A Word to the Wise and Gifted
Do you know a wise person? Perhaps you had to stop and think about that for a moment. Most people can quickly name someone who they think of as smart, intelligent, or clever. But, the concept of wisdom infers an additional layer of depth to that intelligence. It implies that good judgment is coupled with knowledge and information. In his 1998 article, A Balance Theory of Wisdom, Robert Sternberg proposed that wisdom involves both intelligence and creativity, as they are applied not just to serve one’s own ends, but also, the ends of other people and of larger interests as well. Indeed, wisdom is a complex interplay of many human qualities, including, but not at all limited to, additional qualities like vision, insight, discernment, and attentiveness. Wisdom is difficult to define succinctly but fairly easy to recognize when we see it.
When gifted students enter into a new school year, we assume they likely either bring with them a depth of knowledge and information about the content of the curriculum or the ability to learn the information quickly and easily. Academically talented students have the ability to seek out and absorb immense amounts of information and content throughout a school year. As educators and parents we are understandably pleased to see students learn new things and become experts in their favorite topics as they become excited about and absorbed with information they find intriguing.
What I’d like to propose is that, in addition to exercising their great mental skills, gifted students seek also to gain wisdom and that teachers seek to provide opportunities that encourage the development of wisdom. How are educators doing that already? If they are including debate among their strategies around issues in the curriculum, then they are encouraging students to explore all sides of an issue in depth, which aids in decision making that is considerate of many points of view. When teachers bring in current events and news stories that do not have easy answers to the classroom, then they are providing authentic ways for students to apply content that develops aspects of wisdom. For example, the current refugee crisis in Europe is a complex problem that certainly requires knowledge of history, current political implications, and social empathy as leaders seek viable solutions. Immigration, in general, around the world is an ongoing topic that can be discussed with students. It is a topic that is so multi-sided that great wisdom is called for as leaders seek to treat people humanely while dealing with the realities of financial and environmental resources, national and international laws, and protection of borders. Providing complex, engaging content that requires students to think deeply, gather wide-ranging information and opinions, and consider the human element is not only good for keeping highly capable students engaged and challenged, it is also critical for the development of their wisdom traits.
If you have other examples of ways that you can encourage the development of wisdom among gifted and academically gifted students, we encourage you to share them here so that others can benefit from your experiences. Above all, provide students with time to shut out the noise, chaos, and distractions of the world to listen to their inner voice of wisdom. It’s there—we just have to access it.
All the best,