Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bias Against The “Gifted”: Hostility Towards High IQ Persons

In the blogpost post titled “VR Services Reform Study Notes - ADA Compliance,” we discussed failures of the conceptualization, design and delivery of federal mandated Vocational Rehabiltation Services, with a focus on the marginalization of “gifted” VR consumers the law and problems in compliance.

The present post presents information collected from sources that discuss the marginalization of gifted persons in broader contexts than the VR services system, with the aim of bolstering the arguments for reform of VR in general (towards the “Person-Centered Planning” model) with particular emphasis of the VR client population that represents a sliver of the demographic served (and mis-served) by VR: the gifted.

It is notable that scholars who have looked into the treatment of gifted children and adolescents have noted problems facing the gifted which parallel those uncovered by the examination of the failings of the VR field to deal with exceptional persons in general and in particular the gifted.

Gifted adults, highly skilled and capable, who are living marginalized lives due to inability to locate suitable employment will, when soliciting Vocational Rehabilitation services – whether specialized skill training for the current job market, or direct job placement – will typically find themselves confronted by the same biases and gatekeeping behaviors in the VR context as those which have in the clients life course pushed him to the margins of (predominantly non-gifted) social and employment contexts.

To be able to serve the requirements of gifted clients in the VR context, practitioners must be fully cognizant of the nature of giftedness and the experience of gifted individuals, particularly who have gotten on the wrong track by attempting to fit into contexts where gifted individuals are looked upon with hostility. Thus, a person who has gained insight on his status and his problems and is eager to solve them will find himself the subject of sometimes extreme bias in the very place where he expected to find understanding and appropriate and successful practical assistance. Instead, he is faced, in most cases, with practitioners who unprepared and who rely on routine one-size-fits-all “programs” which were designed for a radically different type of client in mind.

The marginalization of gifted persons seeking VR services can often take an aggressive and exceedingly damaging form, which, properly speaking would be called “passive aggressive” in nature. In such scenarios the opportunity costs and realized costs (financial, social, career, status, familial) to the client can be devastating in degree and scope. The only non-destructive response to such a state of affairs is for the client to keep pressing on, searching for solutions and to maintain self-esteem, with the expectation that he shall find the employment outcome that suits him, and in which he will give substantial value to others and will be genuinely valued as well.


A) Gifted Adults

1)  Rebecca Trotter, Personal experience

“In addition to dealing with Overexcitabilities [“OEs”: Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional], one of the problems which a lot of kids and adults with unusually high intelligence have is that they do not understand the ways in which they are different from most of the people around them. They may realize that they learn things more quickly and easily than others, but may be wholly unaware that others don’t share their endless curiosity and may not have the strong feelings about things that they do. Highly intelligent people may also find themselves odd man out because it is in their nature to think and work outside of the box. They may know that they are doing this, but may not realize how threatening and disconcerting this often is to others. They can be blindsided by the negative reactions they receive for doing things which they see as positive.”

[Rebecca Trotter, “How being gifted means being different,” The Upsidedown World, Jul. 29, 2008]

2)  Roland S. Persson, scholarly work (important)

ABSTRACT: How come certain highly gifted individuals are not allowed to flourish and develop although they exist in an environment that has both the means and the possibility to assist and stimulate such development? Furthermore, how come there is such an over-emphasis on a certain group of abilities in giftedness research, whereas the study of others is more or less ignored? Finally, are there gifted individuals in our midst that we actually do not want? These are questions raised and discussed in this chapter. To answer them, I propose a taxonomy of gifted societal functions based on a sociobiological framework. The phenomena of stigmatizing and marginalizing gifted individuals are discussed in this light. The chapter concludes by suggesting a number of testable hypotheses regarding the predictable outcome of gifted individuals and their function in certain social contexts.

[Roland S. Persson, “The Unwanted Gifted and Talented: A Sociobiological Perspective of the Societal Functions of Giftedness,” Chapter 46 in: International Handbook on Giftedness, 2009, pp 913-924]

3)  “The Khmer Rouge saw intelligence not as a virtue, but as a threat. In many areas, educated persons were marked for execution as enemies of the state; many "new people" would later attribute their survival to having hidden their intelligence. College students, teachers, and doctors in particular were singled out as targets. Of approximately 270 doctors who remained in Cambodia after 1975, only about 40 survived Pol Pot's reign.” [“The Banyan Tree: Untangling Cambodian History, Part Three: Toppling the Past,” Cambodia, Beauty and Darkness, Jul. 30, 2009 (blog last updated)]

B) Gifted Adolescents

Lisette Helen Dillon, scholarly work (important)

Pp. 22-3: “Advanced abilities can mean an early onset of critical thinking skills and heightened sensitivities amongst gifted young adolescents that can cause them to be misunderstood by others (Dixon, 2006; Rakow, 2005). As one consequence, advanced vocabularies place gifted young adolescents at odds with typical age peers who perhaps cannot appreciate or understand their “big words” or their “precocity of perceptions” (Delisle, 1992, p. 54). And it is not only among peers where issues related to lack of acceptance emerge. Australian researchers have uncovered negative teacher attitudes and broader social feelings of hostility towards gifted students that link to a stereotype that, ironically, sees gifted individuals as “arrogant” (Geake & Gross, 2008, p. 219). The word arrogant thus emerges in different literature as a descriptor that applies to school discourse and to a giftedness stereotype, indicating lack of shared narratives. Irrespective of cause and effect, the onset of heightened social awareness within a social context that has difficulty in embracing giftedness can be confusing and hurtful to young people who are trying to manage identity issues (Hébert & Kelly, 2006; Moon, 2006; Rakow, 2005).

p. 260: Second, with specific reference to gifted young adolescents, the influence of the surrounding milieu in heightening feelings of marginalization is evident. Gifted young adolescents are highly evaluative and thus particularly receptive to the ways they are positioned within hierarchical structures. In addition, they are also keenly aware of their own self-expectations and the expectations of others surrounding what is considered to be “achievement”. Hence, knowledge of dialogic processes may help to counteract a perception that gifted young adolescents are only worthwhile as human beings by virtue of their visible, measurable achievement.

[Lisette Helen Dillon, Dip.T., B.Ed., M.Ed., “Gifted Young Adolescents: Voices Of Self,” (Gifted Education) Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of  Doctor of Philosophy, Centre for Learning Innovation, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, May 2011]


C) Gifted Children

1)  “ … hostility towards gifted and talented students are evident both in the policies and in the public pronouncements of the Australian teachers’ industrial unions.” [Miraca U. M. Gross, Exceptionally Gifted Children, 2004, Page 36]

2)  “The lack of knowledge of the field is compounded by a lack of interest, prevailing myths, and even open hostility towards gifted children. (Webb et al 1991, pi; Marjoram, 1988, p17) ‘There are many signs, I believe, all of which lead us to the same conclusion, namely, that of a negative view toward the gifted. And I want to emphasise that I am talking about negative here, not just benign indifference.’ (Sternberg, 1995)”

[Rhonda Collins, “Gifted Education: Education for the Gifted or Education for All?” Victoria, Australia]

3)  “There’s a certain disquiet and even hostility towards gifted kids. They’re often seen as the products of pushy middle-class parents. But they come from every walk of life and every demographic background.” [Rachel Skiller, “Supporting the gifted child in your class,” Shine Magazine, Communications Division for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, GPO Box 4367, Melbourne,  Victoria, Australia Issue 11, December 2009]

4)  “Anti-Elitism Toward Gifted Kids Needs To Stop, Says Professor,”

“A lot of time and money is spent thinking about special needs children, says Florida State University professor Steven I. Pfeiffer, while there is an assumption that no educational resources need to be provided for ‘gifted’ kids to help them thrive in school.

“’There is a view occasionally expressed by those outside of the gifted field that we don’t need programs devoted specifically to gifted students,’ Pfeiffer, member of the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, said. ‘“‘Oh, they’re smart, they’ll do fine on their own’ is what we often hear. And because of this anti-elitist attitude, it’s often difficult to get funding for programs and services that help us to develop some of our brightest, most advanced kids -- America’s most valuable resource.’” [Science Blog, “Anti-Elitism Toward Gifted Kids Needs To Stop, Says Professor,” January 13th 2009]

5)  “Gifted children are a precious human-capital resource,” said David Lubinski, a professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, in a recent news release. They are the “future creators of modern culture and leaders in business, health care, law, the professoriate, and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].” … “Lubinski argues that gifted children are hurt by the race to the middle. “There has to be flexibility,” he told Newsweek. “That is the message I’d give to teachers.” But how can a teacher realistically instruct a classroom in which some students are light years ahead?” [Chris Weller, “America Hates Its Gifted Kids,” Newsweek, Jan. 16, 2014]

6)  “In the thirty-five years that I have been counseling and doing research with gifted kids, I have often been stunned by the resentment and disdain for gifted kids that I have encountered from the public, from teachers, and even some of my colleagues in academe.  Many scholars in our area, including Nicholas Colangelo, Craig Howley, and Camilla Benbow have attempted to explain this phenomenon, usually in terms of the anti-intellectualism of American society and the widespread concerns about the racist roots of intelligence testing.  Most of us in gifted education are aware of these explanations.  Nicholas Colangelo, in his address at the Sixth Biennial Wallace Symposium on Gifted Education, traced the roots of anti-intellectualism not only to the beginning of America’s break from elitism European culture but to Columbia University Teachers’ College, where many scholars promoted the idea that gifted education was a means of perpetuating the dominance of the white, capitalist patriarchy. [Craig B.] Howley showed how anti-intellectualism was driving us “out of our minds” by forcing gifted students to the margins of society.  Camilla Benbow showed how calls for equity in education often meant inequity for intellectually brilliant children. 

… I doubt, however, that the ordinary people I encounter who resent gifted education and gifted kids are aware of these concepts and are only vaguely concerned about elitism or the perpetuation of capitalist patriarchy.  I believe that there is a deeper psychological motivation based in personal experiences.” [Barbara Karr, Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, “Why People Hate Gifted Kids: A Thought Experiment,” Facebook, August 16, 2012]

7)  “Howley showed how anti-intellectualism was driving us “out of our minds” by forcing gifted students to the margins of society.” [see: 6), Karr, above]

[Craig B. Howley, Aimee Howley, Edwina D. Pendarvis, Out of Our Minds: Anti-intellectualism and Talent Development in American Schooling, Teachers College Press, 1995] 

8)  “It is not quite accurate to say American society is ambivalent or uncomfortable with exceptional talent. There is often little discomfort recognizing and programming for athletic talent and, to some extent, musical and artistic talent. The contention is in recognizing intellectual/academic talent. This, too, can be attributable to a deeply ingrained attitude of anti-intellectualism.” (p. 41)

What Can Be Done? – There is tremendous power in labeling something for what it is. Those who critique gifted education have taken upon themselves the monikers of being “child centered,” “inclusive,” “anti-elitist,” “egalitarian,” “democratic,” “defenders of the public school.” These are rather positive attributes. On the other hand, such persons will seldom (if ever) label themselves as anti-intellectual, dismissive of intellectual differences, or disrespectful of the uniqueness of each child. Yet, some of these latter labels may be accurate. At heart, anti-giftedness is anti-intellectual and anti-intellectual differences [sic]. If we as a society begin to call things for what they are, we may make progress toward the greater recognition and promotion of the value of intellectual and artistic excellence. [Nicholas Colangelo, “Anti-Intellectualism,” in Barbara Kerr, ed., Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent, SAGE Publications, 2009, pp. 41-2] 

9)  “• As both standards and achievements have fallen, American schools have inflated grades, adjusted or fudged test scores, or dumbed down the tests altogether to provide the illusion of success. When those measures have been insufficient, they have changed their definition of “success.”
• In the name of “equity,” “fairness,” “inclusiveness,” and “self-esteem,” standards of excellence are being eroded throughout American education. Educational levelers have become increasingly aggressive in their attacks on ability grouping, programs for the gifted and talented, and distinctions, such as graduation honors, for the best and brightest students.” [Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write or Add,” St. Martin’s Press, 1995, p. 10]

Presentation of Dr. Nicholas Colangelo (Pub. Nov. 4, 2013), from: International Conference: “Potential Development and Gifted Education,” November 1, 2013, Behavioural Science Institute (BSI) and Center for the Study of Giftedness (CBO), Nijmegen, The Netherlands


Larisa V. Shavinina, ed., International Handbook on Giftedness, Sep. 2009, Springer, 1542 pages

Publisher’s description: This handbook presents a panoramic view of the field of giftedness. It offers a comprehensive and authoritative account on what giftedness is, how it is measured, how it is developed, and how it affects individuals, societies, and the world as a whole. It examines in detail recent advances in gifted education. The handbook also presents the latest advances in the fast-developing areas of giftedness research and practice, such as gifted education and policy implications. In addition, coverage provides fresh ideas, from entrepreneurial giftedness to business talent, which will help galvanize and guide the study of giftedness for the next decade.

“This definitive handbook has collected an assemblage of the best scholars and practitioners in the field. It will be a necessary reference for all in the gifted field.” – Robert J. Sternberg, Tufts University, USA

Chapter descriptions: highlights from the book’s 78 chapters:

• Chapter 10: A Unique Type of Representation Is the Essence of Giftedness: Towards a Cognitive-Developmental Theory, by Larissa V. Shainina – The author “presents a new theory that explains the fundamental nature of giftedness. In short, the essence of giftedness. In short, the essence of giftedness is related to the gifted’s unique, objective type of representations of everything that is going on around them. It means that gifted individuals see, understand, and interpret everything differently. Their unique intellectual picture of the world or their unique vision makes them gifted.”

• Chapter 30: Development of Gifted Motivation: Longitudinal Research and Application, by Adele Eskeles Gottfried and Allen W. Gottfried – The authors propose “that gifted motivation is a special type of giftedness. It refers to people who are superior in their strivings and determination pertaining to a task at hand. The authors present theory and empirical findings, as well as describe implications for education of the gifted and identification of gifted motivation.”

• Chapter 38: On Entrereneurial Giftedness, by Larissa V. Shainina – The author “indicates that the that the phenomenon of entrepreneurial giftedness is terra incognita from a research viewpoint. The chapter introduces this concept and thus fills an apparent niche in research on high abilities. It explains the nature of entrepreneurial giftedness via analyzing its early manifestations, discussing its developmental trajectories, and considering microsocial factors that facilitate the emergence of gifted entrepreneurs.”

• Chapter 41: Understanding Managerial Talent, by Larissa V. Shainina and Marianna Medvid – The authors “discuss the existing findings explaining the nature of managerial talent. It describes the Gallup organization’s study of more than 80,000 great managers worldwide and presents a new theory of managerial talent aimed at understanding the fundamental essence of this phenomenon. The theory states that the managerial talent emerges at the intersection of unique vision, unusual creative and innovative abilities, highly developed intuition and wisdom-related skills, excellence-based performance, and entrepreneurial giftedness.

• Chapter 42: Multiple Giftedness in Adults: The Case of Polymaths, by Robert Root-Bernstein – The author “challenges all facets of the specialization thesis, namely (a) specialization is a requirement for adult success, (b) skills and knowledge do not transfer across domains, and (c) the domain dependence of creativity makes general creativity impossible. The chapter describes individuals who have made contributions to multiple domains, discusses literature demonstrating polymathy among creative adults, and presents data from an ongoing study that supports this creativity-plolymathy connection.”

• Chapter 46: The Unwanted Gifted and Talented: A Sociobiological Perspective of the Societal Functions of Giftedness, by Roland S. Persson. – The author “addresses such critical issues as (a) impossibility for some gifted individuals to develop their talents despite the fact that they live in an environment that that has both the means and the possibility to facilitate development; (b) over-emphasis on a certain group of abilities in giftedness research, whereas the study of others is ignored; and (c) the unwanted gifted. The phenomena of stigmatization and marginalizing gifted individuals are thus discussed.”


ADDENDUM (Oct. 11, 2016) – 14th Amendment – On the problem of civil rights and equal protection for gifted students:

“States violate the Equal Protection of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to treat gifted students in the same way as the general student population. Gifted Students should not be denied equal protection under the law simply because they require advanced instruction.” [On the problem of civil rights and equal protection for gifted children: Monica Aguon, “Equal Protection for the Gifted Student in the Public School System (Comment),” 2010, The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice, Volume 12, Issue 3. p. 466]

ADDENDUM (October 20, 2016)

a) Patrick Haney, The Gifted Commitment: Gifted Education's Unrecognized Relevance in "Thorough and Efficient" Public Schools, 64 Cas. W. Res. L. Rev. 279 (2013)

b) Cicciaro, Deirdre (2014) "Equal Protection and the Gifted and Talented Program," Touro Law Review: Vol. 30: No. 4, Article 20.




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