I grew up under the popular ideology that women are more artistic than men and men are more “sciency” and “logic-minded” than women. How does that fit? Since when did having a penis mean that you would be better at chemistry? There are a lot of ill-fitting pieces to this way of thinking that has pervaded popular culture and school systems throughout America. It’s time to set the record straight.
Schools and parents have often reported that girls seem to do better academically in all fields than boys, including math and science. There are usually more females at the top of their grade levels than boys. Obviously, the old myth that boys are just better at math isn’t true. But that doesn’t mean boys aren’t capable of doing well or excelling. It means that they’re are multiple factors (and distractors) that prevent them from being motivated to do as well. Boys are not incapable of creativity or ill-fit to write poetry or make art. In fact, the whole “gifted & talented” testing system is usually a bunch of phooey.
I was a part of my school district’s “G&T” program called ACE, academic creative enrichment. The few who of us who were selected were pulled out of class for about two hours a day to meet and work on special projects (which are some of the best times I remember from elementary school).
But over the years, overwhelming evidence has accumulated and points that these types of programs that begin prior to kindergarten don’t effectively predict a child’s future performance. The children are tested too early and instead should be tested (if at all) around third grade and even as late as middle school.
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of the New York Times bestselling book NurtureShock, have researched these intelligence tests and gifted programs, and they support the conclusion that these programs are not effectively predicting a child’s future performance. Students who may seem above average in kindergarten test as normal or basic when in third grade.
Many of these programs also don’t retest students to make sure that they are still performing at a gifted level. South Carolina has actually put rules in place to protect students in gifted programs and are underperforming. The students who are falling behind cannot be removed from the program based solely on their performance, something else has to occur. The other rule is that a child who is moved into regular classes for the rest of the year are automatically reinstated at the start of their next year into the gifted program. No retesting necessary.
Praise also has more damaging effects on children than you would think. Studies have shown that when children are praised for their intelligence (“You’re so smart, kiddo! You’ll do better next time. You’re great at math.”) actually hurts their confidence to work through problems. They’d rather be seen as smart than attempt more challenging tasks and risk shattering that image. Instead, praise needs to be directed at their effort, something they can control.
Dr. Carol Dweck has said, “Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” Praise Babies will be afraid of answering questions in class if they are not 100 percent sure of the answer, afraid of suggesting something they are not confident is right or possible, and this constant praise actually encourages underperformance.
The stereotypes, praise, and the intelligence tests are all a part of a social phenomenon that encourages parents and teachers to mold successful children. But it doesn’t work with constant praise or categorizing or intelligence tests. And the ones who suffer the most are those generations of kids (like me) who are now labeled as false positives.