A Gift or a Curse? Gifted Education Doesn’t Automatically Equal Success


Computer Class/Woodleywonderworks/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Gifted kids get to experience school in a much different way than “regular” students. However, in the long run, gifted students face the challenges of burnout and mental stress.

Diya Maheshwari and Charley Sarmiento

“I had to work harder to prove my worth because a lot of people believe if you’re not Gifted, you’re not smart,” said Maggie Craig, a senior at South Forsyth.

Craig’s many accomplishments include being President of the National English Honor Society (NEHS), Editor-in-Chief of The Bird Feed, representative on the senior Homecoming Court, and receiving Early Acceptance to the University of Georgia.

Craig was tested for the Gifted program in 3rd grade at her elementary school but wasn’t accepted. However, in the 4th grade, Craig was still placed in the advanced classes rather than the on-level classes, and a majority of her classmates were a part of the Gifted program.

“When they would leave for their Gifted class, it made the rest of us… feel not as special because we weren’t chosen to go to this other class and do fun plays… or a lot of creative work where they built [things],” Craig said. “It’s like, oh, we’re not special so we don’t get to do those more fun activities, you know?”

As someone who was accepted into the Gifted program at a young age, I remember we used to be told that we weren’t Gifted because we were smarter, but because we thought differently. But from my experience, no one believed that. “Smart” versus “not smart” was just an easier concept to understand as a kid. 

In a nutshell, that is what Gifted testing and programming does to rising students: it confers the magic label of “smartness” by othering our equally competent classmates.

As children, we don’t understand the intricacies of all these programs. At the time, taking the entrance test and passing meant that we were “better” than everyone else. We were allowed to leave class and do activities none of the other kids got to do. It gave us an exclusive title we could boast and brag about. It made us feel like we were the winners among the losers. 

We were so far off.

The concept of Gifted education emerged in the 1800s as a way to “nurture” students that showed especially high academic potential in their youth. 

In modern times, students are designated as Gifted through a series of IQ tests that determine if they are a fit.  However, the program is not always fair when it comes to who gets tested. A 2021 federal statistic showed that 8% of white public school students and 13% of Asian public school students make up Gifted programs nationwide, compared to just 4% of Hispanic students and 3% of Black students.

Some argue the program is also inherently designed to favor kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, rather than students from less privileged origins.

Craig went on to explain that because she was never told growing up that she was Gifted or smart, she felt the need to work harder to be seen as “equal” to her peers in the Gifted program.

I had to work harder to be able to stand next to [the Gifted kids] and be like, hey, I’m still smart even though I didn’t pass those tests when I was nine

— Maggie Craig

Some Gifted programs can potentially harm students as it never teaches them how to learn and study and ask the right questions. It instead perpetuates a false sense of accomplishment when you get an A on a test you never studied for, or a pat on the back when you figured out something on your own. But independence is overrated, especially when you’re a young kid just discovering how to learn properly.

I can name at least five people, myself included who I know struggled in high school because they did not know how to apply what they learned in AP classes, or they did not know how to study for such complex units. The false sense of superiority we were given in our youth hurt us by preventing us from developing further skills.

Because the truth is when you tell someone that they are Gifted, they take it as a reason to think that they know everything and that they don’t need to study or put in effort. And maybe it was true in elementary school, and even middle school, but when you get to high school, it’s not a walk in the park anymore. Trying to succeed solely on your natural intelligence isn’t living life on the edge; it’s setting yourself up for future failure.

And no, not all Gifted students are like this; some learned how to study hard and put in the effort, but even they dealt with other problems. 

When you constantly get told how smart you are and that you’ll always get the best grades, you don’t know how to react when that doesn’t happen. Because, of course, you’re not perfect. You aren’t always going to get 100 on every single test or assignment you do. But have we been trained to handle that?

Not always. 

I can still remember my brother telling me on the first day of school to “lower my expectations” when it came to grades. He understood that I had grown up as a perfectionist and would beat myself up over a low grade, but no number of warnings could’ve prepared me for my high school experience.

Even now, I hold myself to such high standards that this mindset is still poisoning how I view myself. I have always been deemed the “smart friend” in my friend group. People would come to me if they had a question or needed help. And no one would be surprised when I got a good grade on assignments. Yeah, it made me feel so good at the moment, but was I able to handle it when the other shoe dropped? When I no longer got the perfect grades or was top of the class?


All my friends, and even myself, were unknowingly putting this pressure on me to be perfect. It’s been so ingrained in my mind that even as a sophomore in high school, I got overly upset when I got an 89 on a Chemistry quiz. So many other people would’ve been relieved, glad even, to get an 89, and why shouldn’t they? It’s only one point away from an A, and it was only a quiz. But I couldn’t comprehend that. I could feel myself tearing up in the middle of class. I had always done well in that class, but for the first time, I didn’t have the highest grade out of my friends. If there was one word that could describe how I felt, it would be “embarrassed.” And I hated myself for that.

Personally, my biggest hurdle was dealing with the fact that I could not be the “smart kid” anymore and that asking for help was okay. Because the Gifted program had made me feel like I was smarter than others, I was scared to ask people around me for help. The constant fear of people thinking you’re not smart anymore is horrifying, so I never asked, and it hurt me as a student. 

The thing is: all of us are special. All of us are talented and harbor gifts that make us individual people in this vast sea of incredibly interesting students. Our backgrounds and education don’t make us Gifted people, our experiences and hard work does.

No test or program in the world has the power to take that away from us.