“Gifted Kids”: The Deception of Perfection

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Illustration by Echo Dieu

Sofia Lyon
Staff Writer

Indisputably, there is an epidemic amongst both millenials and Gen Z kids of depression and other mental health issues. We can attribute this to several aspects of a hyperactive world, but many see a causal link between students who were considered “gifted” in primary education and depressive tendencies later on in life. 

While I believe this is one component of a larger problem, there are significant connections which govern the attitude of contemporary education. Namely, the illusion of perfection which afflicts young people today.

Most gifted programs are either tested into; otherwise students are awarded positions from merit. What they offer exactly varies between programs, but they generally provide a more in-depth curriculum, individual attention, and exclusivity from the rest of the student body. 

Personally, I am unable to describe nuances between “regular” education and “gifted” programs, having been in a gifted program myself. But this is the very consequence of such programs: limitation in worldview and in academic perspectives.

Some of this stress naturally comes from these programs’ emphasis on pure academic rigor. Students who begin in gifted programs tend to follow a path of honors and accelerated classes throughout the remainder of their education. 

They are taught a narrative that academic success inevitably leads to success, and that success is only attainable to the intellectually “gifted.” But this image presents a rigid framework for intelligence and success, and does not consider the complexity of navigating adult life in the 21st century.

What elementary gifted programs spin is a false narrative of perfection and success. By quantifying intelligence, success, and uniqueness, it is inevitable that students feel lost in the untenable reality of random success.

While exclusionary educational programs may lead to difficulty adapting to adulthood, entertaining this notion too much affirms condescending beliefs about Gen Z created by older generations. 

Young people are often criticized for being entitled or harboring a false sense of “uniqueness.” This over-simplifies and minimizes the world of one of the most tumultuous young generations in history.

Young people today are faced with major issues on a vast scale. Whether it be politics, education, social justice, or the environment, the interconnectivity which is an embedded element of our world makes these problems inescapable to younger generations.

Modern “gifted” programs are only one factor in the mental health crisis seen across the young population; the desire for an impossible perfection not only being a pressure from school, but also from an immense sense of obligation to repair a dying and twisted world.

Some students who come from “gifted” elementary education programs do find themselves in despair — but often times this has no connection to their time spent as a gifted student, nor is it limited to those students. 

Perhaps students molded to follow one rigid path to success via academia face an additional challenge in adapting to a reality where good grades and high class standing alone do not guarantee success later in life. But this issue boils down to the ineffectiveness of teaching one path to success to a group of students whose world will never function on archaic binaries and systems.