3 Ways My Gifted/AP Education Made Me Stupid

Growing up, there were three main traits that I considered to be the perfect summation of who I was.

 I was:

  • a redhead,
  • a dancer, and
  • a smart kid- gifted, to be exact.

I may have been a truly nice kid, but I’m going to admit that I wore that gifted label proudly, and I let everyone I met know that I was “special.” I loved school, my teachers loved me, and I cruised through my senior year like I’d done it a million times. 

I was going somewhere.

Going places in the world

And then I entered the real world.

the real world

Upon becoming an adult, reality came crashing down upon me, and I realized that no matter how high my IQ was, school had left me totally unprepared for what life is actually like.

None of the awards, test scores, and grades mattered anymore because none of those trinkets taught me how to budget, pay bills, balance a checkbook, and interact with the “common folk” who seemed to have it together so much better than I did after graduation.

Now, as I mentioned before, I loved school. I actually cried at the end of my senior year, not because I was going to miss my friends (although I was), but because I was going to miss school.

So it’s really been quite a journey coming to terms with this one fact:

My gifted /AP education made me stupid.

Of course I don’t mean academically stupid, but real world stupid. Substantially stupid. And here are the three ways this happened:

1. It gave me a false sense of security.

Earlier I mentioned how I felt about my gifted label, and I wasn’t kidding. For years, my classmates and I were repeatedly reminded by our teachers that we were the cream of the crop. The smartest of the smart. We had a myriad of special privileges: ice cream parties, lots of movie days, a higher grading system- our A’s were worth 5 points instead of the standard 4, and our B’s were worth 4, rather than 3 points. We even got to sit on the stage behind former President George H.W. Bush when he came to our school during my senior year.

(If you click on the link, you can’t see me in this picture, but I was one of the kids behind him. I took tons of pictures of the back of his head, which were totally dark because we weren’t allowed to use flashes.)

Anyway, suffice it to say that all of this special treatment made me feel invincible. I knew everything. Things were always going to go my way.

If only I’d have figured out a way to stay in school forever…

2. It rendered me helpless when I was faced with things I didn’t know how to do, or that even required simple common sense.

When it came to a public school education, it was all about grooming for the academically advanced kids. We were told what to learn, when to learn it, and how to go about doing it. I don’t ever remember a time that we were given something that was entirely our own to decide what to do with. The mentality of the teachers was always:

“This is what you are to do, and these are the methods you are to use. Do not deviate, or your grade will be negatively affected.”

I became so used to being told step-by-step what to do that I completely lost any sense of using my own critical thinking skills. In fact, when it came to anything involving common sense, I was lost. I was the kid who could correct her teacher when he misquoted the Preamble to the Constitution, but I couldn’t even figure out how to open doors half the time.

no common sense

I became a pro at working the system. I could write papers for my AP English class on books that I never even read and score a 5 (which was the highest you could get), yet I failed at the most mundane tasks that come naturally to most people, and occasionally that still plagues me to this day.

Even as an adult, my 3-yr.-old had to show me how to close out the tabs on my phone- when she was 2! I can’t adjust the straps on purses, backpacks, and belts, and don’t even get me started on jackets with zippers.

For the longest time, I would freeze with anxiety anytime I was faced with something I didn’t know how to do- or I just wouldn’t do it at all. It never even occurred to me to try to figure things out for myself. 

Where was the teacher who would provide elaborate instructions?

Where was the detailed worksheet that would tell me everything I needed to know?!

It took me years of homeschooling my own kids before I finally realized that it’s entirely possible to learn something without being told what to do.

Better late than never.


3. It hemmed me into a box I didn’t want to be in.

I will never forget a meeting with my guidance counselor during my junior year. I was picking out my classes for the next year, and I mentioned that I’d like to take accounting and business math. His response?

“You can’t take those classes. They’re business classes. You’re gifted, so you have to take college prep.”

I pressed him a little on the issue, so he asked me what my career plans were. I told him that I was a certified dance teacher, and I was hoping to open my own studio. He visibly scoffed- he didn’t even try to hide it- and he literally sneered at me:

“You want to be a DANCE TEACHER?”

I left his office that day without having any math courses planned for my last year of high school. Since only three math credits were needed to graduate, I technically didn’t need to take math. Looking back, I’m astounded that my counselor would rather have had me skip math altogether than deviate from my educational track.

What’s wrong with this picture?




High school seems like it was an eternity ago, yet the aftermath of these three things has remained with me. Between homeschooling and watching my jack-of-all-trades husband learn how to do anything he sets his mind on, I’ve slowly been working my way out of this mindset, but it’s been quite a journey.

As the old saying goes:

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

And this couldn’t be truer. Don’t waste a developing mind on labels and micromanaging and stereotyping. Give your child room to grow, space to figure things out on their own, and a chance to fail at their independent pursuits…

Because failing is infinitely better than never having the opportunity to try in the first place.











Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

50 thoughts on “3 Ways My Gifted/AP Education Made Me Stupid”

  1. This is wonderful. Thank you. It puts many things into perspective. Even as homeschoolers we can be so focused on the right curriculum, that we miss the every day things that really do matter. Although we want our kids to be college ready, we want them to be life ready and be able to try to do things. My motto recently, has been “Teach them to fish” in every way, which means we as parents must move out of the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a really nice reminder to let, and to encourage our kids to be independent. Now that our oldest, (almost 6), is following instructions more routinely, (like a ‘grown up’) I’m finding myself tempted to lapse into a ‘let me do that for you, it’ll be simpler’ sort of attitude. Fortunately,
    1. she’s trying to do even more things independently,
    2. I’m catching myself, and remembering to continue to encourage her to be independent, and
    3. excellent and helpful writers, like you, are providing reminders as well!


    Liked by 2 people

  3. You make some excellent points here. I think your experience represents not so much what’s wrong with GATE specifically, but traditional school in a wider sense. Educators love boxes; it’s easier to herd the cattle when you have corrals for each breed ( and I say this as a state licenses educator).

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Oh my WORD. Just stop it! Get out of my head! I was a smart redhead who was a FIGURE SKATER who was ALSO a senior in ’92 and had unhelpful guidance counselors that just wanted to fit me into the typical box! Seriously. You’ve done it again. Are we even different people? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Knocked it out of the park as always. I was chatting with a High School Chemistry Teacher the other week. He informed my son that kids these days are politer than they were 30 years ago when he started teaching…too bad they don’t know anything. This was before he knew we homeschooled. 😉 Even teachers can’t seem to help now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, they can’t. ALthough I do have to say that kids being more polite nowadays is not the case here in the U.S. They’re pretty terrible now. One of my son’s high school teachers literally stopped teaching because the kids would just sit there texting, braiding each others hair, listening to their ipods, and painting their nails during class.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! You really have some insights into education! I think it is very interesting that you now feel that it would have been a better use of your time to learn real world skills. I am also making room in my teenager’s schedule for business math. She isn’t taking it yet, but I plan for her to take it before graduation. She also has ideas about starting a business and other creative endeavors. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great viewpoint of having only education and not exercising the other ways we need to learn (like through experience). Yeah, I went to that school of hard knox and worked two jobs to finish college with some debt. I did have the life experience of being completely on my own at 17 yrs old though, that proved enlightening. Now I make sure I teach my kids to think outside the box, have a plan A / B and C or more. They know how to do bills, budget, save, get a 2nd job if they have to. They do have something that we didn’t (the internet) which they can use as a valuable teaching resource. I did use my education in my career as an Engineer (which I transitioned to after my Master’s degree because it allowed me flexibility to work flex hours or from home). So now I am teaching my kids my hard earned life lessons and letting them explore some on their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh yes! Testing, writing papers, and regurgitating facts was so effortless. I loved school– hence the master’s degree (that I have yet to use!)…. I took my senior year to coast and had three art classes a day. I really wanted to be an art teacher but was told that it was difficult to find work when there was only 1 per school or sometimes even only 1 per school district… I left high school not knowing what to do so I just keep attending classes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I decided to graduate a semester early, and it drove all of the teachers and guidance counselors crazy because I was in the top 10 of my graduating class. I completely understand “the look” the guidance counselor gave you! I have a jack-of-all-trades father, so it was a bit easier for me to break out of the box, but my smart friends had a very hard time. Glad you’re breaking out of the box!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s quite a story ! Kudos to your journey and thanks for sharing your story!

    This is why it’s imprtant to let our children into our lives in stead of shoving them behind our backs in real life situations saying ‘they don’t need to know”

    #practical Mondays

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely post – lots of great points! I’m apparently older than you – “gifted” didn’t exist when I was in school, nor did a 5 point grade system. BUT we had many of the same experiences – especially with guidance counselors. Since we were “college prep” we were nearly forbidden to take anything practical or useful. I took 4 years of home ec – against counselors’ advice – and they were the ONLY high school courses that I can honestly say were well worth my time! I use home ec every day to function and take care of my family. I use English Lit very rarely, and mainly just for frivolous conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My daughter is gifted, but I think we are on the right track to avoiding some of these pitfalls. For one thing, he older brother points out all the times she lacks common sense! Since we are in a small town, she has an Advanced Learning Plan but there are not enough kids to have separate AP classes. But I do agree her big brother who is taking personal finance instead of college algebra right now, is learning some valuable stuff she won’t. #thisishowweroll


  13. Well said, Shelly! The homeschooled have more time to o things other than school. That gives them more time for chores, which are problem solving in the real world or being creative with real life materials. The academic life has no time for either of these.


  14. I feel like I see a lot of the things you mentioned about yourself in my father. He’s the smartest book-smart person I know. I can appreciate his smarts and he’s done a lot with them, but now that he’s out of the academic world it leaves him on another planet compared to other people. I know a lot of parents who are struggling with this question right now at our school. They just tested the kids for GATE and people are having to choose not only to put the kids in the program but to also move them to a completely different school. I don’t know why they move kids to another school, but they all go to one place in the district. When I was little at least kids got to stay with their friends even if they weren’t in the same classes. I definitely appreciated this post and I can see how this has been a struggle for you.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had to be transferred to another school in our district, too. The school I had been in didn’t have a gifted program there. It was a bit scary for me as a 4th grader. Thanks for reading. I know how your dad feels!


  15. We had a guidance counselor that said some pretty odd things. Years later we figured it was his backhanded way of motivating us. At least I chose to think that because I try to see the best in everyone.

    Thanks for sharing on Friday Frivolity

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I would not say that it was college prep or AP courses that made you real world stupid… schools in general just don’t prepare students for real life situations (and I guess that is another topic if it is their job to do so). I took all college prep courses in high school too, but my parents taught me the other side of things so I would be prepared for graduating and moving on… thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My parents did what they could, too, but it’s hard for parents to find the time for this- especially nowadays- when kids often spend more time with their teachers than their own families.


  17. I firmly believe the skills you indicate such as balancing a checkbook, writing checks, creating a budget, etc. are the responsibility of parents to teach whether they home school or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with that, but there are two problems: In my case, there were classes that offered those things, and I was turned away because I was “college prep” and instead ended up learning a whole lot of nothing in school (nothing of use, anyway). In addition, students are mandated to spend from 6-7 hours a day at school, and between after-school programs, extracurriculars, and parents working outside the home, there’s often little time left for such things.


  18. Thanks for writing this. As a former gifted kid, I still struggle with the identity issues as an adult. And now I have produced three children who all exhibit the same signs of giftedness, but as you know it’s not always “yay”, it’s sometimes “oh crap” because of all the baggage that comes with it, like emotional maturity delay, inability to relate to peers, etc. Also, nobody (in general) wants to hear about my kids struggling with giftedness.
    I think one of the most frustrating aspects of being identified as gifted and talented as a child is that you’re never told exactly what you are gifted in. I took a test in grade 3, and my parents were told I was gifted, and they put me in the gifted program, but the test results were never actually revealed. (There were a few of us that were quite gifted at lying, stealing, or just generally b.s.-ing our way through class). Of course, if one also had a learning disability or learning deficits, they stay hidden, lest one’s gifted identity be challenged.
    I felt that same pressure in high school from teachers that OF COURSE I would go to university. So I rebelled and went to community college instead. Even there I was asked “why are you here? You should be in University.” Like learning a trade that I could actually make money with straight out of school was beneath me.
    Many of the gifted kids I know would be considered “failures” by high school guidance counselors. One is a manager at Staples, another one makes props for plays and movies, one is a chef, one works in printing, another dropped out of University to become a Reiki massage therapist, and of course I am, gasp, a homeschooling mom. These entirely respectable careers would make some guidance counselors shake their heads and disappointment.
    I’m still not sure what it is that gifted kids are “supposed” to turn out to be; PhD’s? Presidents of countries? Members of the UN? High school guidance counselors? (LOL)
    My comment ended it up being longer than I expected. But my point is that I understand exactly what you’re talking about, and I appreciate you writing about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, you hit the nail on the head with your comment. And your experience sounds so familiar to mine- tested in 3rd grade, never given the results- we were simply informed that I was gifted, transferred to another school that offered a gifted program, etc. And here I am, like you, a homeschool mom, And there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. ” I can’t adjust the straps on purses, backpacks…” ME NEITHER! I could have written this post. Your experience is almost identical to mine. Being labeled gifted & told I was smart kind of ruined me for the real world. I had a pretty rough time in college once I was finally on my own & it was much harder to ‘cheat the system’. I hope to homeschool to do better for my kids, but I’m also looking forward to re-learning all the stuff I was ‘supposed’ to learn in K-12! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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