having him in the program is allowing his educational needs to be met. Gifted education falls under Exceptional Student Education, as do education programs for those with learning or physical disabilities. Gifted students aren’t “better” than other students, just as those with disabilities aren’t “worse” than other students; they’re all just students who are “exceptions” to what is considered a “typical” student and have certain aspects of their development and growth that need addressed and not just in relation to education. And, in fact, it’s possible for a student to be gifted and have a learning disability, one of many misconceptions about gifted kids. I agree that the term “gifted” is a loaded term, due to the many misconceptions about it. When I was in school, the gifted program was called QUEST, an acronym based on the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
    At our kids’ school, it’s just referred to as GP, which I appreciate if for no other reason than the use of the word “gifted” being kept to minimum. And, should your son end up in GP, I can vouch for the teacher and the program. She does a wonderful job addressing the “whole” child, promoting a sense of community within the class while respecting them as individuals, engaging and challenging them intellectually, nurturing the both the strengths and the traits of GP kids that might need work (like organizational skills), and encouraging them to be good citizens. The GP curriculum includes a yearly “Project of Worth”, which is a service-based project. It allows them the opportunity to develop leadership skills, nurture problem solving abilities, grow their capacity for empathy, and teach the importance of giving back and helping others. I love, love, LOVE that this is a part of the curriculum! J. did a project that raised money for a local homeless shelter, which led to us taking a tour of their campus, which led to both of us becoming volunteers there after his project was completed. It’s been amazing and I’m so proud of him, as is he.
    (And as far as that parent survey, which is only one of three or four parts of the evaluation packet, I bet it would be HILARIOUS to read some of them. I tried to be down-to-earth and honest about J’s strengths and weaknesses, since I didn’t want to sell him as some “boy wonder” and feed the stereotypes. Yet while many of us believe our little snowflakes are “oh so special”, you know some parents believe their precious snowflakes are even MORE EXTRA special. Combine that with the misconception that “gifted” = “more special + smarter + better than” and I’m sure you get some fantastic tall tales of the extraordinary intellectuals feats their little Einsteins are performing!)

    • Tobin Walsh


      Thanks for reading and commenting. You provide a very interesting perspective from the “inside looking out.” I agree that the enrichment kids in this programs get is tremendous. I agree that the teachers are well-meaning when they urge kids to apply them. I have no issue with parents looking for more out of their kids and deciding that applying to gifted is the way to go. We’re all trying to be the best version of way to parent.

      That said, I have a real issue with two things. First, the process would stack the deck against kids who do not have a home advocate. Secondly, the process seems secretive and too “black-box” for me. The school should publish the criteria. The ambiguity creates the idea in kids that gifted is a special endowment – that those kids are somehow better. This is particularly true of kids that got passed over and have no idea why.

      I truly appreciate the comment and respect your opinion. As I typically say in various places, we’re all giving max effort for our children and this example is no different.

      • I agree with you about home advocacy. When I was still teaching (and before I had kids of my own), I always told my friends with concerns about their kids and/or their schools that NO ONE is going to advocate for their kids as well as they can. Yes, referrals to this program, as well as other ESE programs, can come from the teachers, but they can’t be responsible for identifying all our kids’ individual needs. It’s why we need more support for families, especially lower socio-economic families. Parents can’t participate as effectively in, much less advocate for, their kids’ educational needs when struggling to meet basic needs of food, shelter, and safety. Florida DOE has indicated that districts and schools need to do more to screen for gifted and identify gifted students in underrepresented populations. I suspect, however, that it’s towards the bottom of the long list of things we rely on our schools to do for our kids.

        I also agree with you that the process and criteria regarding services for our kids could be more transparent. Before J was in gifted, he was in speech for two years and that was another long, drawn-out process of screening, tests, surveys, meetings, etc. Both of these programs took six months from initial screening to entrance. One thing I’d point out here is that the administration of any of these services, be it speech, gifted, special ed, etc., is that there has been a NEED demonstrated in the evaluation process. I think where a problem lies with the gifted program is that it gets misunderstood and viewed as a sort of “merit-based” program, whereby students might somehow be able to work harder or perform better in order to gain entry. If a child doesn’t end up in a particular program, it simply means that the NEED wasn’t demonstrated according to the criteria established. It’s back to that “gifted doesn’t mean ‘better than’, anymore than special education means ‘worse than’ other students.” I think if that were stressed more (again, back to transparency), I think it could help with the misconceptions about what being in the gifted program means, and you would no longer have parents striving to get their kids in it anymore than they would to get their kids into a speech class unless needed. I also believe it would eliminate parents feelings that their kids somehow didn’t “stack up” to those who do end up in the program.
        Now, having said all that, the pros and cons of IQ testing is most certainly a discussion for another day. Also, I don’t know if you received this since your son’s teacher referred him, but I included a link to the “Characteristics Checklist and Needs Justification” form she would’ve filled out as part of his evaluation packet to be submitted as well. I personally think the parent AND teacher should fill out one of these rather than just the adult who referred the student.
        If your son does end up in the program, I know J will be thrilled. He loves the class and would be excited to have another friend in there.
        Also, I love your blog. I appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness about this shared adventure of parenting and look forward to reading more from you.

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