dys·func·tion /dɪsˈfʌŋkʃən/ [dis-fuhngk-shuhn]–noun
1. Medicine/Medical . malfunctioning, as of an organ or structure of the body. 2. any malfunctioning part or element: the dysfunctions of the country's economy. 3. Sociology . a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm Not Weird, I'm Gifted

For years I had a keychain with those exact words on it: "I'm Not Weird, I'm Gifted". Some novelty piece of garbage that I paid over two dollars for, because it really related to me. It related to how ostracized I felt from the main stream kids, how they viewed us 'gifties' as the elite, geniuses, who thought ourselves better than them.

Sometimes we did.

Please keep in mind that this post is based on MY experiences and opinions, and that I cannot speak for my peers.

Most of our class took the gifted testing during Grade 2 in order to qualify for the gifted program in Grade 3, and then we were told from a very young age that we were special, and more advanced than our main stream peers. You can imagine that this inflated our egos (at least mine) and we used to have a huge sense of animosity towards the main stream kids that we shared our school with. Even more so, towards the French Immersion kids that we shared our buses with.

The Gifted Program was designed to provide a more challenging curriculum to children who had the ability to learn faster than our main stream cohorts. This simple sentence was my defence throughout most of highschool, as I had to defend my stupidity and poor grades to throes of my peers who would snicker and say: "But aren't you gifted?"

"Gifted doesn't mean I'm smart," I'd retort, "it means I have the ability to learn faster. I choose not to use that ability."

Then we'd all laugh at my failures in life and move on.

When we came to school in Grade 3 as students of the gifted program, we were told that things were going to be different. That they were going to change. Before, we were big fish in a little pond; now, we were to be little fish in a big pond...not necessarily the best of our class.

Of course, every class has to have a student at the top, and a student at the bottom. In one swift year I went from being the top of my class in my main stream program, to one of the class clowns with one of the lowest grades in the gifted program. It destroyed my self confidence. It became easier (and a deeply ingrained self-defense mechanism) to laugh off my failures, play the fool, and pretend that grades were not important to me.

When we got to highschool, half of our classes were gifted classes, and the other half of our classes were main stream classes where we were split up and integrated into normal classes with normal kids.

It was terrifying.

I had spent 6 years forming lasting bonds and friendships with the other 'gifties' and quite suddenly I was expected to go out and interact with the kids who had been rude and torturous to us 'gifties' for our entire elementary lives.

We had formed no external social skills. No way to meet new people, fit into different social circles, anything. I relied heavily on my class-clownery to make new friends, and for a while I was successful. I was funny, people liked to spend time with me to hear and see all of the crazy antics I would come up with in the span of a class. Then one day, another giftie happened to mention that she...and I...were gifted students.

I lost half of my friends that day. People just stopped talking to me.

Our "advanced" classes were explained to us as 'teaching us the curriculum for the grade ahead of ours'. In Grade 9 we learned the Grade 10 curriculum; in Grade 10 we learned Grade 11; in Grade 11 we learned Grade 12. And then something happened. The gifted program ended in Grade 11 and in Grade 12 we just relearned our prior year's lessons. We were no further along then our main stream counterparts, except that we had been graded harder and taught faster.

When we all graduated we were awarded our 'gifted certificates' along with our diplomas. I've never even seen mine because my mother took it for 'safe keeping', and then disappeared from my life.

It doesn't matter though, the bloody thing isn't worth anything. Not. One. Thing. Not any extra awesomeness on a potential school application, nothing on a job resume, and not a thing to speak of to people. Worthless.

I look at my kids now and I think: "Big fish, little pond? What is so wrong with being a big fish in a little pond? Why would I want my kids to be put in a position where they could fail? In a position where they could lose self-esteem, social skills, a sense of accomplishment; for nothing?"

Big fish, little pond? Bring it on.


A Beer for the Shower said...

No joke, in school, I pretended to be stupid, so I could fit in with everyone else. I saw that all of the kids who went to the 'gifted' classes were social outcasts that people made fun of, who got nothing special out of it, who usually just had more homework than everyone else. So I learned on my own time, after school.

Also, I hate that word, "gifted." Especially since it's often used to described handicapped people. They need a better word for those classes.

Rae Jeannine said...

I can relate about being different in school. Throughout my K-12 experience I met and kept two friends, both from 8th grade. The rest either talked behind my back about how wierd I was, backstabbed me later, or were pathological liars. I also got teased for being smart, not wearing designer clothes, etc. in addition to the wierd comments.

Going to special Education classes for K-5 (have aspbergers and was intially diagnosed as having high functioning autism) and inclusion classes in addition to regular class in 6 and 7th grade did not help either. Especially since I was often bored in school during that time.

I agree that being different or marked as different makes school a sucky place. Glad that as an adult things are not the same, most of the time.

The Tame Lion said...

I understand, totally.