By coincidence, I just saw this article, which highlights some issues that simply weren’t discussed when I was a kid, regarding the challenges suffered by the gifted child, the isolation and the expectation, ways in which pull-out education can fail them, and the connection with depression. In the typical public school classroom, and even, at times, in GATE classrooms, there is little room for a certain type of eccentricity, or behavior that crosses a particular line.
Of course, these days it seems like schools are much more accepting of students who are different, but in general, there’s still a sense that public school does have a tacit goal of enforcing conformity.
I don’t think that being smart/creative/different necessarily leads to depression. It’s probably more a combination of how it feels to see the world through outsider eyes and how those who can pass as “normal” (seriously, no one is normal; just some of us have fewer weirdnesses to hide and/or do a better job of suppressing our anomalies) respond to and treat those who are different. If our culture celebrated weirdness, this article wouldn’t have been written.
When I was as student at Antioch College, hotbed of radicalism, “You’re weird,” was offered as a compliment and received as such. The response to, “You’re weird,” was, “Thank you.” A lot of people blossomed and became themselves at that time, in that place. But most folks I know, then and now, suffered tremendously at the hand of the majority in the years before college and spent our young adulthood working through it. While discussing last week’s comics with a friend, she revealed a story about how a teacher responded when she complained of being bullied that frankly horrified me; regardless of what I went through, I never had a teacher deliberately compound my suffering, or appear to enjoy it. (Although I certainly felt bullied by certain teachers at certain times, this story was simply cruel, particularly as it occurred in response to a cry for help.)
When I look at the Girl, I see a human with perhaps more humanity than is usual, a child who instantly takes the hand of a developmentally disabled kid and asks them, “Do you want to play?” even if she’s well aware that the other child isn’t capable of speech.
Most of us lack that simple kind of compassion, one that not only tells us immediately how to respond to someone who is different, but allows us to do so without any thought of shame or confusion.
From what I read, and what I see in schools, our educational system is working toward becoming kinder and more compassionate. Maybe in 20 years kids won’t be collecting these kinds of stories, holding within them a casket of pain dulled only by emotional success in adulthood. Maybe we’ll all learn to be like the Girl, there for those who need us, so accepting of our differences that we hardly even see them.