We have an ongoing discussion in our family that goes something like this:

“Mom, remember when I was the smartest in the class?”

“Well, we don’t know you were the smartest. We just know that you tested three grades ahead.”

“I was ahead of everyone.”

“Well, only in stuff they test for.”

“Remember you had to throw a fit in school because the teacher didn’t have books for kids as smart as I was?”

I want to say: Remember your grandpa who went to Harvard and has a police record? Remember your grandma who got on Jeopardy but left you alone on a street corner in New York City?

Instead I say, “Being really smart at school does not mean anything about your life. It doesn’t mean you’re nice or kind or self-aware. It doesn’t mean you learn all things fast, it only means you learn school things fast. Your brother cares about animals much more than you do, so he learns about animals faster than you do.”

My son doesn’t care. The smart kid label really sticks.

Another mother wrote about this issue from the opposite perspective: Her daughter came home and told her that she is not in the gifted group. Letters went home to gifted kids and she wasn’t one of them.

Of course, the right answer is to tell kids—both types of kids—that all kids are smart and all kids are gifted. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

The problem is that school does not acknowledge this. School expects all kids to do well in both math and reading. School expects kids to try their hardest in art and gym. Yet in the real world, few people care enough about both to try their hardest.

All kids look gifted if you let them choose to do what interests them. And all kids get a skewed view of themselves if you put them in school. The kids are either skewed in thinking they are not gifted or skewed in thinking they are smarter than the kids who don’t do as well as they do in school.