Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bright Young Things, Growing Up Gifted In Ireland

Last night RTE aired a documentary following six gifted children as they negotiated the Irish education system. Bright Young Things; Growing Up Gifted in Ireland. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure how I feel about it. I do think it portrayed a more realistic picture of the lives of gifted children than some documentaries which have tended to sensationalise the issue and make these children out to be "geniuses".

I liked the way that, just as in real life, it included children from very different backgrounds and with very different stories; not all middle class with pushy parents. I liked that Gavin didn't get straight A's in his Junior Certificate. Sorry Gavin, it's nothing personal, but it countered the myth that gifted students always get A's with no effort whatsoever! It showed very well, the sense of difference and sometimes loneliness that gifted children can feel from a very young age. I have heard it said that it came across as a little bleak, but at least it showed that the life of a gifted child is not necessarily plain sailing. It also showed that gifted children are far from being a homogeneous bunch. Not all gifted children are like the ones portrayed in the documentary, but many gifted children struggle in their own way with similar issues.

It is very easy for viewers to pick holes and criticise both the programme-makers and the families concerned. However, many of us complain that no one understands us and the problems we encounter. We talk about how gifted children and adults are different. So, when someone does a documentary about us, we can hardly complain about how it showed the participants to be somehow unusual, now can we? Let's face it, we do tend to be a little different. Sure isn't that the whole point?!

How many of us would have subjected ourselves and our children to the same level of scrutiny? You may say that this was unfair on the children concerned, but at the same time, if we all continue to hide away under the guise of protecting our children, then how can we expect people to understand us? It's a very tricky dilemma and I'm not sure I know the answer. I do feel, however, that we owe the families who did participate a great debt of thanks. They were very brave to put themselves out there for all the world to see and comment upon.

It is impossible for a fifty minute documentary to cover the issue of giftedness in its entirety and I feel that, on balance, this one did a pretty good job. It certainly went some way to busting some of the myths about gifted children. I would like to say well done to all concerned and to wish all the participants the very best as they continue their journeys.

Dr Colm O'Reilly of CTYI was spot on when he said:
"We tend to have the attitude of "well, sure it'll all work out in the end". For a lot of them, it doesn't work out in the end and they end up underachieving greatly, and what do we say then? "Well, they weren't that smart to begin with". I can't agree with that. The reason they underachieve is because we never did anything for them in the first place, to allow them to fulfill their potential"

May 2011: The documentary is available on the RTE Player again for a while.


  1. I still haven't seen the documentary yet (I know some students were a bit bothered by it, though the general consensus seems to be it is the best documentary yet) but am loving that quote from Colm - absolutely spot-on.

  2. Will have to check that out on rte's site, but agree wtih claire, spot on about the quote ;)


  3. Hi, as a parent of a 12 year old boy who has attended CTYI courses since the age of 8 I was very disturbed by this documentary. My son watched it also and it did him no favours either. The makers of the programme are to blame. Being intelligent is something to be proud of, an advantage in many ways and is not a burden to the majority of kids. Our son is a very happy boy, has great friends, is normal in every way but is just smart. This is a good thing and a cool thing. It is in our opinion no different to having a child who is gifted at music, sport or anything else. Once it is nurtured and he is proud to have this talent, I cannot see in our situation it being a problem. The programme did not include any kids who are happy with their lives and are fulfilled in school as much as any child can be. The programme was disturbing and made being smart something to be worried about and scared about for parents, when in fact it is not. I have written a little note to CTYI giving them our opinion on the programme have never done anything like this before, but the programme bothered us very much and quite honestly we are delighted that we did not volunteer to take part with the way it was all portrayed. Our son has great friends, and never once that we know of has being intelligent caused him problems with his classmates, he has always been like that and he is popular enough and likes to be of help to his friends if they ring him up about homework or whatever. Having a bright child in a class is an advantage I think to any teacher. Perhaps we have been lucky, but all I want to say is that being "gifted" and I hate that word is not a major problem for us or indeed our son and this side of it should have been shown in the programme as there are many many kids out there like ours. RTE I fear are gearing this programme up for an award perhaps later. Maybe our case is an exception and we are the only family that think the programme was not fair. Would be interested in hearing a few comments from kids themselves or other parents

  4. Would love to watch the documentary, but the content seems to have been removed.

  5. Having seen the programme, I can safely agree with the idea that it is an awful lot less troubling than how giftedness has been presented in other Irish documentaries. For the CTYI summer programme it particular it did show at least a glimpse of the huge amount of fun and craziness that the students there have every year.

  6. >> Having a bright child in a class is an advantage I think to any teacher. <<

    Anon, if you've never encountered a teacher in the current educational system who hasn't had difficulties dealing with bright children, you're very lucky. You're absolutely spot-on about it being a talent like music/sport etc which needs to be nurtured; the difficulty with the present educational system is that it genuinely doesn't nurture an awful lot of the brightest kids out there. Who - and I know this is something various gifted ed advocates would disagree with - I really and truly feel should not be in a position where they're explaining things to other students in lieu of further developing their own knowledge and insights.

  7. Anonymous, you are, as clairehennessy said, very fortunate indeed that your son hasn't encountered any frustration or difficulty in school so far.
    Much probably depends on the personality of the particular child. Some children are content to work within the system and achieve highly academically. Others can see that the education system is stifling their drive to learn and challenge that by withdrawing or finding a way to stand out! The programme highlighted the lack of support that the latter experience and in that regard it did a good job. Being gifted is not always a gift in the same way as having sporting or musical talent is, and for the many children who do not fit into the system neatly, this programme went some way to explaining that.

    I too watched the programme with my children who spoke with great empathy about the children featured, some of whom are their friends. They have all attended CTYI for many years because it fills an academic need not addressed in school. If they were fulfilled in school, I wouldn't see a reason to send them! However, in our case, CTYI has opened up learning and social opportunities that are often missing in their school life. They are challenged intellectually and can hang out socially with others who "get" them.

    I'm not sure if CTYI had any editorial control over the documentary though, so perhaps you should also send your thoughts to RTE and the programme makers.

  8. Anyone know the production company that produced it.

  9. Anonymous,
    much of what you say is correct. But the purpose of the programme wasn't to show how happy EA kids are, or even that EA kids come in all shapes and sizes. I think it was to highlight some of the negative issues with which they have to deal.
    I can't see how having a bright child would necessarily be an advantage to a teacher - indeed, it can mean a lot more work that for, say, average kids. But then the programme wasn't about teachers. Nor indeed, was it about 'bright' children. It was about gifted children. And while in some schools, children are lucky to have particular teachers and extra-curricular provision to stimulate them, the majority do not. Consequently, in schools, they are neglected. In some ways, the programme failed to raise this reality.

  10. Hi! Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I was so relieved when I saw that documentries were finally beginning to stop assuming that everything is wonderful for gifted kids. I'm 14, and being gifted makes things harder for me, if anything. I thought it was so great that they showed some of the fun we have at ctyi!!! Oh, and complete agreement with Colm's quote!