Why Gifted Parents Are Such Advocates for Their Gifted Children
Demanding the best for all kids
I have worked with parents of gifted children over twenty years in my career as an educator. I have had many good conversations, with an occasional bad one. When the bad ones do occur, it is usually not something personal against me that has this parent riled up. It is because at its root, gifted parents, like most parents, simply want what is best for their child.
Think about it from the parents’ perspective for a moment. Here is this little soul they have cultivated and cared for however many years the child has been around. They have interacted with this child more than anyone else on the planet, seen the good, the bad, the ugly. They are also probably more aware of this child’s potential than anyone else. They have seen what this child is capable of and want him to be put into an environment in which that potential can be reached. They want what is best for their child and why shouldn’t they. I’ve always maintained that if you cannot advocate for your own child, who can you advocate for.
School systems, no matter how many times they claim to be working for the individual child, has to think in terms of the system. The easiest way to do this is not to think of children as individuals with particular wants, needs, and personalities. The easiest way to think of them is as a nameless, faceless entity that falls into a very specific grouping. Because of this, schools make many group decisions. These are decisions that are for the betterment and advantage of the group. But what undoubtedly happens is that those students who fall into the outlier category get overlooked.
To provide an example, in order to qualify for our gifted ELA course at the junior high, students must have a gifted identification in reading as well as a cut score for cognitive. If a student has the gifted reading identification but is below the cut score, she is not considered for the program. We do this because we only so many qualified teachers to run the course as well as class size limitations. Neither one of these has anything to do with the individual student, but realistically it has to do with the system we are working within. In a perfect world, every student gifted in reading would be provided an opportunity to participate in the class. In an even more perfect world, we would take into consideration those students who have not been identified as gifted, but are hard workers and have the grit to be successful in the class, probably having a better chance than those who are gifted but are not particularly hard workers. This would require the district to take each student on a case by case basis and involve a lot of criteria, much of which can be argued as being subjective. In a nutshell, it would be very difficult to do and in the end, you would have outliers there as well whose parents would want to advocate for them.
Why are parents of gifted children such advocates for their children?
1. Parents of gifted students have to hear the complaints from their child how they are bored and not challenged. No one likes a whining child but how many alarm bells are tripped when your child says they want to be challenged or given more difficult work but are not? Your child is essentially telling you they want to learn more at school but are not being provided with the opportunity.
2. Their involvement in their child’s life might be part of the reason their child is gifted. If the parent reads to the child every night, takes her on trips to the art museum, or visits historic places for vacations, all of these experiences are going to give the child an advantage. Because the parent is so involved, this has a positive effect on the achievement of the child because they realize someone at home cares about what they are doing academically.
3. Gifted students typically do not get a lot of attention from school districts. Some districts may not even provide any services for high ability students. In some cases, the only way gifted students are going to get any sort of attention or funding is because the parents have voiced their displeasure.
4. These parents more than likely are gifted themselves and know what school can be like for those who do not receive services. They might remember being bored in class themselves or not being given opportunities to show how academically gifted they were. This frustration carries over to their own child who they may see at home doing amazing and creative activities, and yet when he goes to school, he is taking a major step back, having to learn the basics of things he has shown mastery of for years.
5. Who would not want what is best for their child? As parents, we spend our entire adult lives trying to provide what is best for our children. Because of this, we want to ensure our children get every opportunity that is afforded to them. For the gifted parent, this includes school. They want to ensure that their child is getting the best education possible.
Here is the real challenge though. Although I encourage parents to be advocates for their children and try to get every advantage possible, we as educators have to be advocates for those who do not have one. I would not want a student to get consideration for a program just because the parent complains to the district office and in order to placate them, they put the child in, while another student who did not have a parent who was aware they could advocate, does not receive the same advantage.
It is very important as the teacher that you realize no matter how unreasonable a parent seems, no matter how demanding, or how much extra work this parent’s requests seem to be making for you, they are doing so for the benefit of their child, not to the detriment of you. The best way to approach this is to assure the parent that you too have their child’s best interest in mind.