Friday, May 28, 2010

Why smart kids fail

Why do smart kids fail? This paradox is often poorly understood, because at face value, someone who is smart should have the best changes to succeed. At face value yes. Taken out of context. Taken out of the environment the child grows up in.

Here is the rub, the smart kid has to grow up in a world that is ruled by mediocrity. At best. Often, the lowest common denominator rules. Take classes. Classes are geared to wards the large blop in the middle. The large blop of kids that are doing fine, but not exceptional. And in that class is a kid that is much smarter. What happens to such a kid?

He or she gets bored. Bored to death. Most things are so easy that s/he often has not even to work for it. I remember that I systematically did not make my chemistry homework. Why? Well, the teacher would ask several students to each write the answer of a assignment at the blackboard in front of the class room. Well, if I was one of the 'lucky' ones, I just would take the book, read the assignment while walking to the front and write down the answer, correct of course. Luckily for me, I was not that good with every subject, and I definitely needed to study hard on others which saved me later in life.

Why did it save me? Well, if everything comes really easy, there is one skill you never learn. And that is to put effort in things. Putting effort in things to achieve things is something you have to learn. And if you are really smart, it will take a long time till you encounter something that will require you to put effort in. And till that day comes, life is easy.

But that day comes, sooner or later. For me it came soon, as my dyslexia forced me to put tremendous effort in learning languages. But when it does not come early, or not in sufficient strength, you are doomed.

Once it arrives, many very smart kids can mask the issue with their intelligence. People around them do not notice that they are struggling, because they use all kind of smart tricks to outsmart the world around them. And they can keep doing that for a long time.

Unfortunately, most of these kids eventually encounter something that cannot be done easily or masked. And that is crushing time. Because they are so used to get everything so easy, it easily becomes an ego crushing experience. Used to be able to do things so easy, a failure is not an option. Well, at least they have never learned to deal with failure, because they just haven't experienced those. And if everything else goes well, why not just walk away from it. Ignore it. There are so many things that do go well, it is not really a problem. Most of the time.

But the first failure, and the inability to deal with it set the tone for future encounters. Instead of learning how to put effort in things, they feel crushed and avoid dealing with it. And the first times, it works. And the second time it works. Etcetera. Till? Till the day they encounter something they cannot ignore. That is the day the get stuck. Now knowing how to put effort in things, they are caught like a deer in the headlights. They have no idea how to handle it.

From here is goes rapidly downhill. Things need to be done, but the inability to do them just result in a repeated failure to do what needs to be done. And the smart kid that once soared through life on his or her intelligence crumbles. Each time s/he fails one time more, each time s/he fails, s/he looses a small part of her/himself, of her/his confidence, ofher/his self esteem.

By now, the smart kid has become an insecure, self doubting kid wondering every day why s/he cannot do things easy. And s/he starts avoiding those things s/he doubts s/he can do. This is when the world around her/him starts labelling the kid as lazy, uninterested, dumb. etc. Yes, dumb, because our smart kid is avoiding everything, fearful of failing one again. And so the cycle continues.

It is far more difficult to raise a smart kid than an average kid. In order to succeed, the smart kid needs to learn that not everything comes just like that. And how do you do that? Some schools have special programs for smart kids. Not all programs are good, but with the right approach, these programs can help gifted children. Those are the lucky once, because they learn that they sometimes need to put effort in things. The bigger question is how to help the unlucky once, those that are failing over and over again because they basically haven't learned to deal with disappointments. I do not know that answer yet, but I do know that it will take a lot of effort to teach those kids how to put effort in things.


Trihardist said...

Yes. Agree 100%. When I was in high school, my home room teacher said, "Well, I believe *all* of my students are special." And bullshit like that causes problems, because then the gifted children don't get the help that they need.

But I would add this: giftedness is more than just intelligence; it's a different way of seeing the world. There are smart kids out there who are still relatively average. The "gifted" child's brain works differently. That's why many gifted kids have difficulty with social interactions. I would also note that those children label things they don't catch onto quickly enough as unimportant. I sucked at math and science, and so I grew up convinced that those things weren't important, that they weren't worth my time. Same with social interactions; I never thought it was important to learn.

Come to think of it, that was my avoidance strategy. Anything attached to language or art--no matter how difficult it was--was important to me, so I pushed through to achieve and excel in it. But with science and math, I didn't even try.

Interesting. I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this subject.

eagles eyrie said...

I agree. The original post and especially Trihardist's comment are on very on the mark with my experience and my observation of other's experience, such as that of my nephew.

tothepast said...

I wish there was a solution after-the fact of this. I'm 25 and a Janitor now and still have no way out.

Unknown said...

ToThePast. I think realizing what is going on is a good first step. How to solve it is probably a rather individual path you have to plot for yourself, and I suspect that for many, it starts with rebuilding their own self-esteem. I did that by actually finding a good therapist that helped me out with that issue. Once you get there, you can learn how to deal with 'stupid' teachers who you will need to get an education.

Alternative routes I can see is rebuilding your self-esteem and go directly from there to what you would like to do.

Rick The Explorer said...

Teachers will fail the kid with the highest aptitude test scores,to make it look like their course is challenging, while giving A's to the dumb kids, to make it look like their course helps the children, all to make more $$$. That is Teaching 101. That is why dumb people are in control in America, and why smart kids grow up to be poor.There is your 'paradox'.