Friday, August 9, 2013

Are gifted kids' parents always gifted? Are Jackie Evancho's?

On a Jackie Evancho fan forum I once said "when her mother speaks for her I listen, but reserve judgment."

Jackie Evancho's mother Lisa is revered by nearly all of Jackie's fans, so I felt constrained to explain that reservation:

Because parents don't always know everything about their kids. None of us are omniscient. When I was teaching gifted students I belonged to the California Association for the Gifted (a support group), and one study I saw compared the assessment of teachers, parents, and test on evaluating whether their kids were gifted.

Teachers came in at about 50%--mostly because, I think, they couldn't tell the difference between docility and intelligence, or between unruliness and stupidity. Bright kids forced to plod along at the pace of the rest get bored, and many then start making trouble for the teachers.

And parents? Off the top of my head I recall them coming in at around 2/3 to 3/4. Meaning a substantial number of them didn't realize their kid was gifted. Mike E said honestly that he and Lisa didn't realize Jackie was gifted until the grandparents and the stunned audiences at local performances told them otherwise.

When you're a parent it's tough to be objective. You want so much for your kid...or you get involved in power struggles with your kid...or you try to get a do-over for your own thwarted dreams with your kid...or you see your kids at a reflection of and on you rather than seeing your kid for who he is.

Having kids is humbling. So much of who they are was set in stone at the moment of conception, and more was locked in long before they could even start talking.

Lisa said a number of things that gave me high hopes for the parents' parenting of Jackie. That Lisa believed kids shouldn't be totally insulated from the harsh realities of life. That she wanted to support Jackie's childhood AND her aspirations. That she tried to be really honest with Jackie about her singing. That they watch The Walking Dead together. That she took the kids to see Phantom of the Opera when Jackie was just 7.

This gives me a picture of a warm but not sugarcoated parenting style. Hard to ask for better.

But none of us can know if everything Lisa says about Jackie is true. Kids grow up and surprise us. I'm sure Jackie will surprise Lisa at some point if she hasn't already.

So when I say I reserve judgment on what Lisa says about Jackie, it's not a slight of Lisa in any way. Just an acknowledgement that even the best parent isn't a telepath, and human being are complex organisms--especially geniuses/prodigies, because there's so much horsepower packed into those little kid bodies.

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