Outliers & The Gifted

If you’ve ever taken a statistics course, you’ve been warned about these. Outliers can throw your data off.  If you’ve ever looked at a bell curve, you’ve seen a graphical representation of these – data points at either of the far ends of the scale. If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, you’ve read about them. And, if you have ever worked with a gifted child, you know about them. Outliers. Merriam Webster online dictionary offers several definitions of the word. The one that fits the type of outlier I am most familiar with is this, “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.”  The “something” in my use of the word outlier refers to those people who are not the same as others, intellectually, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and sometimes, behaviorally.  These outlying people are found at both the far left end and the far right end of the bell curve. It is those outliers that fall in the 97th-99th percentile, when tested and compared with others on any one, or even many types of intellectual, artistic, or musical abilities that interest me. They are our gifted members of  society.

Over my life, I have known and even had the chance to live with, mother, befriend, teach, and witness some unique outliers.  Extreme abilities, some fostered and some innate, exhibit themselves in these outlying children, teens, and even adults. Truthfully, I have spent a large part of my adult life providing enrichment opportunities for some of the most uniquely gifted individuals in our community.

I suspect that when I look back on this blog in ten years or so, much of what was written will be about outliers in one form or another. Why, you might wonder? One reason is that outliers are misunderstood and often, overlooked.  Another reason is that we need to increase awareness, learning about and from our outliers. What are “they” doing differently to be such achievers? Is it purely their use of presented opportunities or amount of practice time as suggested by Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule?  Or is it something  more?

This is made all the more fascinating by the fact that many times, outliers find their own path to greatness, unsupported by the industrial model of education that is in place today, unnurtured by a society that accepts and even promotes mediocrity, and largely unrecognized by the masses until their great uniqueness is so developed it is impossible to ignore any longer. What is the key to unlocking such potential? Surely, some gifted people do not reach theirs. And why is that? Is it the lack of support from schools and society in general? Or, is it something more, something such as the lack of opportunity or lack of ability (financial or otherwise) to take advantage of opportunities?

Giftedness is becoming more recognized. There are a plethora of books on the subject, and now a movie explores what being an outlier might look and feel like for a young girl and her family.  Still, I receive repeated requests for advice or complaints regarding lack of service both locally and from our global community. It seems that giftedness is still a “dirty” word. Unlike statistical outliers that can be “thrown out”,  we need to nurture our outliers at the far right of the bell curve. Those on the left side have been nurtured, protected, supported, and guided to become productive members of society. We need to do the same for the outliers on the right end of the curve. After all, humanity is facing some serious issues on a global scale.  Just for these reasons, the gifted members of our society need our support, nurturing, and understanding, too.

I’m willing to help. Are you?

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