Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I knew I was different, as do most gifted kids — or indeed other kids with learning differences. I was fortunate enough to always be able to make friends, and even had a best friend. But in general, my educational experiences in elementary school were under par.
From grades three through five, I was teased at school. I had friends, but there were a few kids (for some reason, 8-10 year olds can be merciless) who enjoyed targeting the kid who daydreamed all the time. Teachers didn’t know what to make of me. I wasn’t interested in classwork, rarely did homework, and stared out the window a lot. I also wrote short stories that were at the high school level. However, I was simply designated as an uninterested daydreamer who didn’t put “effort into her work.” Quebec never did have any gifted identification criteria or programs, so it is probably no surprise that many unidentified gifted kids are languishing in Quebec elementary schools even now. And some might even be getting poor or spotty grades, as I did, simply because they’ve stopped being interested or have been mislabeled as poor students, leading to the Pygmalion Effect. Others might present as behaviour problems due to sheer boredom and a feeling of being misunderstood.
Quebec still does not formally recognize giftedness or provide gifted programs as do several other provinces. The reasoning is that teachers must cater to every child’s special needs, whether gifted or not, so these kids will get the education they need. In reality, though, teachers struggle to manage classes of 30 students or more, and how much time, really, can an overworked, underpaid teacher devote to special needs students?
Returning to my own experiences in Quebec’s education system, high school was a very different story. The courses were hit or miss, but fortunately, I was in the French immersion program, and was placed in enriched math. Finally, our school was among only a few in Montreal to have an experimental and diverse English program called the APEX program. Instead of suffering through English 101, we were streamed beginning in grade nine. There were five levels — the first two being remedial, the third being average, and the fourth and fifth being advanced. I was soon placed in the advanced classes, so I took courses including Shakespeare, Satire, and a Self-Directed Study course that allowed me to work on my own and produce a term paper or two.
I excelled in most classes, and — on the whole — enjoyed a good deal of my high school experience. I was a typical HG/PG kid — head in the clouds, preferring to read alone in the library rather than hang out in groups, and I tended not to know much about the social norms of larger groups. Nor did I care about fashion or makeup.
I liked classical music, and ran to the library over recess and lunch to read books on Egyptology and Latin translations of Alice in Wonderland. I was enthused about quantum physics even though I never studied it in school, and when I got home, I sometimes avoided my homework so that I could read the astrophysics textbook I’d taken out of the library. Quarks fascinated me for a long time. I also invented codes and ciphers; one day, a teacher returned the coded sheet I’d accidentally left in my homework assignment. She’d placed a few question marks at the top. I think it amused her which was, on the whole, a good thing. In short, I was a little on the different side.
It was okay, though. Unlike some highly gifted kids, who are teased mercilessly, shoved into lockers, and considered freaks for being different, I think I was generally liked, even if I wasn’t a member of the ‘popular’ groups. Nor did I care much. I had my friends, and I liked pretty much everyone in my class. They were, in fact, a really great group of kids. I had a party once, to celebrate my Sweet 16, and nearly my entire class showed up. Looking back, I probably missed a lot of social cues, and my aloofness and introversion likely kept me from being more involved in group life. But since popularity wasn’t a priority for me at the time, that was my modus vivendi.
So, on the whole, a pretty tolerable experience once I got to high school. I was one of the lucky ones.
I’ve shared my own personal experience because I cannot imagine that it’s not shared by many gifted kids who don’t have access to appropriate programs — this is particularly true of HG/PG students.
I also share this as there are many students out there currently going through similar experiences. Simply put, gifted programs should be in place to cater to kids with special needs. Because too many gifted students end up in K-11 programs that echo my elementary school experiences, and they never come to associate school with engaging learning content. As we’ve read, a good number of gifted students drop out and become underemployed. (I can only wonder what the Quebec stats are.) Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a real waste of promise.
Parents of gifted students in Canada — particularly in provinces such as Quebec, without gifted programs — should, I believe, advocate for such programs. Anyone with me here?