As a species, humans are wonderfully diverse. That diversity should be celebrated, or at least that’s what I hear all the time. But what exactly is diversity? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “diversity” refers to “the condition or quality of being diverse, different, or varied; difference, unlikeness.” That sounds like what we say about the gifted and even what they say about themselves. Ask any gifted child or adult and you’ll likely learn that they feel different, that they don’t feel as though they fit in. Could this celebration of diversity be an opportunity for people to learn about and understand the gifted? Or is it one more excuse for excluding the gifted?
What Is Diversity?
Let’s look at a more detailed defintion of “diversity” from the University of Oregon:
“The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.”
This definition looks very promising. I can imagine an environment where people are encouraged to explore giftedness, where the gifted feel safe and nurtured, where the atmosphere is positive. I can imagine the concept of giftedness being recognized as one more dimension of human diversity. I can imagine the gifted not only being tolerated, but embraced. Yes, this celebration of diversity is a wonderful idea and offers a perfect opportunity for learning about and understanding the gifted.
There’s a problem, though. Do you see it? Look at the list of dimensions for individual differences. Do you see intellectual abilities? No? Me either. I see physical abilities, but not intellectual abilities. Why not? Are we not to celebrate the wonderful diversity of intellectual abilities? Of course, if you asked about it, you’d no doubt be told that the mentally challenged are to be respected and appreciated just like any other human being. No one would disagree with that. But what about the other end of the intellectual ability spectrum? Do you hear much public discussion about respecting the gifted? I don’t.
We hear calls to respect and to understand the gifted from the gifted community, but the responses to those calls are more often than not rather negative, many of them tied to one or more myths about giftedness. Here are just a few responses:
- All children are gifted.
- Gifted children already have all the advantages so why give them more?
- Gifted children need to get along with others.
- Gifted children need to understand that they aren’t better than anyone else.
- Gifted children need to be more tolerant of those who have to work hard to learn
Which of those responses reflects an attitude that would lead to a safe, nurturing, positive environment for gifted kids? Which of those responses suggests an interest in understanding giftedness? Which of those responses indicates tolerance of gifted kids or a willingness to embrace this intellectual ability as one of the “rich dimensions of diversity”?
If we ignore one dimension of human diversity, how can we possibly explore it? And considering the negative attitudes many harbor toward the gifted, it’s unlikely that any exploration of giftedness would be done in a “safe, positive, and nurturing environment.” Or is that not part of the celebration of diversity? According to the website “Celebrating Diversity,” we should be be “Working together to create communities that celebrate diversity by actively practicing and promoting, dignity, respect and inclusiveness.”
Neither gifted children nor their parents seem to be given much respect. I experienced this lack of respect myself when my kid was in school, and I’ve heard about the disrespect and lack of understanding from many other parents of gifted children. Here are just two examples of the kinds of attitudes we run into:
These negative attitudes are not a secret. In fact, many people have tried to figure out the reason behind those negative attitudes. Here are two attempts to explain it:
- “Why People Hate Gifted Kids: A Thought Experiment“
- Negative attitudes toward gifted–an instinct to protect social fabric?
If we harbor negative attitudes toward one group of people, how can we create a positive and nurturing environment? We can’t. In fact, instead of promoting acceptance and inclusion, we are doing the opposite. We are demonstrating that one group does not need – or even deserve – to be included, does not deserve to be tolerated. They need not be part of the inclusivity of diversity until they demonstrate that THEY understand and tolerate others. For them, it’s a one-way street. For everyone else, the street runs both ways.
If we truly wanted to celebrate diversity, we wouldn’t leave out an entire dimension of it. We wouldn’t ask more of one group than we ask of any other group. We would not make understanding and tolerating others a condition of being included. We would ask that everyone attempt to understand everyone else. We would make sure that harmful myths held for any and all groups be dispelled. We would make sure that everyone feels understood and respected. We would explore all the dimensions of humanity in a truly nurturing and respectful environment so that we could recognize that regardless of the differences we see among individuals, we are all still part of the big family of humanity. That celebration would include the gifted.