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.