Why School’s Not Fair to Gifted Kids


A gifted fifth grader received this advice on his report card:

“You could work on ways to exhibit patience for others who don’t work at your same fast pace. Also be aware that you don’t overstep boundaries by helping people when they are trying to discover something on their own.”

Thanks to the parents of this child for allowing me to share it. When I asked the mom if I could, she said, “I never thought anything of it. I heard that myself growing up all the time.”

I have some issues with this. Actually I have a whole subscription. It’s worth fifteen points on the High Blood Pressure Award to me. The thing that terrifies me is that this is a “good” school. This is a school where the teachers genuinely care about this child, and yet this is what he hears.

Here is my message today: It is inherently unfair to expect the gifted kid to always be the one to adapt.

As someone pointed out to me, “Did the other kids get notes in their report cards about working faster so this child didn’t always have to sit around waiting for them?”

Somehow I doubt that happened.

A mom of a young Mensan I know told me her son records every minute he reads in class because he’s done with his work and is waiting for others to finish. The day before we spoke, he’d had 87 minutes of down time during a single school day. Let’s just take 8.7 seconds and reflect upon that.

When you consider that some of the day is lunch and recess, and some is transition time, that means that for a significant amount of “instructional time” (cough, cough) this kid is left to his own devices. Choose wisely how to use that time, young Padowan, or you’ll get a note on your report card.

This is the note I’d like to put in every gifted kids’ report card instead of the “be more patient with typical learners” note:

Dear Smart Kid,

Thank you for waiting, patiently or not, for everyone else to finish. I know your mental muscles can get cold when you’re just marking time and it can be hard to jump right in again, so thanks for that.

Thank you for remembering to bring a (thick) book to read every day so you can kill time (see above).

Thank you for not screaming with frustration (you know, out loud).

Thank you for being willing to come to school every day, even though you know the odds are you won’t learn anything other than how to wait for others to finish, how to remember to bring a book, and how not to scream in frustration.

Thank you for being willing to help others even though it can be really hard to explain something that was intuitive to you to someone who thinks very differently from you.

Thanks for getting my sarcasm. It’s just another service I offer, and I appreciate the knowing look I get from you. You are my comrade-at-puns.

Thank you for sticking with this whole school thing, full of hope that someday it will get better. I’m trying to make that happen.



I could just cry over this because it isn’t even rare. It is reality when you’re a gifted child, and it’s just not fair.

And don’t bother writing me about how life isn’t fair, yada, yada, yada. I know that, but I’m still sad. I’m sad because there are millions of gifted kids for whom this is their life at school — the one place their cognitive gifts should be most valued.

If you’re a teacher, will you please commit right now to never send this note on paper or in person? It’s just not fair.

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