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OPINION: What it Means to be Labelled as Academically or Intellectually Gifted

When a child is labeled as Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) at a young age it can come with a plethora of negative consequences. While the intention behind such labels is often positive, the impact can be detrimental, shaping not just their academic experiences but extending to their entire outlook on life. I decided to write this article to explore the adverse effects of labeling children as AIG, and to argue for a more inclusive and individualized approach to education.

Recent research from the National Library of Medicine has shed light on the potential correlation between labeling children as gifted and an increased risk of mental health concerns. The weight of expectations and the pressure associated with the AIG label can take a toll on a child’s emotional well-being. Anxiety, stress and burnout become familiar companions, potentially casting long shadows over their academic journey and their adult lives depending on the individual. The research also added that these gifted children may also be faced with feelings of inadequacy in learning, high testing anxiety, general anxiety, somatization, a lack of self-confidence accompanied by depressive symptoms and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. To me, it looks evident that the negative impact on their emotional well-being may very well overshadow any kind of short term academic benefits.

Speaking from personal experience, I am still battling persistent testing anxiety, general anxiety, depressive symptoms and feeling constantly plagued by the fear of failing at anything. The relentless pursuit of excellence, right from a young age, has left its mark. It manifests in my actions, such as falling ill when I fall short of my own standards, becoming irritable when I am not immediately proficient in a task or hobby, being hypercritical or a perfectionist, and disengaging from endeavors when I perceive myself as inadequate.

Labeling a child as AIG could corral them into specific expectations and behaviors. In The Georgetown Voice, Nikki Farnham discusses their own experiences and highlights the experience of the gifted kid through the lens of fear and seeking approval. This categorization has led to self-imposed pressure and perfectionism, as children fear the repercussions of not consistently meeting the high standards associated with their label. They may also fear that they will disappoint their teachers, parents or peers if they do not continually excel. In an article in The Maneater, Hailey Peck describes how living up to certain expectations can take its toll and that these"perfectionistic ideals are very dangerous habits to have growing up." This made me think about how a child may avoid risks and challenges to maintain their “AIG” status.

Children labeled as AIG may face immense pressure to conform to what is often deemed as conventional success pathways, such as pursuing careers in STEM: science, technology, mathematics, or engineering. This expectation can limit them of opportunities to explore other fields and develop a broader range of skills and interests. The pressure to conform can inhibit their ability to pursue their true passions and interests. Creativity is a crucial aspect of childhood development according to Scientific Research. Labeling a child as AIG can prioritize traditional learning and academic achievements over creative and innovative thinking. When the focus is solely on maintaining high grades and test scores, children may lose the opportunity to develop their imaginative and creative abilities, stifling their potential to think outside the box.

The label AIG can also potentially perpetuate inequality in the education system. It can lead to the neglect of students who do not fit this label but may still possess unique talents and abilities. This perpetuation of inequality can result in a two-tiered education system, where only a select group receives the resources and support they need, leaving others behind. Trevor Putnam did research into program changes for gifted students and discusses both the schooling system as well as the impact on collaborative efficacy. I personally, have had many schools use AIG as an excuse to unequally distribute resources, whether that be more testing practice, iPad learning, smaller group learning for more difficult concepts, etc. In an article in The Maneater, Hailey Peck discusses the pressure students that are gifted may experience in school and the consequences of such a label. Peck discusses in many ways the implicit and explicit ways in which the label of a gifted student may often lead to different forms of isolation. Such isolation can lead to feelings of alienation and depression, as the child struggles to connect with their peers on a meaningful level.

While the intention behind labeling children as academically or intellectually gifted is to provide additional support and challenges, it all too frequently can culminate into a myriad adverse effects. Conformity, burnout, perpetuating inequalities, are all unfortunate consequences of this labeling. As we seek to nurture the potential of all children it is imperative that we move toward a more inclusive and individualized approach to education. Instead the approach should empower every child to explore their unique interests and talents, free from the burdens of labels that can limit their growth and happiness.

Written by Lys Evans, Contributing Writer.

Graphic by Shae-Lynn Henderson, EIC



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