I recently came across an article about honors classes that infuriated me. The author discusses how it can be harmful to place students in accelerated or honors classes at a young age. While there is some evidence that advanced classes can be harmful to very young students (meaning 1st or 2nd-grade students), honors classes are actually the best thing for many students.
I'll use myself as an example. From the moment I was born, my parents knew I was going to be exceptionally intelligent. Instead of crying when I was born, I simply just looked around the room to take the world in. My innate intelligence proved to be real when I had to be in my own reading group in kindergarten because I was reading at a 1st or 2nd grade level unlike the rest of my class.
I have struggled a lot socially and still do. As a child, I got upset very easily and had behavioral issues. In 5th grade, my teacher noticed that I was acting out in class and believed my actions to be indicative of something other than a behavior disorder. She encouraged my parents to get me formally tested, and sure enough, my IQ proved that I was a gifted student who was likely frustratedly bored in the classroom and likely had a hard time relating to peers.
Thanks to this test, I got to take 7th grade English classes along with one other highly gifted student as a 6th grader because the school didn't know what else to do with us as they didn't have the appropriate tools to teach us at the time. While the other student ended up attending a high school for exceptionally intelligent students, I decided to stick it out at my public middle and high schools because of the activities I wanted to participate in. However, the school still didn't know what to do with me because I had finished all of the appropriate English classes offered. After many long meetings, I ended up taking some online courses and did some individual study during my 8th-grade year. The school ended up establishing an honors English program because of the other student and me, but neither of us was able to reap the full benefits of this program.
Even with all of the extra effort the dedicated administrators put into my education, I still never felt completely challenged. Sure, accelerated courses were a step up, but not as big of a step as I needed. Now that I'm in college, I have to think a little harder to get through my courses luckily (yes, that's a really good thing) and college honors courses are more about learning about real life than any other courses I've taken before. But let me make this clear: honors courses have been an absolute blessing in my life.
The article alerted me that not everyone understands that there is a difference between "smart" students and "gifted" students. According to the National Association for Gifted Students, "children are gifted when their ability is significantly above the norm for their age." This means that not all students placed in advanced classes are necessarily gifted. They may just appear to be able to keep up with advanced education, but they don't exactly need these classes like a gifted student might. Dropping back into normal classes is something that can be done, I've seen it, so the ramifications appear to be less than those for a gifted student that does not receive the instruction they require.
I cannot even begin to explain what it's like to be in a classroom where the teacher is teaching at half the pace of what you need. It's a whole new level of boring that most people never have to experience. We're not bored because it's too hard; we're bored because it's too easy. Honors classes are the closest experiences I've had to an intellectual challenge in my whole life.
Additionally, honors classes are not designed for everyone to get As. Typically, those classes come with a weighted GPA or an honors signification on transcripts to make up for the fact that students are indeed taking harder classes. This makes it okay to get lower grades while still demonstrating intelligence. That student just might not gifted and that's okay.
Being gifted isn't a synonym for "doesn't have to study." I still to this day study for every single test I have. Sure, I can probably spend much less time studying and often don't see the point of it, but studying is necessary for all learners to retain any information. Everything doesn't come naturally for us, but gifted students really do just catch on to things quicker than their peers because, going back to the definition of giftedness, we have significantly higher abilities than our peers. Socially is a whole other story, but in the classroom, I can probably put in half the effort of other students and still pull out an A.
As far as college goes, anyone who has adults around them that have gone to college, be it parents or teachers, knows they have to work harder in college. You're going to hit your educational "wall" someday where everything is suddenly difficult. I'm getting to my "wall" but being gifted means I'm still a ways away from hitting it and can still half-ass everything and be fine. I take a long time to do my work though because I am chronic perfectionist and procrastinator and I sometimes try to make things harder than they are just to challenge myself. Most students never have to seek out a challenge just to stimulate their brains, but gifted students do.
Nevertheless, I'm not saying people have to have "natural intelligence" or whatever you want to call it to be successful or smart. Hard workers get just as much, if not more, out of life than gifted people. But for people who are "naturally" smart or, as I prefer to label myself, gifted, that success just comes easier.
Just like some things in life are about how athletic or physically fit you are, some things in life, namely in the classroom, are about how gifted you are and that's just the way it is.
(If you are interested in more information about gifted students check out https://www.nagc.org/myths-about-gifted-students.)