Gifted Students and Social Stigma
Philosopher Benedict Spinoza said, "Man is a social animal" (Kaplan 278). The desire for social acceptance, whether recognized or denied, is part of human culture. People yearn for it, obsess over it, and alter themselves to obtain it. Humans can spend their entire lives unsuccessfully attempting to achieve a level of social status they believe will validate them. Acceptance is denied for superficial reasons varying from clothing to cliques. However, it is also denied due to innate elements of personality. Stigmatizing others for a natural characteristic not only seems unwarranted but also unfair. Yet, a stigma is imposed daily on gifted adolescents who neither deserve, nor know how to deal with, the disparagement. One group particularly stinted in terms of social acceptance is gifted students. Intellectually exceptional students are socially stigmatized. Often, their intelligence inversely correlates to their social abilities. The more precocious the gift the less adept the social skills. And the spectrum of the stigma extends from negative peer perceptions to an inability to interact socially with their peers, the extreme of which can result in suicide.
The origin of the social stigma is often educators and parents, those ideally associated with student guidance and support. The advanced ability of most gifted children is identified at a young age. And, in the current educational system of teaching the fundamentals and helping students to just get by, gifted students are not challenged. Director of the Area Service Center for Gifted Education in southern Chicago, Joyce Van Tassel states, "The system itself does not demand much of these students. We're worried about minimum competency and back to basics these days, but these kids already know the basics" (Johnson 27). Because intelligent children are already competent in terms of educational basics, they proceed to question the nature of things. They want to know what something is but also why it is that way. Teachers can take this curiosity to be offensive and oftentimes the student is viewed negatively by their peers due to an adoption of the teacher's negative attitude, thus beginning the social stigma (Johnson 27).
Another standard, "educational" treatment of gifted students is to separate them from the class. Because the gifted student has surpassed the majority the teacher isolates the child with a separate advanced activity and returns to the majority. In these situations the gifted student and his/her peers become accustomed to this "different" status. The gifted student becomes an outsider in relation to the group by default, due to his/her above average abilities. Educational treatment of the gift denies the student the opportunity to learn to socially interact at a young age. Gifted students never become accustomed to peer interaction because this system is perpetuated upward throughout the grade levels. And unfortunately, in an educational atmosphere where grades are a primary focus, poor interpersonal skills are more likely to be tolerated than poor work-related skills (Wolfle 3). It becomes a norm for the student to work alone and his/her social and psychological needs are ignored.
The students themselves report that one prevailing stigmatism of being gifted is being neglected, not only as academics but also as people. Sadly, the truth is that as long as gifted students maintain high grade point averages and therefore raise school achievement records, they are largely overlooked (Johnson 27). They are the prize-winners but never the attention-getters. These students tend to be introverted, on-task, non-discipline issues in class. In a typical classroom the students that are loud, at-risk or discipline problems are the ones that receive the teacher's attention and often they usurp it for the entire period (Wolfe 2). While harried teachers appreciate gifted students they do not...