American parents' obsession with their children's intelligence

Talented and Gifted: the ticket to feeling special and being proclaimed “smart” from the age of 6. When the exclusive group chooses to extend an invitation to join, you are not to decline. Anisha Adke

How teachers and parents can determine whether or not a child is “talented” and “gifted” is beyond me. Don’t we all toddle around, pretending to be princesses and dragons, at that point in our lives?

I understand that TAG is well-intentioned. The organization is simply trying to provide children with coursework designed for their cognitive ability — either to keep them engaged or encourage them to challenge themselves. This is a good goal. However, the program goes about it in a very twisted way. It inadvertently puts down every child who is not allowed in the group.

The simple name, Talented and Gifted, makes me cringe. What qualifies certain students to enjoy the privileges of TAG, while others are denied?

What are these privileges? As far as I could tell, the TAG members were quarantined in another classroom as if their giftedness was infectious. They would be exposed to more challenging problem sets that were said to be better suited for their special abilities.

The website of the Oregon Association for Talented and Gifted lists traits that parents and teachers should be aware of. It asks us — “Do you know a child who exhibits these traits?” — before continuing on to list characteristics, including inquisitive, highly sensitive and insightful, nonconforming, independent and having broad and varied interests “at times simultaneously.” Below these criteria, the OATAG proclaims that if we know a child who exhibits these traits, “Then You May Know A Child Who Is Talented & Gifted.” So, in essence, TAG is looking for sensitive nonconformists with a tendency to be distracted by the sheer number of interests they possess. It is a wonder, then, how the TAG educators were ever able to get any work done or teach the kids anything.

From a very young age, students not placed in TAG are indirectly (or, perhaps, very much directly) shown that they are not as talented, gifted, intelligent or capable as some of their peers. This idea is engrained into their minds as they progress through elementary school, middle school, high school and on to the rest of their lives. OATAG claims to “advocate for the needs of talented and gifted children,” but perhaps they artificially raise those children up by undermining the rest of the population.

A study done in early April at the University of Connecticut by Sara Harkness and Charles Super, professors of human development, compared how parents in America and their counterparts in Europe tended to describe their children. The most notable difference was that American parents were the only ones who consistently commented on their child’s cognitive ability and intelligence. Not only are Americans much more likely to comment on their child’s cognitive skills, but they are also less likely to describe children as happy or easy to parent. As Harkness said in a “Slate” article, “The U.S.’s almost obsession with cognitive development in the early years overlooks so much else.”

This study, as well as the emphasis on TAG in elementary schools, provides an interesting insight into what we value as a society. Perhaps we should consider shedding the focus on supposed markers of “talent” and “giftedness” and instead value children, and each other, holistically.

Anisha Adke is a senior at Lakeridge High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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