Lonely no more

Growing up as a gifted child one of the greatest problems I faced was – well, to put it simply, loneliness. I found it difficult to fit in with the kids around me – the things that interested most of them, just weren’t the things that interested me – no judgement at all, there’s nothing wrong with the things they liked, they just weren’t things that appealed to me.

(And it hasn’t been all that much different as an adult to be honest.)

I was in an environment where there was basically no such thing as a gifted program, so I didn’t even have that to bring me together with other kids like me – not that it would be certain it would have, but it meant I couldn’t rely on anything like that to give me any sort of community.

But there were two saving graces in my life – the first was, that at the age of seven I discovered roleplaying games – Dungeons & Dragons to begin with, but I moved onto other games (most notably Dragon Warriors, but also including – during my childhood and adolescence – Call of Cthulhu, Cyberpunk and CyberspaceMERP, Runequest, AD&D (if I count that separately from D&D), Tunnels and Trolls – and other games as well that I touched on.

And the second – that was my Commodore 64, and all the games associated with that.

Without these two things, I’m honestly not sure I would have a single friend from the age of 10 until I was… hell, until today. I think all my friendships stem from this. The games were the way I found other kids like me – I’m not saying, even back then, that all the kids who played RPGs were gifted, but a great many of them were, and more importantly perhaps, there was an ethos around those games at that time, that because so many of us knew what it was like not to fit in in the mainstream, that you accepted others… let’s call them quirks… as you’d hope to have your own accepted. And even though not all my friends today are gamers – without the Commodore 64 I wouldn’t have got into the idea of computing and then onto the internet and onto that wonderful, wonderful worldwide network where even if you’re isolated in your own community, you can find others who share the same interests – as the internet becomes more and more universal and mainstream, less and less people on it have been part of those niche communities – but that’s a positive because it means that narrow networks of friendship and community can become broader still.

Back to the point – a lot of gifted kids do find it hard to find others like themselves. For me, my games were the path that gave me friendship, and that’s still true for a lot of gifted kids today – but games aren’t the only way it can happen – we have a wonderful tool in the internet for letting you find other people like yourself even if your interests are less common, and it’s a tool we need to let and encourage gifted kids to use. I see a lot of concern – fully justified concern in many cases – among parents about the risks associated with the online world, and that certainly isn’t unreasonable by any means. But we need to look for the positives as well.

And gaming – tabletop gaming but computer gaming too – can be a great tool for finding friends and finding your tribe.

I’m a computer gamer, but I won’t claim to be anything special in that regard – I wouldn’t call myself a casual gamer, but nor am I really heavily into that world compared to some people I know, so I won’t talk too much about that.

But I do want to talk about tabletop roleplaying games as a way for gifted kids – some of them at least – to find their tribe.

The best known game is D&D – Dungeons & Dragons – and the D&D Adventurers League, though not entirely my cup of tea – along with the growing phenomenon of games being run out of game shops and other venues, makes this game more accessible than ever before. When I started playing – for most of my time playing – RPGs were much less visible than they are now – now you have YouTube channels devoted to watching games and discussing them – we’re hitting the mainstream.

And as well as fellowship and friendship, these games can be so useful in developing things like social skills, communication skills, knowledge of history, mathematics, literature – no, it’s not going to be a huge thing for every gifted kid – but this is something worth looking into. For the kids and their parents.

As I write this, I’m getting ready for a game due to start in about ninety minutes. Half a dozen friends sitting around a table.

These are my tribe.

These are my people.

And I thank my lucky stars almost every single day that I have them.

I’m not lonely anymore.


This is hard to write…

A little over three decades ago now, at the age of twelve, in large part because of problems I had fitting into my school environment, I spent a couple of hours sitting a test.

The results that emerged from that testing program gave me a label – I was a ‘gifted child’.

I have talked elsewhere about the effects getting that label had on me.  They were, for the most part, positive. I’d known I was different from most other kids in certain ways from at least the time I started pre-school if not before,  but I didn’t have a name for what I was, or any real explanation for it, and in the absence of an identifier, I looked for reasons why I was different, and some of the conclusion I came to were problematic to say the least.

My point – simply that being identified as a ‘gifted child’ helped me understand who I was, and helped me to navigate my way through the rest of my childhood. It was only part of who I was, but it was part of who I was. And it helped to understand a lot of the rest of what was going on as well.

I turned 18. I ceased to be a child in the eyes of the law at least. Some time after that I reached a level of maturity and became an adult in fact, as well as law… although I’m not quite sure exactly when I should say that happened. Regardless, having passed my fortieth birthday more than a coupe of birthdays ago now, I’m fairly confident in saying I’m an adult. Today.

A gifted adult.

Because whatever else turning 18 did, or actually maturing did in moving me from child to adult… the gifted didn’t go away.

That didn’t vanish. I was a gifted child and in due course I became a gifted adult… as should be expected. But often it seems it isn’t.

There’s plenty of reluctance even using the term with children, but there’s even more with adults. Using the term seems… I suppose, I would say, slightly ridiculous to me, even when I’m the one using the term myself about myself. And it’s not something I’d often say to anybody around me. I’m not sure I need to. They either know me, in which case they know me for who I am and they either accept me, in which case, what does it matter what label I have. Or they don’t know me, in which case does it really matter what they think? Or they don’t accept me, in which case… who cares what they think?

But, yeah… it does matter. To me. To me. Whether it matters or not to anybody else, it matters to me.

I’m… not entirely normal. Nobody is, I suppose, but I think there are some things related to my giftedness that make me a little unusual. I’m not saying these things are caused by giftedness – I think many of them could exist in a person who wasn’t gifted. But I am saying, to at least some extent, they are caused by giftedness in me. In me.

I have a very broad general knowledge. Fact is, if I read something factual, I will probably understand it, and I will probably remember it. And I read a lot. There are only a few subjects on which I would call myself an expert – but there are many, many, many subjects where I think it’s fair to say, only an expert is likely to know more than me about them. Maybe it sounds arrogant if I say that. If so, I’m used to that, because that’s the way it is, arrogant or not. I can hold my own on a huge range of subjects.

Two drawbacks to that – the first is that if something doesn’t interest me, my level of ignorance about it, may be rather profound. Sports, for example – most sports don’t interest me. That may be a stereotype… let me just say that I know some extremely smart people who do know a lot about sports… but for me… sports. Music. I’m not interested and so I know very little. Why?

Because if I was interested I’d know a great deal more. Just pretty much automatically. If I decide I am interested in something, I will learn about it, and a necessary corollary to that is if I am not interested, I will know very little.

The second… if I’m wrong about something, I am perhaps very likely to be very wrong about it. Because it means I’ve made a mistake somewhere in my understanding and I’m not used to making mistakes in my understanding, so this possibility rarely comes to mind. Please understand I am not saying I don’t make many mistakes. I think I actually make quite a lot of them. But it’s hard for me to see them. The point is, I can come off as inflexible about a mistaken belief – and I am… but I want people to understand I’m not just being stubborn. I’m not just arguing for the sake of argument. I believe what I’m saying, and it can take a while to even orient myself around the idea that I’m wrong.

I’ll add one more drawback… in such cases, sometimes I’m so good at arguing that I think I can convince other people who are right that my (wrong) position is in fact the right one… and that makes things really confusing.

I also have difficulties with friendships. I have friends. But most of them have come through particular hobbies I have, that give me a commonality with people. I am not good at making friends with people who are different from me, and as I’m different from most people… to me, being gifted is lonely. I don’t think that’s necessarily a universal experience, but it is my experience.

I seek out other people like myself. Other gifted people, yes. But other people who share some other commonality with me as well…

This is hard to write…

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Just because an idea is old…

Educational options for gifted kids… over the years I have seen a lot of parents (starting with my own) searching for an appropriate – or at least a more appropriate, or the closest thing they can find to an appropriate – education for their gifted children, and I’d like to think that most of those who were looking found the best outcome they could. That’s certainly what they were trying to do and sometimes they had to move mountains to do it. And they made all sorts of choices and I won’t criticise any of them or say they were wrong for their child, but one thing I’ve noticed, goes a little against the grain for me.

Perhaps because these people are seeking something ‘different’, pretty much by definition, I’ve often noticed that they seem to be particularly drawn to what might be described as more ‘progressive’ or ‘modern’ or even ‘new age’ ideas about education. ‘Trendy’ ideas. ‘Radical’ ideas. It’s understandable – you are looking for something different from the norm in schooling because your kid doesn’t fit the statistical norms, and it’s easy for us to think that different means ‘new’ – that it means some sort of radical departure from what is happening now… well, yes, maybe that last bit is true but here’s the thing…

Modern education, current education is itself a product of a lot of ‘progressive’ thinking. While certainly there are some things about schooling and education that haven’t changed in a long time, there’s also a lot that has changed. And, personally, based on my own experiences as a child and as somebody who has been involved in education as an adult, quite a lot of the negative issues that affect gifted children in our current school system can be a product of some of those changes. This isn’t the place to really go into that in detail. But the point I would want to make is in looking for a good educational fit for their children who aren’t fitting in to ‘current’ schooling, parents might find it beneficial to look to the past as well as to the future. If the problem is with how a school is NOW, that doesn’t have to mean the only solution is forward looking.

I was happiest as a gifted child when I finally found myself in an educational environment that was more traditional, more old-fashioned if you will. And I’ve seen that happen for quite a few gifted kids over the years. Please understand, I am not saying that old-fashioned is always better – there are plenty of old ideas that were discarded for a reason – but to some extent, I think that means that many schools that still take a traditional approach have got rid of the bad ideas and kept the good ones, at least in general terms. Education founded on solid academic principles where academic achievement is the raison d’etre for what happens in the classroom has a lot going for it when it comes to educating gifted kids.

I remember – nearly twenty years ago now – when the Harry Potter books first became popular, initially speaking, they were extremely popular among gifted children, even before that spread to more mainstream fame. At the time, I wondered how much of that popularity with gifted children was in part was because Hogwarts was so different from their own schooling, and so many of them were not all that happy in their own school environments. Well, Hogwarts is a very ‘traditional’ type of school, in the sense I am talking about. The students are expected to reach high standards, encouraged to do so, in pretty strict environments, in very old fashioned ones. I think that actually has a real appeal for a lot of gifted kids, even without all the magical trappings. Especially when you feel trapped in a modern environment…

I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with going modern. Or ultra-modern. If parents look at some really new idea in education and they think it looks good for their child, great. Go for it. I just want to put in a plea for the idea that if you’re looking for something different from what is happening now, it may be worth looking to the past as well as the future for something different. And so often in gifted communities and other educational communities, I think this gets missed a bit. There seems to be far more emphasis on new ideas than looking to see which of the old ideas worked well.

If you are looking for educational options for a gifted child, don’t limit where you are looking too much.

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This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Educational Options.  To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_education_options.htm

It’s been a while

When I started this blog, I really expected to use it more than I do – and I’m now making a resolution to do so. There are so many things I’d like to talk about… but I’m going back to touch on a theme I have touched on before.

When I started this blog, I did explain some of why I chose the name ‘Chocky’s Child’ but I would like to expand on that a little bit.

I was an intellectually gifted child. Something I didn’t know I was for most of my early childhood. I knew I was smarter than most other kids but in the school system I was in for much of my primary education giftedness was something we didn’t talk about. It was ‘politically incorrect’ in almost every sense of that term, so I wasn’t really aware of the existence of the concept of giftedness. I had problems because I was different from other kids – I knew that well enough – but I had no idea why. I thought I might be an alien for a while there. I definitely thought there was something wrong with me. But I got some comfort from books and television – from stories and TV shows that showed different kids as something good – showed it as a good thing to be different. Especially if those kids were smart, and being smart was important.

Chocky was a science fiction novel by John Wyndham, and it was adapted into a TV series in the mid 1980s, when I was a child. I like the book and the original series, but two subsequent follow up series – Chocky’s Children and Chocky’s Challenge spoke to me more, because of the presence of one character in particular. Her name was Albertine – and she’d named after Albert Einstein. Albertine was only a kid – a girl of about 13, I think – I’d have to go back and watch again to check her precise age – and she was a genius – about to begin her studies at Cambridge in Chocky’s Children and having completed her degree (except for a technicality) by the start of Chocky’s Challenge. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away but the point is it was the presence of Albertine that helped me see that it was OK to be clever, OK to be gifted, in an environment where that wasn’t always clear to me. There is something deeply comforting – at least there was to me – in seeing somebody like yourself in a book or on television or in a movie. So I thought that I’d participate in this month’s gifted blog hop on Giftedness in Pop Culture, but listing some of the places where I found these types of experiences.

So – here goes.


Winners – Top Kid I’ve already written about this in the past more than once, so I’ll largely refer you back to that post. But an Australian TV show from 1985, about an intellectually gifted boy facing a moral dilemma.

The Tomorrow People – British kids Sci Fi series of the 1970s, remade as a joint British-American production in the early 1990s (also remade a second time only a couple of years ago in the US, but while I liked that remake, it doesn’t have the gifted child specific content I’m talking about here.) The series explores a group of children and young people who are ‘the next stage of human evolution’ and have to deal with their experience of not fitting into a world, of having talents others don’t.


Flirting – I am somewhat hesitant to mention this one because some people would see it as too adult for kids. In Australia, when it was first released it was given a PG rating, but in the US it has always had an R-rating. Please don’t dismiss it because of that – I think the R-rating is probably because of one brief scene of full frontal male nudity, and a couple of other relatively mild sexual scenes. Gifted kids – certainly by their teens – can handle that and I think the PG level rating is the more appropriate one. Flirting tells the story of a bright and sensitive boy in 1960s Australia who finds himself having to navigate his all boys boarding school. He makes contact with a girl from a nearby girls school who is very similar to him in many ways, having similar experiences. And it looks at how they survive in such environments while maintaining their personal integrity. Nicole Kidman played a significant supporting role in the film (although she was not the star) so it’s a little easier to get overseas than some other Australian films are. Parents might want to prewatch – and will probably enjoy it if they do – but it really is the film I recommend most for gifted teens.

Spud – adaptation of a book, I will discuss below.

Ender’s Game – adaptation of a book, I will discuss below.

Harry Potter – ditto


J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter (7 book series) – just to get it out of the way. I recommend this for gifted kids but I doubt I need to explain too much why. Hermione is very clearly an extremely gifted girl, and I would say Harry and Ron (and some of the other characters as well) probably are as well. Made into eight movies.

Diane Duane’s Young Wizards (10 book series – so far). The first book in this series, So You Want To Be a Wizard was published in 1983, considerably predating Harry Potter – I mention this because I’ve occasionally seen people apparently think Diane Duane was somehow copying J.K. Rowling – the series do contain some similarities, but there are massive differences in concept as well – even if Duane had come after Rowling, you couldn’t call these copies. The Young Wizards books are set in our world – our entire universe actually – and the basic premise is simple enough. Some people (and some animals) are wizards. They keep their identities hidden from most of us, and it is their role in life to fix things that go wrong and keep the universe working properly. Most wizards take on the role – are both chosing and given a choice – around the age they enter puberty. The youngest wizards have the most raw power – as you get older, your skill increases and your ability to be subtle, but young wizards, often advised by older ones – have to take on some very serious things. The Young Wizards books mostly focus on three of these kids – Nita and Kit, and Nita’s younger sister Dairine. All three are explicitly and clearly intellectually gifted as well as having their talents as wizards.These books seem more grounded in reality than the Harry Potter books – but they also get into some pretty deep and sad territory at times.

Stephanie Tolan’s Welcome to the Ark. This book wasn’t published until I was an adult – although only just. I wish it had been around when I was younger. An exploration of a group of kids in a psychiatric facility, all of whom are gifted, some very clearly intellectually gifted, and who find in each other a fellowship… I think it’s a book all gifted kids should read when they are ready.

Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game (and others). I know some of Card’s political views are ones that people find offensive. Personally I don’t believe authors should have to pass a political litmus test and art should stand on its own, but I mention it because others have the right to feel differently. But this series is just full of gifted kids – gifted kids who are, who do save the world. Personally I find Ender’s brother a much more interesting character than I do Ender. The first book Ender’s Game, along with elements of Ender’s Shadow as made into a film released in 2013, that I also recommend, but this is a case where a lot is lost by just watching the film.

David Feintuch’s Voices of Hope. I knew David, and his Seafort Saga (of which Voices of Hope is the fifth book) is probably my favourite Sci Fi series of all time (I hate his efforts at writing Fantasy though – enough to warn people never to read ‘The Still’). Voices of Hope is part of a series and I do recommend the series, but it is only Voices of Hope that I really regard as specifically full of ‘gifted kid’ content. The series as a whole describes the military and political career of Nicholas Seafort in Earth’s 23rd century. Earth’s society has become an extremely religious (a form of Christianity dominates the world)  and Nick Seafort is both rigidly religious and dedicated to trying to do the right thing (and faces conflicts in some cases between the two). The early cover his career in the space going United Nations Naval Service. In later books, he is a holder of high political office. Voices of Hope though focuses on his ten year old son – Phillip or PeeTee – who is clearly identified as an extremely intellectually gifted child who sets out to help another gifted boy who is in danger.

John Howard van de Ruit’s Spud (series of four books).Whether Spud – real name Peter Milton – is intellectually gifted or not is open to debate, but he is definitely musically gifted and Spud depicts his life in an all boys boarding school in South Africa during the period when apartheid was being dismantled. We get to see a sensitive boy dealing with his adolescence in an environment he finds tough to deal with. These books do contain some sexual content and can at times contain a certain degree of sexism in terms of objectification of girls, but given their context, it’s hard not to see that as realistic depictions of teenage boys of the time and place. The first three books of the four book series have been made into movies starring Troye Sivan and John Cleese – I think the first film in marvellous, the next two are not bad, but not brilliant either. The books are good from start to finish. Again, some parents might well prefer to preread.


I’m not a big music listener – it just doesn’t seem to speak to me, and when I enjoy something it’s more about the lyrics than the tune, and it’s the lyrics of one song I want to mention here. Because they were a comfort to me when I was experiencing dark times as a gifted child. The song is ‘Pity the Child’ from the musical ‘Chess’. Because of its contents I will stress here that I had marvellous and supportive parents unlike the boy in the song – I don’t relate to the neglect from his parents at all. But I will bold the lyrics that really spoke to me.

When I was nine I learned survival
Taught myself not to care
I was my single good companion
Taking my comfort there
Up in my room I planned
My conquests on my own

Never asked for a helping hand
No one would understand
I never asked the pair who fought below
Just in case they said no

Pity the child who has ambition
Knows what he wants to do
Knows that he’ll never fit the system
Others expect him to

Pity the child who knew his parents
Saw their faults
Saw their love die before his eyes
Pity the child that wise

He never asked did I cause your distress?
Just in case they said yes

When I was twelve my father moved out
Left with a whimper not with a shout
I didn’t miss him, he made it perfectly clear
I was a fool and probably queer

Fool that I was I thought this would bring
Those he had left closer together
She made her move the moment he crawled away
I was the last the woman told

She never let her bed get cold
Someone moved in, I shut my door
Someone to treat her
Just the same way as before

I took the road of least resistance
I had my game to play
I had the skill and more the hunger
Easy to get away

Pity the child with no such weapons
No defense
No escape from the ties that bind
Always a step behind
I never called to tell her all I’d done
I was only her son

Pity the child but not forever
Not if he stays that way
He can get all he ever wanted
If he’s prepared to pay

Pity instead the careless mother
What she missed
What she lost when she let me go
And I wonder, does she know

I wouldn’t call, a crazy thing to do
Just in case she said, who?

hoagiespopcultureThis blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Gifted in Pop Culture.  To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_pop_culture.htm


Test, for Tests’ Sake

When I was a gifted kid – both before I knew I was a gifted kid and after I knew I was a gifted kid – I loved doing tests. They were one of the few times in my schooling and the life surrounding my schooling where I actually felt that my intellectual ability (that I knew very well that I had even when I was in educational environments where it was obvious that I was supposed to try and hide it) was allowed to come out. Where I was allowed to be smart and show off what I knew. In most classroom situations I was expected to blend into the background and keep it quiet if I knew what was going on, if I knew what the answers were. Sit down. Shut up. Give others a chance. Don’t be a show off. But occasionally, just occasionally, there was a test and finally I was allowed to get across what I knew as fast as possible, without all the fluff and pretty whistles that went along with so much homework. Tests rarely involved busy work. And when it came time, finally, for me to do psychological testing – IQ tests and others, which only happened for me in the wake of a simply terrible time at school which had left me damaged in some pretty profound ways – doing those tests was the light, a beacon that made me feel like maybe there was a way out. As well as being, once again, something I enjoyed. The intelligence parts of the testing made me feel like nothing else ever had before – as while it started out easy, eventually we were getting into questions that I could not answer, I could not even begin to grasp, something that never happened at school. School was boring because it was far too easy. Being asked to stretch myself intellectually was a rare and wonderful experience. And the other tests, less concerned with raw intellect but more with personality and attitudes and things like that – I welcomed that because I had the feeling that for once in my life, somebody was trying to get a handle on what I thought and how I thought and what I felt – rather than telling me what I should think, and how I should think, and how I should feel. I know a lot of parents wonder whether or not they should get their kids tested. So I’ve written all this to make one point – consider the fact that your child may like being tested. It may be one of the best experiences of their lives. I’m not saying that is guaranteed – I can see how in other circumstances, it could be the exact opposite – but it’s something to think about.


Warning. May Contain Something We Don’t Talk About.

“You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”
– The Doctor, Doctor Who, The Face of Evil.

I was a gifted child. ‘Officially’ speaking, I mean. Under the definitions that were in vogue when I was a kid, which were mostly based on IQ, I was well above the cut off point for giftedness and I think the ‘label’ was accurate in my case (though I certainly do not think any official definition of giftedness should be limited to IQ results, I remain convinced that it is one valid measure among many – I’ve no problem with the idea of making such an assessment in other ways as well, but this one should be included in the range of measures, or some kids who need the help that gifted children need will miss out on being identified, just as surely as if IQ is the only or primary measure used).

I wasn’t identified as gifted until I was twelve – even though, to be bluntly and frankly honest, I was clearly streets ahead of my age peers from the moment I started school in a whole range of academic and intellectual fields. I had taught myself to read before I started school (after my mother was told she should not teach me by an early childhood nurse because if she did, I would just be bored when I got to school) and was reading novels – albeit novels aimed at children – at the time when other kids were just reading the basic how to read books. I changed schools eight weeks into my first year of schooling (because my family had to move interstate when my father was reposted) and I remember my new teacher handing me the lowest level ‘reader’ to work out where I was up to, then handing me the next lowest, then the next lowest, and after that, handing me the highest level ‘reader’ she had and then sending out to the Grade Six class for their highest level ‘reader’ – and deciding after that, that I could read whatever I liked. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had started school, having mastered all the English and Mathematics section of the entire primary school curriculum, and this was mostly self-taught. In seven years of primary school, I can remember learning only one new thing in mathematics – and that was only because I asked my Grade Four teacher a question, and he was good enough to take recess to answer it for me – we had been looking at perimeter and I asked him how somebody worked out the perimeter of a circle, and he took the time to introduce me to the concept of Pi. He also brought his own computer into the classroom (this was 1984 and computers in schools here were not yet a thing) and I learned the basics of BASIC programming from him. And from that I got the rudiments of algebra.

My intention in pointing the above out is simply to try and set the context for what I want to say next. The point is that I was clearly ‘advanced’. My parents had some idea of this, but they didn’t easily compare me to other kids. My teachers generally knew. And I certainly knew.

So why wasn’t I identified as gifted until I was 12?

Well, the answer to that is fairly simple – they didn’t do that where I went to school. At least not where I went to school from the age of seven.

Our state government at the time (in Australia, school level education is primarily the responsibility of state governments) had put education policy largely in the hands of a group that is sometimes referred to as the ‘Educational Left’. This was a group of self-described ‘Socialists’ who were part of the Australian Labor Party who held government in this state for most of my schooling. And they did not like the idea of gifted children. They regarded the idea of giftedness as anti-egalitarian and elitist. At this point, I find it necessary to mention that not everybody in the Labor Party shared that idea, nor do all Socialists – but this particular group did and they were the ones with the power and the influence. In particular, one of them, a Member of Parliament named Joan Kirner (who would become Minister for Education, and later the first (and so far only) female Premier of Victoria, but who was highly influential in setting state policy on education even before achieving those offices, regarded ‘gifted programs’ as a tool used by the ruling class to maintain its dominance over the working classes. It was an interesting viewpoint coming from the daughter of a working class tradesman who went through such a program herself, began university early as a result of it, and went on to achieve the highest political office in the state, but somehow she did manage to form that viewpoint. It meant that the idea of giftedness was quite literally ‘politically incorrect’ in our states education system. Equality of outcomes – where education was directed towards an idea that all children should achieve the same results at school, regardless of such irrelevancies as talent or ability was the doctrine of education under the influence of these people.

Kids like me – well, we really weren’t supposed to exist. So it was unusual for anybody to go around identifying gifted children.

The thing is, what did this mean for me? What did this idea of not labelling children as gifted do to me? Quite a bit, as it happens.

I knew I was different. I could not avoid knowing it. I was sitting there in class surrounded by other children who were, for the most part, years behind me in terms of their learning. They knew I was different too – and quite a few of them, unfortunately, decided this meant I was somebody who should be beaten up and teased on a regular basis. I was bullied, badly bullied. And because of the pressure on teachers to pretend the reason I was different didn’t exist, I think they were hamstrung in their ability to help prevent it happening! How do you address a reason a child is being picked on, when you’re not even supposed to think that reason exists?

I looked around for reasons I was so different – at one point, I seriously began to wonder if I was some sort of alien creature. Literally from another planet. I was so obviously different, but nobody would acknowledge it – it felt like there had to be some great secret, and some great reason for the secret. And that just made matters worse – identifying as coming from another planet gave the bullies even more reason to beat me up, and also turned the problem in the eyes of my teachers and my parents into one of me being dishonest and making up stories. But what I was trying to do was make sense of why I was different and why nobody would talk about it.

I had poor eyesight – people would talk about that. I had a minor hip deformity that made me clumsy – people would talk about that. I was very sensitive – that could be discussed. I was an excellent triple jumper and really good at the backstroke – these were things that people could talk about. But nobody would ever talk about me being clever. I was simultaneously expected to conceal it and also to ‘do my best work’.

I wish – fervently and wholeheartedly – wish that I had just heard the term ‘gifted’. It would have been even better if I had been told I was gifted, but even if the label had just been around as something that was allowed to exist, I think I would have worked it out for myself. And I would have had an accurate (or at least more accurate than extra-terrestrial!) idea of who I was and why I was different, and it wasn’t a bad thing. It was hellish at times to go through school knowing I was different and not knowing why, and because of the lack of acknowledgement, and the bullying, to eventually decide there was something seriously wrong with me.

When I was ten years old, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) made a series of television films for children called Winners. I discussed this in an earlier blog entry and I can’t do any better right now, but to quote from that:

Anyway, Winners came along, and I remember sitting down cross legged… in the little area outside our school library that comprised the AV area with the only TV and VCR in the school as our class was getting the rare treat of watching a television show just for enjoyment purposes. It was one of the Winners and it was called Top Kid and for the first time in my life, I saw a kid on television who seemed so similar to me. Seemed so like me. Very clever. Different interests from other kids. Bullied because of it. I even looked a lot like him. I was thunderstruck. The realisation that I was like this kid who was being seen as so unusual.

It was the first time in my life, I saw something that told me what I was. Why I was different. And that it didn’t have to be a bad thing. I was ten. I’d endured five years of school – and endured is the right word – and it would be another two years before circumstances (in simple terms, the bullying reached horrific, life threatening levels) would lead to me finding out I was gifted. But I finally had something to start to hang a thread on, and to understand there wasn’t something terribly wrong with me.

By the time, two years later, when I was twelve, that I was identified as gifted, after my secondary school insisted a psychologist get involved because there had to be something seriously wrong with a child who was being beaten up constantly for reasons they couldn’t understand(!) I was profoundly damaged. And when I saw the psychologist, I assumed I was going to be told what was wrong with me, what was bad about me. I’d internalised that message – that whatever was different about me was bad – not just because it wasn’t talked about, but that was part of the reason. Being told I was gifted… being told what that meant… was such a profound and incredible relief. I had a label for what I was… and it wasn’t a bad thing. It was a difficult thing. It was a challenging thing. But it wasn’t a bad thing.

I hear people talking about the risks of ‘labelling’ children. In particular, the risks of the gifted label. I don’t deny they have a point. But I wanted to try and write about the risks of not doing so as well.

Even if your school doesn’t label you, even if your teachers don’t, other kids probably will.

They labelled me as ‘bookworm’ and ‘clever Dick’ and ‘smartarse’ and ‘sook’. As ‘Scotty Neville’. As ‘Psycho’. As ‘Schizo’. As ‘Computerbrain’.

And because I did not know what I actually was, it was hard to deny their labels. Because there was definitely something.

And so I labelled myself.

I labelled myself as ‘Martian’, and ‘Larzadian’ (an alien from the planet Larzadia when I read Mars was unlikely to support complex life) . I labelled myself as ‘Crazy’ and ‘Mad’. I labelled myself as ‘Dangerous’. I labelled myself as a ‘Perversion’. I labelled myself as ‘Retarded’. And I labelled myself as ‘Worthless’ and ‘Unloveable’. And ‘Wrong.’

Just Wrong.

I needed a label – and they didn’t dare to give me the one that I needed. The one that was actually true.

GWORD This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”).  To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_the_g_word.htm

Any child…


The above image is an advertisement that is appearing in newspapers here as part of a state government initiative to try and reduce bullying in our schools – an initiative I fully support and applaud.

But as I look at the ad, it seems to me the message it’s presenting ‘Any child can be bullied’ (a very important message) is being somewhat undercut by the fact that the kid who seems most likely to represent the stereotypical victim out of the five kids in the photo is the one presented front and centre.

I think the message would be more effective if they’d put one of the other kids in front – perhaps the tall blond boy.

Or maybe the ad is intended to suggest people should stand behind the target – which is a good message, but if that’s the case, I think it’s even more problematic to have this boy front and centre.

I also wonder who the target of the ad is. Some things about it make me feel like it’s aimed at secondary school aged kids – but in that case, using the word ‘child’ is likely to get their backs up. Maybe it’s trying to target multiple audiences…

N’oublions jamais l’Australie

There’s a small town in France called Villers-Bretonneux and every schoolchild were I live – Victoria, Australia – used to be taught about it. Many still are. During the First World War, on the 24th-25th April 1918 (25th April, 1918, being the third anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, that are regarded as one of the pivotal events in Australian history), troops of the 13th and 15th Australian Brigades attacked German forces in an attempt to retake the town which had been captured a few weeks earlier. It was also reportedly the first battle in history were tanks fought on both sides. 1200 Australian troops died to retake that town and return it to freedom. But two battles in a month, left the town devastated.

The reason Victorian schoolchildren know about it, is because after the war, a fund was raised by asking every Victorian schoolchild of the time to donate a penny to rebuild the school at Villers-Bretonneux (the Education Department added to this donation). On Anzac Day 1927, the new school was finally opened. It is called the L’ecole Victoria (Victoria School) and to this day, the school hall is carved with images of Australian flora and fauna, with the words N’oublions jamais l’Australie carved into the walls – “Never Forget the Australians”


It’s a nice story – but I’m sharing it because of something that makes it nicer still.

In 2009, VIctoria suffered its worst ever natural disaster – the Black Saturday bushfires. A day of extreme weather with fires so severe they went off the scale used for measuring such things (conditions reached 120-200 on a scale calibrated to a maximum of 100), left 173 people dead, hundreds injured, 5000 buildings destroyed (including over 2000 homes).

Among the places destroyed was Strathewan Primary School. It was virtually obliterated by the fire. Four of the school’s parents and one of its children died as fires raced through the town. The town needed much in the way of repairs – and the school needed to be rebuilt.

And on the other side of the world, the teachers and children of L’ecole Victoria, the two other schools in the small town of Villers-Bretonneux, went to work.  Together, they raised and donated over $20,000 to be put towards the rebuilding of a school on the other side of the world.

They said they would never forget the Australians. They have kept that promise.



Ladybird, ladybird fly away home, The world keeps on turning, till your fine art is gone.

I collect children’s books. I almost said ‘old’ children’s books there, but I’m not sure that’s accurate – I do have some in my collection that are over one hundred years old, but most of my collection is from the second half of the twentieth century – when does a book become old?

That question aside, my collecting habits cover a range of genres. I collect school stories – that is, stories set in schools (mostly English schools), I collect the works of particular authors – Enid Blyton and W.E. Johns among them, and there are some other types of books as well, but what I would like to think about today is my collection of Ladybird books.

For those who don’t know what these are, the term refers to a large number of pocket sized hard cover books primarily aimed at children published from 1940 to 1999 by the Ladybird label, The publisher published other books before 1940, and Penguin, who now own the Ladybird brand, have published others since, but the thing about true Ladybird books is all of them were the same size and had a consistent format. They were cheap and – well, they were altogether brilliant, at least in my opjnion.

Over nearly 60 years, Ladybird published an estimated 663 titles in 63 different series. And what they covered was a fairly broad range of areas. There were fairy stories for younger children at one end of the scale up to fairly dense and detailed history books for older children well into their teens at the other. There were simple primers to help children to read, book on animals, books on science experiments – it was a very wide range.

One of the things I loved about them growing up was the illustrations. The artwork of the books typically considered of what seem to me to be genuine works of art – realistic paintings of scenes by genuinely talented artists. Many of the pictures in the books would have looked wonderful framed on a wall – and every book had dozens of such pictures.

As I said, the Ladybird book as we know it, finally died in 1999 – but there hadn’t been a new series since the 1970s. For the last twenty or so years of its existence, Ladybird was simply reprinting old titles. And as the books were brilliant, and many were about subjects that weren’t going to appreciably go out of date, there was nothing wrong with that, except…

The artwork. As I’ve said, I think the artwork was wonderful. So in browsing my collection, I’ve been surprised and a little saddened, as I realised that as the 1980s went on, much of the wonderful art of the original books was replaced with much less impressive art work. And I can’t find out why. I can understand needing to change an illustration in a book about science or history, because maybe understandings changed and the original illustration is no longer accurate. For example:


The first cover of the Policeman was released before the advent of personal radios for police in Britain, and so shows a police constable using the ‘TARDIS’ Police Box. Once radios had become commonplace and the Police Box had almost vanished, updating the image to:


is not hard to explain. But sometimes…

I’m going to look at two differing editions of one of Ladybird’s titles for younger children – one from 1977 and one from 1988. This is the same title with the same name and title number – but not quite the same book. There have been some changes to what is inside both in terms of text – and art. And the art changes baffle me.

This is an illustration from the 1977 edition:


and its corresponding equivalent from the 1988 edition:


To me, the 1977 art is so much superior (and it’s not all that good by Ladybird standards), I can’t understand the change in 1988.

And all through the book, I see the same thing. 1977:




1977 (this is a better example of what I see as the fine art of the series):

is replaced in 1988 by:








Is there perhaps some clue to the reasons here? In 1988:


There’s some racial diversity in this one – but it’s not as if this can explain the other changes I’m seeing, and if the idea was to better reflect a changing society, I think they’d have done it other illustrations as well.








I don’t get it…. I really don’t.

(Copyrighted pictures are included for purposes of review and to make my point – I do not challenge anybody’s copyright on them).

Normalising the norm

Swedish school brings in ‘gender neutral’ changing rooms to avoid teenagers being labelled male or female

A school in a liberal Swedish suburb is to open a gender-neutral changing room in an effort to discourage gender stereotypes and promote gay rights.

Patrik Biverstedt, headmaster of the Soedra Latins upper secondary school in Sodermalm, Stockholm, says they decided on the cubicle after students proposed it last year.

Students’ union member Camille Trombetti says the changing room is not only ‘for transsexual’ students.

I’ve no problem at all with the changing room – from what I read, it’s something students can choose to use if they feel it’s appropriate for them – on any grounds, and further it seems to be something the students proposed themselves.

But this (later in the article) does concern me – if it is true, and not just a media exaggeration (I’ve heard it from multiple sources, but they may have all got it from an exaggerated source):

Nearly all the children’s books at Egalia deal with homosexual couples, single parents or adopted children.

I have absolutely no problem with children’s books including any of these things. Children should be exposed to the idea that families take varying forms – but unless you show heterosexual couples – unless you show what might be termed the traditional family – among these forms, you are just repeating the same mistakes made when you don’t show anything but those families.


The introduction of the new changing room comes two years after teachers at the nearby Egalia preschool began encouraging youngsters to stop referring to each other by their sex.

The colour and placement of toys and the choice of books at the nursery are carefully planned to try to prevent pupils being affected by stereotypes.

I think I understand why those who may not identify with traditional ideas of gender have concerns about stereotyping like this – I say, I think I do, because this is not something I’ve personally had to deal with in anything but the most superficial way personally, and I think it would be arrogant to assume I get it all – and I support the idea that they should not be bound by them. But as somebody who was born biologically male (in the interests of full disclosure, some might argue against that, but it’s not an issue I want to discuss as it is very personal) and who feels I definitely am male in every way that matters, I also want to make sure it’s OK to be who I am and I do worry that going as far as this preschool is doing risks making it clear that it’s OK to not fit the traditional ideas of male versus female while making it less clear that it’s also OK if you do.

If a boy wants to play with ‘girl toys’ – fine. If a girl wants to play with ‘boy toys’ – fine. If somebody wants to play with toys not traditionally associated with a particular sex identity, fine as well.

But it has to also be fine for boys to play with ‘boy toys’ – and they need to be available – or for girls to play with ‘girl toys’ – and they need to be available – or you are just creating a new set of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ behaviours.