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  • Writer's pictureThe Knox School of Santa Barbara

When Bright Kids Become Disillusioned, Part II

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

By: James T. Webb, Ph.D. 

What Can Teachers Do? Teachers face a dilemma. On the one hand, they are supposed to educate the whole child and to help each child find his or her place in the world. On the other hand, teachers are limited in what they can do and say. They are customarily prohibited from discussing values in the classroom, except for seemingly universal ones, and they are evaluated for students' accomplishment and content mastery of basic minimal standards. Despite attempts at differentiation, so much of the curriculum in age-grouped classrooms is lock-step and focused on basic minimal levels-something that quickly raises issues of fairness for gifted students. Treating everyone the same is not fair; just because one child in a classroom needs braces, will we put braces on the teeth of all the children? Disillusionment with the educational experience typically results.

So what can you do as a teacher? Here are a few ideas.

  • Recognize the process of disillusionment. If you understand, you will be able to think of ways to be helpful both in and outside of the classroom.

  • Don't try to argue a child out of his disillusionment. It won't work, and you run the risk of losing the most important thing you have with the child-your relationship.

  • Listen and understand the child's concerns about unfairness and aloneness. Intense, sensitive, disillusioned idealists usually feel very alone, and one teacher, parent, or other caring adult can be a lifeline.

  • Use developmental bibliotherapy and cinematherapy. As alternative reading, suggest books where the characters are bright youngsters dealing with disillusionment, or movies featuring a gifted child with such concerns. Then you can use those individuals as the basis for further discussion and relationship-building.

  • Help these youngsters find other idealists. Feeling alone, disillusioned, and powerless can be truly miserable. When these children are with other idealists, they feel less alone and more empowered, perhaps able to find new ways of viewing the world.

  • Remember that a gifted child's age peers are not necessarily her intellectual or idealistic peers. If allowed, these children often gravitate toward older playmates and adults in their search for friends.

  • Bridge the gap between home and school. Parents of gifted children typically welcome contact with a caring teacher, and teachers can suggest books, websites, and other resources where parents can better understand the concerns of their children and foster their relationships.

  • If a child seems severely disillusioned, alone, and depressed, do not hesitate to bring the matter to the attention of the school guidance counselor, psychologist, or someone else in a helping position so that a suicide assessment can be made. Ideally, you accompany the student; if the student refuses that offer, you make the report regardless. Of course, teachers do not want to obligate a school financially by suggesting specific diagnoses or treatment. However, they can note what they have observed and encourage the parents to explore appropriate websites or books.

  • Take care of yourself. Teachers who advocate for gifted children often find themselves being in a minority, becoming disillusioned, and being at risk for burnout. Often this is referred to as "compassion fatigue." When your battery has run down, you have nothing left to give.

Disillusionment implies a dissatisfaction with the status quo. As such, it can be an opportunity to gain wisdom and a positive life lesson that can lead to personal growth and sometimes a newfound feeling of belonging and purpose.

James T. Webb, Ph.D., the founder and director emeritus of Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG), has been recognized nationally as a highly influential psychologist on gifted education. The lead author of six books and numerous articles about gifted children, he has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Gifted Children. Editor's Note: This article appeared in Teaching for High Potential (November 2016) Suggested Readings Galbraith, J. (2009). The gifted kid's survival guide: For ages 10 and under. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit. Galbraith, J., & Delisle, J. (2011). The gifted teen survival guide: Smart, sharp, and ready for (almost) anything. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit. Halsted, J. W. (2009). Some of my best friends are books: Guiding gifted readers from preschool through high school, 3rd ed. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press. Webb, J.T. (2014). Searching for meaning: Idealism, bright minds, disillusionment, and hope. Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press. Webb, J.T., Gore, J.L., Amend, E.A., & DeVries, A.R. (2007). A Parent's guide to gifted children. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

James T. Webb, Ph.D., the founder of SENG, has been recognized as one of the most influential psychologists nationally on gifted education. He is the lead author of the award-winning book, A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children.

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