“No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.” – Chris Hardwick
As I describe the impact of straight A's, anyone with experience with gifted education will begin to reminisce about countless experiences with their students. I'll start this part of my talk on bad grades with a small personal story.
I grew up in a small town. I was an artistic kid who drew tons of pictures and received nothing but compliments about it most of my early childhood. My drawings were met with blanket compliments from everyone around me. Each year that passed, I kept reproducing the same images knowing that they would elicit that always desirable "I like it." or "It's great." The adults around me believed they were being supportive. In so many important ways, they were. School continued and so did the compliments. The few peers I had who matched my ability level had very different styles and goals. Working with them was the childhood equivalent of parallel play. We worked around each other but never challenged each other.
Then I moved for college. I was in my first real city. Instead of being surrounded by farmland and people I knew, I was surrounded by classrooms and students from around the state. Eagerly I signed up for every art class I could find. It wasn't long before my self-confidence hit rock bottom. Suddenly I was surrounded by artists of varying skill levels and teacher who were equipped to challenge me. Except I hadn't experienced challenge before with my art. I had no idea how to cope with the emotional impact. My first reaction was to consider dropping out. I didn't fortunately. But this put me up against a learning curve that should have been spread out over years of education. Suddenly I was making up for what should have been years of slowly adapting to rigor and challenge.
If during my early artistic years, I had been pushed things might have gone differently. If I had been challenged instead of having the work I was given simply be smothered in kudos I might have been more resilient. If I had known how to brace myself for the reality of not being the best all the time, I would have made very different choices in my first year of college.
This sudden exposure to a wall of uncertainty happens at a much faster timeline for gifted kids. So often gifted kids have an easy time with early academics. Kindergarten and first grade can feel effortless for students who were early readers or grasp reading comprehension early. But as they move along they begin to encounter a place in school were their giftedness can't compensate for the simple need for work. Or worse, their giftedness has shielded them from the humility that comes with not being perfect all the time. Just consider the countless papers out now about perfectionism.