Gifted kid burnout
How to ruin smart kids while spending the most tax dollars possible.
If your job was to enable as many gifted children as possible in the shortest period of time, what would you do?
You’d probably look at the most gifted people of the past and try to figure out what they had in common. That’s a sensible place to start.
Let’s take the assortment of geniuses selected by Henrik Karlson in his article “Childhoods of exceptional people.”
A few patterns emerge immediately:
At least two-thirds of them were homeschooled
Most were allowed to roam around aimlessly over many years
Nearly all were mentored 1-on-1
90% did an apprenticeship as teens
They were all naturally gifted but didn’t make a big fuss about it
Great. Those are interesting commonalities and give us clues about how to facilitate gifted kids’ growth.
Let’s compare that formula to how kids who display some talent are treated un traditional schools…
According to the childhoods of nearly all exceptional people, the school system does everything exactly wrong for talented kids:
Test, measure, and document their performance constantly
Fill up free time that might otherwise be spent exploring ideas
Deprive them of tutoring (that’s for dummies)
Push them straight to college (no apprenticeships or jobs – also for dummies)
Remind them nearly constantly of their “giftedness”
You couldn’t design a more disastrous approach to a gifted education if you were maliciously trying to destroy the potential in kids – and waste the maximum amount of money while you’re at it.
The machine of factory learning collapses in on these kids until it systematically crushes the talent out of them. Then, once they have “gift kid burnout,” the system scratches its head, like, how could this have happened?
We know how it happened. And the kids would have been better off if they hadn’t been identified as “gifted.” At least then, the system wouldn’t have swarmed them and doubled down on its ineffectualness.
There is obviously a better way to do this.
Here’s how to get it right – even if your kid isn’t “gifted.”
Read books at home
Annoyingly simple and maybe even trite, but for good reason. The exceptional kids of the past almost all had parents that were obsessed with books.
Which books? Doesn’t seem ton’t matter. Some of them were experts in Latin, while others dabbled in emerging fields of physics. Some just enjoyed a little poetry after dinner. The important commonality is not the content, it’s the interest itself.
See, books are not just chunks of tree pulp and ink. When they are kept, read, and enjoyed, they are physical manifestations of the world of ideas, an endlessly deep playground.
But, when books given to kids are systematic, preselected, and tested on – they suddenly transform into a prison of anxiety. The depths no longer seem like endless possibilities to explore – suddenly, they feel like an abyss kids can’t escape, no matter how hard they work.
Exceptional people on that list – including Virginia Woolf, Blase Pascal, and John Stuart Mill – had parents that not only had books but also loved to read.
Reading is something people always tell you to do, but it seems like no one is doing. The percentage of people who actually read difficult books is very low. But limit the sample to people who will go on to change the world, and suddenly the rate of reading approaches 100%. What accounts for this gap?
Reading offers no immediate promise of status or success. To read well, in the way that prepares you for excellence, you must relax, stop striving to be better than your peers, and enjoy exploring ideas.
Basically, the exact opposite of what schools do to gifted students.
Read more, more slowly, and compare less often.
Do not fill their calendar
Even for adults, it’s tempting to fill a calendar to the brim – especially when things are “working.”
But many good things in every life aren’t marked on calendars. Good often comes from exploration outside of timeframes.
Busy schedules and obligations can be helpful when they facilitate exploration, but tyrannical when your entire day becomes colorful boxes to power through, hour by hour.
Resist the urge to fill up your kid's calendars – gifted or not – to impress someone else (recruiter for a college, their peers, or an anxious in-law).
Instead, let your kid have as much unstructured time as possible between the structured moments of their life.
The moments of freedom between obligations are where kids make powerful discoveries – about themselves, their lives, or an idea that might change the entire world.
Recruit 1-on-1 mentors
You might ask yourself, “How can I find/afford a 1-on-1 mentor for my kids?”
If you can, that’s great. According to history, it’s highly recommended.
Mentors might be paid coaches, facilitated by alternative schooling programs. Or they might be slightly older kids. Or your kid could write letters to people they admire.
But there is a powerful alternative.
Let them explore the internet on their own, and find people who’re on fire for ideas. When kids dive deep into courses, videos, lectures, and interactive programs the structure of the internet itself is a tutor. Mind that algorithm: it’s constantly evolving the way it interacts with your kids, depending on their interests.
This won’t be the outcome, however, if their days are filled with learning they don’t want to be doing. That’s the real reason we have an epidemic of mindless content online: escapism. It’s not the internet’s fault – it’s the schools’ fault.
Mindless is not how it has to be – and many people are already proving this. Some of the most incredible content creators in the world are putting out everything they know, mostly for free, ready for your kid to interact with at their own pace. Some will binge an entire course in astronomy in one evening, and others will learn French literature over the course of a year.
Kids really do this stuff when they aren’t being coerced to learn, by the way.
The internet is not a scary place when you have a passionate, free, and self-directed kid. In fact, it’s the most powerful learning space in the history of the world. Kids have unprecedented power and opportunity to find what interests them on their own.
You can’t measure or test for that, but it’s what awakens extraordinary kids.
The bureaucrats and the anxious rule-followers will always try to get you to measure your kids against their peers, to make sure they aren’t “falling behind!” Oh, dear.
Resist. The data from people who change the world all suggest that greatness comes from play, joy, and curiosity – not SAT scores.
Even if your kid isn’t in the top .01% of intelligence, it’s still best to learn from the styles of high achievers. Even “normal” kids can do extraordinary things when they are allowed to be free. And wouldn’t it be great if freedom and happiness were really the right way to educate children? Thank God it really is.
Give your kid the gift of letting them run a little wild, exploring ideas on their own, and seeing you read a book here and there. Maybe discuss it over dinner.
Thanks for reading,
Taylor + rebelEducation team
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What we’ve published this week:
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