How The Gifted Child Got Expelled
There is a story about myself which I don’t enjoy telling. As a matter of fact, believe it or not, I don’t much like to talk about my own strange history. But my husband gives me cues. We were having a pleasant luncheon with a person with whom we wanted to have a working relationship. Since it was mostly business and financial, and I have never claimed such things to be my “strong suit,” my husband did most of the talking. I think the person we were with, although he said little, wondered at least a little if I were clever enough to do the scientific and medical part of the consulting we were talking about. So my husband said it.
“Tell him about when you got expelled from 4th grade.”
Nobody asked my age, but after some precocious grade-skipping, I was, as far as I can figure, 8 going on 9. I was in a local public school, in a city where the school system was of very low repute. My father of blessed memory had done a little substitute teaching several years before, and the superintendent of schools was a “friend of the family.”
I figured I was doing well in class. After all, my drawings were always in a prominent place on the bulletin board, and I had 100% in pretty much everything.
Miss D. was a hard, bony, and red-nosed woman. When I described her to my parents, they said she probably liked to drink alcohol. I had never seen her drink anything but milk, and I was not sure my parents comments made much sense. We had a “class helper” system. We would drill each other on lessons while the teacher sat, usually at the back of the room, “resting,” more like napping, but who cared. She told me I was chief class helper, and I had to make sure the other class helpers were doing what they were supposed to do, and take questions, from the front of the room if I wanted, but I had to make sure everyone learned what they were supposed to learn. It was pretty easy to figure out the real problem was math. Nobody was able to compute worth anything; I mean basic addition, subtraction; not good. Multiplication hopeless; division, impossible until we nailed multiplication. There was only one way; we had to nail the multiplications tables so we could move forward. I learned most things I had to do by rote by chanting or singing. ( Many years later I learned a lot of pharmacology exactly the same way.)
I was teaching the class, and Miss D. was napping in the back. I had the door to the corridor open and the windows were closed. The superintendent walked by, and he came in to visit. He asked who I was and he recognized the name, as he knew my dad. I was pleasant if formal, for I actually remembered shaking hands with him. I told him the class was piteously in need of help with their multiplication tables. He saw I had them written on the board, and he heard the class recite them as I pointed to them. He nodded and seemed pleased, but he did not smile.
He called my parents to his office. I remember being told to clean out my desk. I do not remember ever seeing the principal again, for it was my parents who told me I had been expelled and would not be able to return, ever, and they were finding me another school.
I remember crying my eyes out, and my parents on the phone to somebody at Harvard, because my father, like pretty much any Harvard man I have met before or since, believed anyone from Harvard could solve anything. I remember crying more, sitting in the living room, hearing my mother tell people on the phone she had this incredibly smart “genius” girl who had been expelled from public school for teaching her own fourth grade class.
(The man we had luncheon with was incredulous I had been expelled for this, but has ended up trusting me enough that I am consulting for him, to mutual benefit.)
Harvard said they did not have a school of education, but recommended a local teachers’ college of high repute, who put me in “gifted children’s school.” I loved it, and learned a lot. I learned a few words of Russian and went haywire in French. My math teacher made us derive pi and would not accept the answer “three and a little” as close enough, and later became famous for writing books about how much fun we all were. I remember being told, along with my family, that I would have to try to be more “social,” and could anticipate problems fitting in with peers. Someone then 9 going on 10 would spend her life working on that one.
At my 6th grade graduation ( I skipped the 5th grade) the headmistress gave each of us an “extra” personal diploma. Now lost everywhere except in my brain is the four line poem she wrote for me.
“Estelle, gentle sweet and kind, keep ideals always high. There are no limits to what you can do. Your deeds can reach the sky.”
Okay, so forty-seven years later here I am, one woman on the internet, with more degrees than a thermometer, trying to explain to anybody who will listen that medicine is wrong and psychiatry is worse but individuals can save themselves from the great psychic pains of life, with the information I am all too pleased to get out to them.
I suppose a gifted child who grew up could find worse jobs. I have found True Love and a measure of happiness rare if not non-existent in adults my age. I think I have done it by applying pure intellect and science to every day problems. I used the same kind of logic any student of science would use to research facts and choose courses of action, including locating my husband. Nothing secret, nothing held back; everything I have done I can teach other people to do. Even love. I have my “how to locate and marry your lifetime love” plan and seminar.
So I think I am pretty successful in life. But there is one question that bothers me. What happened to the other children from gifted children’s school? Now that there have been generations of gifted children in special classes, what is happening to them? Does anyone ever track them, at least? What do people know now about what lets a gifted child succeed as an adult? Are they successful movers and shakers in society?
From that 6th grade class, I know of one person who was highly eccentric, could not keep a job, and had a tempestuous divorce. I remember hearing of him when I was in 9th grade prep school. I never knew if the details were true or not, but I wonder if he could have been bipolar or something. I never saw him after 6th grade. So anything I report is only rumor.
I did see one man much later. (Curiously enough, he was the only other boy in the class.) He had located me on the internet and was only a few miles from where I was in California. We had lunch. He was in some kind of business which had given him ups and downs, and had been married to a therapist. Curiously enough, we each told the other that our looks had changed little, and we were immediately recognizable. We agreed to stay in touch; he seemed to know some people in the periphery of the psychiatric community, and promised to call and recommend me to them. He never did, of course. My diagnosis? He seemed to have been just a little intimidated by my life-success, at any rate, I never heard from him again.
So I am left wondering if gifted children become adults who have more success in life in others, or more troubles, or more anything?
I am not going to link to or even name the school for gifted children which once was run by a teacher’s college. They identify themselves as a “progressive, antibias” privately run school and they are definitely more concerned about diversity of the school population and various politically correct things than they are about any kids knowledge or ability to learn. They choose applicants, when there are more than enough for the slots, by lottery. I am sure they never tracked anybody for anything.
I can’t find anyplace describing itself as a “gifted children’s school” on the internet. The best I can find is a fairly decent article on how to “handle” a (very) gifted child. There are even some practical ideas about how to choose a school, and some lists.
There are lots of links, lots of message boards, lots of griping; few solutions. One which sounds horrifying but might work is putting gifted kids in schools that have strong programs for the learning disabled. If you can individualize programs for one extreme of the spectrum it might work for another. Basic issues such as whether the gifted do better when they are separated form the mainstream or when they are put in mainstream classes are far from being resolved.
Outcome data? I am reasonably savvy on the internet and I can find absolutely nothing. The one thing that seems clear, most gifted children do NOT become eminent adults. Anyone who has been anywhere near a gifted children’s school seems to be able to have an opinion on this one. Reasons cited are pretty typical. Preference for solitude, inadequate social skills are always pre-eminent. My virtually complete disregard for most normal conventions has gotten me in trouble more than once. This could be why at least the idea of “mainstreaming” is popular.
As usual, a great synthesis comes from Wikipedia. Yes, in their classification, I am the highest rank, as far as I know. One in three million. Like Walter Brennan always said (to my and my grandmother’s delight) on the Real McCoys, “No brag; just fact.” Not necessarily an advantage, but something that actually seems to have some predictable situations. At least now there is some information. In my parents’ day, for all practical purposes, there was not. I have long since forgiven them for any innocent ineptitudes. They did the one thing that is the most important for any child. They gave me a feeling of specialness. Yes, I was different from other people, but that meant I was going to do something extra important and extra special. I am still working on that one.
Being very gifted is very like a disability. It can send both other children and other adults running. I have been both mainstreamed and seperated and I suppose it is the mixture of both that gives me whatever perspective I have.
The only real suggestion I have, for adults and children alike, is to approach every person as an individual, whether we are talking to a child or an adult. I loved people who took my questions, not stupid but consistently (sometimes, even now) nieve. When someone talked to me like a grownup, I loved them. I got a lot from those relationships. I do not know what other people got. I still remember, for example, with great affection, a woman composer/lyricist (of great character but I thought even then, little skill) who asked me when I was not over 6 if I believed in the “hereafter,” a term which I did not understand and she lovingly explained. I told her I believed in both a God or universal power and the truth found in science, for I thought God must have created those, too, but that he was far too smart to reveal things until people could understand them. I wanted to work on understanding science when I grew up. She actually gave me little books for Christmas for the years she worked with my father (after discussing the content with my parents’ of course) and I dearly loved them for many years; some classic fiction, not much science as my parents (rightly) figured out they would rather hold my hand on that one. (Perhaps a wise decision, since I liked books about biology and physiology and wanted to know about sex.) She was a textbook example, to be followed, about how to relate to a gifted child. Find one and love one because nobody has figured this one out and I am always surprised and shocked when I find a field where the best authority seems to be me.