Why Is High-Achieving Synonymous with Being Gifted? Because We Didn’t Listen to This Woman.

By Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach

It was 100 years ago that Leta Hollingworth, a female psychologist, coined the term “gifted”. In her research of and work with children who were assessed using the Stanford-Binet tests, she realized that the highly and profoundly gifted had certain vulnerabilities. She wrote about it; she studied it. Her objective was to look not only at academic achievement but at the whole child: their emotional, aesthetic, cognitive and affective development. In her book, Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture, written in 1926, she pointed out issues that some gifted children face such as, but not limited to, problems of school work (it’s boring and doesn’t match their needs), adjustment to classmates, difficulties at play and conformity, and the special problems of the gifted girl (she has “strong preferences for activities that are hard to follow on account of [her] sex, which is inescapable”).

As most of us parents do, Hollingworth looked at the heart, mind, body, and spirit to assess what gifted children needed. She observed that highly to profoundly gifted children learned and developed asynchronously, and emphasized the need for flexibility in their instruction. She clearly understood that not giving these children what they needed in an education, including the proper emotional support, would limit their abilities to achieve. She stated that the purpose of the teacher was to “act as a facilitator of learning and of emotional growth, to assist with the problems arising out of the disparities between mental and chronological age.” 

For most of us in the gifted field, or who are homeschooling, or who are trying to find the most suitable path for our gifted children, we have observed many of the things Hollingworth did. Yet, despite Hollingworth identifying these issues a century ago, we’ve had to figure these out on our own, sometimes after many years of confusion and suffering within the current paradigm of our psychology and education systems. We think our discoveries must be new because it hasn’t reached most professionals in mental health and education — those we look to in order to educate, diagnose, and guide us with our children.

So, how is it that it feels like we’re just discovering the real needs of the gifted, given that this was 100 years ago?

In the 1800’s, the era before Hollingworth, the view on high intelligence was that it “… can only be proven once a man is dead, in looking at his awards and accomplishments.” As Linda Silverman has said, “It’s kind of hard to give a dead man a good gifted education.”

In the few years following Hollingworth’s death, some research students of hers followed through on her work. However, the patriarchal system of the time valued what we can see, measure, prove and achieve —  typically masculine values — over understanding processes, motivation, and what is underneath, —  feminine values. Achievement remained the only yardstick to measure intellect and giftedness. Even the “Stanford” of the Stanford-Binet test that was developed by one of her contemporaries and is used frequently now for testing was at one point called “The Stanford Achievement Test”. The term “gifted,” coined by Hollingworth to encompass developmental needs and potential, became synonymous with achievement. (The biography of Hollingworth that I’m now reading is aptly named The Forgotten Voice.)

I assume that most of you reading this are parents who are homeschooling or are otherwise sacrificing in some way to provide a proper education for your gifted child. Maybe you even went through a period (or still are) of sitting in school meetings where your own judgment about your child was highly questioned because they were not high-achievers, at least not in all areas. I’m guessing that most of you are mothers who see the same things in your child that Hollingworth saw in the gifted children she helped and observed many years ago. Patriarchy is very much impacting giftedness today in that mothers bear the primary responsibility of identifying and finding solutions for our gifted children. Whether we are homeschooling or having to stop in at school on a weekly basis, we face limited career choices (and sometimes limited sanity). Our education systems’ failure to identify and educate our gifted children is further perpetuating the patriarchy. 

In a recent conversation with my husband around women’s roles in our culture and in our own household, he said that, had I been the higher salary earner, he would have been the one to quit his job to help our son through the difficult years during which we ultimately found out our son was exceptionally gifted. But, I reminded him, he didn’t see that there were deep and complex problems with our son’s fit with the school. He preferred to work through more traditional avenues within the school. And he wasn’t sure if our son needed to try harder. How could he solve a problem that he couldn’t see? He agreed. So just by virtue of the feminine way of thinking, women are often the ones left to struggle with helping our gifted kids. We are also then, the most qualified to know what’s best for them.  (While I still see the mothers bearing the biggest burden in advocating for their children, more and more, I am meeting fathers who are willing and able to see their child’s needs on this deeper level.) What is striking to me is the amount of talent the world is losing due to the gifted mothers who sacrifice their careers to homeschool or otherwise supervise their child’s education. I know of an epidemiologist, an architect, a lawyer, and many who aren’t able to develop their careers. We are missing the heart-centered approaches that women tend to bring to their fields that is so needed in our current climate.

When I watched Oprah’s Golden Globe speech of 2018, I couldn’t help but think of Leta Hollingworth and say that, yes, it’s time to listen to women, in all contexts. We’re entering a new era. The tides are turning and as we women hear our own voices, we are better able to listen to voices like Hollingworth’s from 100 years ago. I am grateful to women in the gifted world who have dared to look beyond achievement and champion a deeper way to assess and support the gifted. Women like Dr. Linda Silverman, Dr. Annemarie Roeper (and Anne Beneventi, who carries on Roeper’s work in qualitative assessments), Dr. Melanie Hayes of Big Minds Unschool, and many others like you and I whose challenge is in stepping outside our current educational and psychological paradigm in order help our gifted children thrive. I have hope that as we listen to more unheard voices, we are moving towards a better world, not just for the gifted, but for everyone.

Teresa Currivan is a mother, licensed marriage and family therapist, school therapist, and coaches parents by phone at Help My Child Thrive Coaching. Teresa has been published on sites such as Mother.ly, Filter Free Parents, and is a blogger at GHF and Hoagies Gifted Education. She specializes in giftedness, twice exceptionality,  educational fit, and family dynamics, as well as gifted adults. She lives in the San Francisco, California Bay Area with her husband and son. You can find more articles on this website. Follow her on her Facebook at  fb.me/TeresaCurrivanCoaching.

***Not sure if your child is gifted? Or maybe you have a question about your gifted child or family? I offer free 20 minute consultations for first-timers. Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk. I’d love to hear from you. TeresaCurrivan@gmail.com ***


This article is part of a blog hop over at the amazing Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. See other articles under the theme: “Why Is High-Achieving Synonymous with Being Gifted?” 

This was my first Blog Hop at GHF and I love how the eight of us all wrote about different aspects of this really important (and a bit complex) issue.



My coaching services: https://helpmychildthrive.com/


Next article: Why It Is Vital To Know If Your Child Is Gifted.girlgifted



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© 2018 Teresa Currivan