“Facing a Quiet Crises”

Parents unite to see that gifted students’ needs are met in public schools
By Margaret Combs
The Boston Sunday Globe – January 4, 1998

As a parent, Kay Carter was worried. Her 8-year-old son, Ryan, an easygoing, fun-loving third grader attending public school in Massachusetts, was showing signs of emotional stress. “I hate school. I hate all the kids, and they hate me!,” Ryan shouted most days after school before disappearing through the back door into the woods.

Ryan’s anger and frustration intensified every “awful Sunday” as the school week approached, according to his mother. Kay Carter’s alarm was underscored by the fact that this was a child who not only liked his teacher but for whom shool could have been a favorite place: Ryan showed exceptional intelligence, scoring at the high school level and beyond on cognitive tests.

Confused, Carter dialed a parent support line she had stumbled across months before and learned that Ryan’s behavior was a serious warning sign.

“I was told that third grade was a turning point for children of high intelligence like Ryan, that his personality change and unhappiness should be taken seriously, and that suicide was a factor,” says Carter, who now counsels and advises parents over the same hot line sponsored by the Hollingworth Center for Gifted Children in Dover, N.H., and who also serves as a board member for the Massachusetts Association for the Advancement of Individual Potential.

“I get calls from families all over the nation whose gifted kids have dropped out of school or committed suicide,” she says.

The fact that many academically gifted children are also isolated and unhappy in public school – and are even troubled and failing – may come as a surprise to the general public, but the phenomenon is familiar enough among learning specialists to have coined the label “the quiet crises” in public schools.

“These kids get bored and negative about school, and they’re also at risk emotionally because they feel so different and isolated,” says Ellen Winner, senior research associate at Harvard’s Project Zero and psychology professor at Boston College.

The assumption that gifted children are trouble free and do not need special attention is one of the nine myths Winner identifies and dismantles in her most recent book, “Gifted Children: Myths and Realities.” Also debunked by Winner are the widely held beliefs that gifted chilren are talented at everything, and that accelerated learners always become eminent adults.

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