Posts tagged ‘tall poppy syndrome’

Gifted Kids as Tall Poppies: Let’s Find Them and Nurture Them

Tall poppies. According to Wikipeda, “the term originates from accounts in Aristotle’s Politics (Book 5, Chapter 10) and Livy’s History of Rome, Book I. Aristotle wrote: ‘Periander advised Thrasybulus by cutting the tops of the tallest ears of corn, meaning that he must always put out of the way the citizens who overtop the rest.’ In Livy’s account, the tyrannical Roman King, Tarquin the Proud, received a messenger from his son Sextus Tarquinius asking what he should do next in Gabii, since he had become all-powerful there. Rather than answering the messenger verbally, Tarquinius went into his garden, took a stick, and symbolically swept it across his garden thus cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies that were growing there….Sextus realized that his father wished him to put to death all of the most eminent people of Gabii, which he then did.”

In modern times, the tall poppies are the people who receive criticism for accomplishments that put them above their peers. I remember the first time I heard about the tall poppy syndrome. It was nearly ten years ago, and Miraca Gross (an expert on gifted education from Australia) was presenting to a group of parents and educators about gifted children. (See her article on exceptionally and profoundly gifted children.) I was deeply moved by her description of how intellectually gifted children are tall poppies who are regularly cut down to size so that they won’t continue to stand out among their peers. A gifted child might experience the following name calling: “overachiever,” “geek,” “nerd,” “brainiac,” “you’re too big for your britches,” “how about giving someone else a chance to shine?” etc.

I find it fascinating that we don’t see all gifts in the same way. Many people fear that by telling intellectually and academically gifted children they are “gifted,” these children might become arrogant and self-absorbed. We don’t seem to have the same fear about the gifted musician we place in the “first chair” when they rise above their peers, nor do we have the same fear when the gifted athlete wins a trophy. The truth is, when academically or intellectually gifted children learn about their “giftedness” there is often a sense of relief. They have known all along that there is a difference in the way they process information and in the speed at which they take in new information. In addition, for those who are bright, sensitive, and intense, they already know that they have a quality of life that is different (not better) than their peers. These tall poppies deserve to understand why they don’t always “fit” academic or socially, and they deserve to be nurtured so that they stand proudly with their petals held high. When you look at the world around us, it is clear that our society cannot afford to lose its tall poppies. I’m wondering how much of your school district’s budget is allocated for gifted education…..(See state by state resources.) To find them and nurture them, it takes a will and it takes money. Be a tall poppy yourself, let your voice stand out above the crowd, and speak up for these children.

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March 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm Leave a comment


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