Most gifted students take their ability for granted. In truth, all of us pretty much take all aspects of our lives for granted --walking, hearing, seeing, loved ones; even things we think we hate we take for granted --hard work, responsibility, time demands, chores --things that under certain conditions we are shocked to discover bring us joy.
There is a sign in my classroom that states: "I will honor my undeserved ability by doing by best." At the beginning of the school year I tell students a true story that is personal to me because it is about a young mother I know and respect --a story that helps students begin to grasp the inherent expectations of exceptional ability:
"Dana's" son was born normal, however within a few hours of going home from the hospital, he began languishing. He arrived at Childrens' Hospital in Little Rock after what must have been an extremely terrifying helicopter ride. Dana and her husband learned their son's bilirubin level had been misread at the hospital --the jaundice escalated and complication upon complication left this little boy with cerebral palsy.
One day Dana heard a group of mothers discussing their son's t-ball teams. She heard comments such as: "They have my son in the outfield --he's should be playing shortstop," ...or "My son is really the best hitter, but he has to sit out several innings so everyone plays the same amount, and we always lose." Dana remained silent thinking, as she told me, "I only wish my son could run." Instead of being angry with her group of friends, a feeling I was certain she must have felt, Dana said she instantly forgave them in her heart. She explained by saying, "I know for certain that would have been me talking if my son had been like theirs; they never realized what they took granted."
When I finish telling the story to my students, I ask them to talk about why they think I see a connection between Dana's story and the "undeserved" quotation on the wall. I admit that, depending on the age of the students, I sometimes have to cleverly direct their thinking to my point; however, I do not apologize for breaking that rule of teacher led discussion. Just as Dana's son did nothing to deserve his cerebral palsy, so too, not one of us has done anything to determine the abilities we were born with or that life sometimes thrusts upon us. The important point is, "What do you do with what you have?"
Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz, said, "It doesn't matter what we expect out of life. What matters is what does life expect from us?" Gifted students need frequent reminders of this truth. Each of them is a steward of their undeserved ability. Do they use it to realize their full potential and serve others, or do they take it for granted, refusing to see their ability for what it is --an undeserved gift.