Sunday, September 04, 2011

Not Young, Gifted, Bored, but Young, Gifted, Lazy

I was reading about a book with the title of Young, Gifted, and Bored by David George.  As I typically do (and I suspect a lot of people do, when they see a book with such a title), I thought of myself, in relation to the title.  When I was young, would I have described myself as Young, Gifted, and Bored?  I was certainly young and gifted, but I am not sure that the description "bored" would have fit me as well.

As background, I have to explain that I attended a two room school for elementary school.  Upstairs was Mrs. Jones, Elsie Jones, to be precise, with the Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders.  I don't remember much of her class, except that a couple of us were allowed to work in a small art room on the north side of the classroom, that had an even smaller walk-in art closet on the east side.  I remember eating paste.  So maybe, I was bored.  But my mother tells me that Mrs. Jones had me read to kids when she needed to keep me busy.

I do remember the downstairs class better.  Mrs. Morse, Marie Morse, if I remember correctly, taught the 3rd and 4th graders.  Our 3rd grade class consisted of 9 girls and 1 boy.  The next class up had 9 boys and 1 girl.  There wasn't such a concept of differentiation at the time, but I think my teachers did what they could.  They realized that I was very smart, but there weren't many outside resources available to help me much.

Personality-wise, I was a very agreeable child.  The third of four children in my family, I was often the peacemaker.  I felt uncomfortable when there was conflict around, so I did my young-self best to avoid conflict.  What I learned was not boredom, but rather self-doubt.  Everyone else seemed fine, so I should be fine, too.  I also learned to be lazy.  Why should I work hard at something, since it came relatively easy to me?  I was one of those seemingly all-around gifted children, who could pretty much do anything that I tried.  There were a few things I wasn't particularly interested in - I couldn't see the reason behind throwing a ball back and forth and calling it playing catch, for instance, but, in general, I did what I was told, especially at school.  It never occurred to me that I was learning to be lazy. 

My fifth grade year was spent in a different school with a fabulous teacher.  I can't remember learning to work hard there either, but the class was so interesting, it didn't much matter.  It was my sixth grade year that was the problem.  This was long before the concept of middle schools, but the number of children had exceeded the capacity of the local elementary school, so the 6th graders were sent off to the junior high school.  By then, I had learned that everything was pretty easy and I didn't have to work very hard to learn anything in school, but I also didn't have as fascinating teachers.  And, then, indeed, boredom did set in. 

My point in all of this history, though, is that, yes, boredom was eventually a problem.  But an even bigger problem, for me at least, was that I had already learned two important things:  I was good at most things that I tried without working very hard at them and that working hard at something (which other kids had to do) meant that you weren't very good at it. 

For me, it took until college, before I found out that you were really supposed to learn how to work hard at something, so that you could master it.  I discovered that I wasn't very good at memorization, but I had no tools to help myself learn how to cope with the necessity to memorize a lot of information.  I had learned that I was good at most things without really working hard, so if these now were things that I had to work hard to learn, then I must not be as smart as I was always led to believe I was.  I floundered, especially in classes that really did require hard work.

Since then, I have had several university courses and jobs where I had to work incredibly hard to do well.  I can work hard and I have mastered some of the strategies of learning, when the work is difficult.  But I wish I had had to work hard much earlier in my life.  I think it would have made me more confident in myself.  And I think it would have prevented some of the effects of Impostor Syndrome:  I must really not be as smart as I thought, since I actually have to work hard to get this. 

Why do I think it would have served me better to learn, while still young, that hard work at something doesn't mean that you are bad at it?  I look especially to my daughters.  The older one is a gymnast.  Through her gymnastics, she learned a LOT about challenging yourself, about goal setting, about trying difficult things and eventually mastering them.  She is much more able than I to work through difficulties without giving up.  Both kids were in academic settings where they, in spite of being exceptionally gifted, had to work at learning.  The younger one was a swimmer, and participated in quite a few sports.  I think the fact that they were in an exceptionally difficult high school helped them learn what I didn't learn until college:  skills to use when learning is difficult.  And, the personal attitude that, if things are difficult, that doesn't mean that you have finally reached too far for your abilities; it just means that you have to put in some additional effort. 

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