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Old 04-09-04, 09:13 AM
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Post Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

Is It A Cheetah?

By Stephanie S. Tolan

Copyright © 1996 by Stephanie S. Tolan, Used by Permission.

It's a tough time to raise, teach or BE a highly gifted child. As the term "gifted" and the unusual intellectual capacity to which that term refers become more and more politically incorrect, the educational establishment changes terminology and focus.

Giftedness, a global, integrative mental capacity, may be dismissed, replaced by fragmented "talents" which seem less threatening and theoretically easier for schools to deal with. Instead of an internal developmental reality that affects every aspect of a child's life, "intellectual talent" is more and more perceived as synonymous with (AND LIMITED TO) academic achievement.

The child who does well in school, gets good grades, wins awards, and “performs" beyond the norms for his or her age, is considered talented. The child who does not, no matter what his innate intellectual capacities or developmental level, is less and less likely be identified, less and less likely to be served.

A cheetah metaphor can help us see the problem with achievement-oriented thinking. The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth. When we think of cheetahs we are likely to think first of their speed. It's flashy. It’s impressive. It's unique. And it makes identification incredibly easy. Since cheetahs are the only animals that can run 70 mph, if you clock an animal running 70 mph, IT'S A CHEETAH!

But cheetahs are not always running. In fact, they are able to maintain top speed only for a limited time, after which they need a considerable period of rest.

It's not difficult to identify a cheetah when it isn't running, provided we know its other characteristics. It is gold with black spots, like a leopard, but it also has unique black "tear marks" beneath its eyes. Its head is small, its body lean, its legs unusually long -- all bodily characteristics critical to a runner. And the cheetah is the only member of the cat family that has non-retractable claws. Other cats retract their claws to keep them sharp, like carving knives kept in a sheath --the cheetah's claws are designed not for cutting but for traction. This is an animal biologically designed to run.

Its chief food is the antelope, itself a prodigious runner. The antelope is not large or heavy, so the cheetah does not need strength and bulk to overpower it. Only speed. On the open plains of its natural habitat the cheetah is capable of catching an antelope simply by running it down.

While body design in nature is utilitarian, it also creates a powerful internal drive. The cheetah needs to run!

Despite design and need however, certain conditions are necessary if it is to attain its famous 70 mph top speed. It must be fully grown. It must be healthy, fit and rested. It must have plenty of room to run. Besides that, it is best motivated to run all out when it is hungry and there are antelope to chase.

If a cheetah is confined to a 10 X 12 foot cage, though it may pace or fling itself against the bars in restless frustration, it won't run70 mph.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won't run 70 mph while hunting. If it did, it would flash past its prey and go hungry! Though it might well run on its own for exercise, recreation, fulfilment of its internal drive, when given only rabbits to eat the hunting cheetah will run only fast enough to catch a rabbit.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is fed Zoo Chow it may not run at all.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is sick or if its legs have been broken, it won't even walk.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

And finally, if the cheetah is only six weeks old, it can't yet run70 mph.

IS IT, THEN, ONLY A *POTENTIAL* CHEETAH?

A school system that defines giftedness (or talent) as behaviour, achievement and performance is as compromised in its ability to recognise its highly gifted students and to give them what they need as a zoo would be to recognised and provide for its cheetahs if it looked only for speed. When a cheetah does run 70 mph it isn't a particularly "achieving" cheetah. Though it is doing what no other cat can do, it is behaving normally for a cheetah.

To lions, tigers, leopards -- to any of the other big cats -- the cheetah’s biological attributes would seem to be deformities. Far from the "best cat," the cheetah would seem to be barely a cat at all. It is not heavy enough to bring down a wildebeest; its non-retractable claws cannot be kept sharp enough to tear the wildebeest's thick hide. Given the cheetah’s tendency to activity, cats who spend most of their time sleeping in the sun might well label the cheetah hyperactive.

Like cheetahs, highly gifted children can be easy to identify. If a child teaches herself Greek at age five, reads at the eighth grade level at age six or does algebra in second grade we can safely assume that child is a highly gifted child. Though the world may see these activities as “achievements,” she is not an "achieving" child so much as a child who is operating normally according to her own biological design, her innate mental capacity. Such a child has clearly been given room to “run" and something to run for. She is healthy and fit and has not had her capacities crippled. It doesn't take great knowledge about the characteristics of highly gifted children to recognise this child.

However, schools are to extraordinarily intelligent children what zoos are to cheetahs. Many schools provide a 10 x 12 foot cage, giving the unusual mind no room to get up to speed. Many highly gifted children sit in the classroom the way big cats sit in their cages, dull-eyed and silent. Some, unable to resist the urge from inside even though they can't exercise it, pace the bars, snarl and lash out at their keepers, or throw themselves against the bars until they do themselves damage.

Even open and enlightened schools are likely to create an environment that, like the cheetah enclosures in enlightened zoos, allow some moderate running, but no room for the growing cheetah to develop the necessary muscles and stamina to become a 70 mph runner. Children in cages or enclosures, no matter how bright, are unlikely to appear highly gifted; kept from exercising their minds for too long, these children may never be able to reach the level of mental functioning they were designed for.

A zoo, however much room it provides for its cheetahs, does not feed them antelope, challenging them either to run full out or go hungry. Schools similarly provide too little challenge for the development of extraordinary minds. Even a gifted program may provide only the intellectual equivalent of 20 mph rabbits (while sometimes labelling children suspected of extreme intelligence "underachievers" for NOT putting on top speed to catch those rabbits!) Without special programming, schools provide the academic equivalent of Zoo Chow, food that requires no effort whatsoever. Some children refuse to take in such uninteresting, dead nourishment at all.

To develop not just the physical ability but also the strategy to catch antelope in the wild, a cheetah must have antelopes to chase, room to chase them and a cheetah role model to show them how to do it. Without instruction and practice they are unlikely to be able to learn essential survival skills.

A recent nature documentary about cheetahs in lion country showed a curious fact of life in the wild. Lions kill cheetah cubs. They don't eat them, they just kill them. In fact, they appear to work rather hard to find them in order to kill them (though cheetahs can't possibly threaten the continued survival of lions). Is this maliciousness? Recreation? No one knows. We only know that lions do it. Cheetah mothers must hide their dens and go to great efforts to protect their cubs, coming and going from the den under deep cover or only in the dead of night or when lions are far away. Highly gifted children and their families often feel like cheetahs in lion country.

In some schools brilliant children are asked to do what they were never designed to do (like cheetahs asked to tear open a wildebeest hide with their claws -- after all, the lions can do it!) while the attributes that are a natural aspect of unusual mental capacity -- intensity, passion, high energy, independence, moral reasoning, curiosity, humour, unusual interests and insistence on truth and accuracy -- are considered problems that need fixing.

Brilliant children may feel surrounded by lions who make fun of or shun them for their differences, who may even break their legs or drug them to keep them moving more slowly, in time with the lions' pace. Is it any wonder they would try to escape; would put on a lion suit to keep form being noticed; would fight back?

This metaphor, like any metaphor, eventually breaks down. Highly gifted children don't have body markings and non-retractable claws by which to be identified when not performing. Furthermore, the cheetah's ability to run 70 mph is a single trait readily measured. Highly gifted children are very different from each other so there is no single ability to look for even when they are performing; besides that, a child's greatest gifts could be outside the academic world's definition of achievement and so go unrecognised altogether. While this truth can save some children from being wantonly killed by marauding lions, it also keeps them from being recognised for what they are -- children with deep and powerful innate differences as all-encompassing as the differences between cheetahs and other big cats.

That they may not be instantly recognisable does not mean that there is no means of identifying them. It means that more time and effort are required to do it. Educators can learn the attributes of unusual intelligence and observe closely enough to see those attributes in individual children. They can recognise not only that highly gifted children can do many things other children cannot, but that there are tasks other children can do that the highly gifted cannot.

Every organism has an internal drive to fulfil its biological design. The same is true for unusually bright children. From time to time the bars need be removed, the enclosures broadened. Zoo Chow, easy and cheap as it is, must give way, at least some of the time, to lively, challenging mental prey.

More than this, schools need to believe that it is important to make the effort, that these children not only have the needs of all other children to be protected and properly cared for, but that they have as much RIGHT as others to have their needs met.

Biodiversity is a fundamental principle of life on our planet. It allows life to adapt to change. In our culture highly gifted children, like cheetahs, are endangered. Like cheetahs, they are here for a reason; they fill a particular niche in the design of life. Zoos, whatever their limitations, may be critical to the continued survival of cheetahs; many are doing their best to offer their captives what they will need eventually to survive in the wild. Schools can do the same for their highly gifted children.

Unless we make a commitment to saving these children, we will continue to lose them and whatever unique benefit their existence might provide for the human species of which they are an essential part.

Please disseminate this widely if you find it useful. However, proper attribution would be appreciated -- Stephanie S. Tolan

Last edited by krisp; 04-09-04 at 09:35 AM..
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Old 10-06-04, 08:08 PM
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Krisp, I read this for the first time tonight and was fascinated. Normally I start such a long post and fizzle out somewhere near the beginning, but this was great! I may make a stab at translating it into German. The school system here could sure use a "wake up" call and maybe something like this would get through to them. Are you the author??

Kim

P.S. 'course if you check my avatar you'll realize that anything to do with "cats" will always grab my ever wandering attention!
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Old 10-07-04, 09:26 AM
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I can't take the credit for this one. But I found it very interesting, and I'm glad you did too.

Here's the author's website. There are other articles there, and also contact information for her.
http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm
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Old 10-07-04, 12:28 PM
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This is a variant on the Hunter/Farmer theory... at least I think it is...

But I am too much of a Cheetah to be able to stalk my way through this until the conclusion
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Old 03-19-05, 05:35 AM
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I started to read this seems interesting.. bbut my eyes are getting heavy.I'm printing it to read at work tomorrow... good night.
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Old 03-22-05, 02:47 AM
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Finally read this today while son wasin w/ theapist (DANG that was hard -- too many distractions) I really agree w/ the metafor(?) & thought it was right on!! I'm gonna pass it on to the school--teacher & resource specialist.
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Old 02-08-08, 08:03 AM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

I read that a few years ago when I went through one of my phases of renewed interest in ADHD and Giftedness. It is an excellent piece.

I think this poem suits the mood, too (it's by a kid from NSW, Australia - more I do not know):

I sit in a vacuum
Day after day,
My brain is turned off
And wasting away.
My fingers are writing.
Who cares what they say,
Just turn in that paper
Day after day.
I'm bored and I'm tired.
I'm lonely and sad.
"No, you're gifted and lazy
And noisy and bad."


- Curtis, 1985.
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Old 02-16-09, 11:14 AM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

I had a quick look through this, It is rather long!

It reminds me of a poem i read, without looking it up to reference it I cant remember it in full but it is about children, about having 'one hundred' ways of learning, and playing and imagining and feeling and you get the idea, but how the schools only have 'one' way of teaching, how this cripples the child that learns any differently to the way the schools teach.
It is so sad that ADHD is not recognised and that there is not enough funding to go round for all staff that work with our children to know what ADHD is all about.
I feel much more strongly about this than this quick post but time only allows me this short trip on my soap box!
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Old 02-16-09, 07:21 PM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

Krisp, that was awesome! Thanks for sharing it, appreciated!
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Old 02-25-09, 12:56 AM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

long, but has good symbolism. very unique and interesting
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Old 07-04-09, 01:32 AM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

That is wonderful! I spent many years being denied any sort of gifted protocol because after all, I was a C average. The fact that I was able to read Dante's Inferno in Italian, and compare and contrast the poetry of A E Houseman in junior high was irrelevant. I learned early that if I got my work done fast and well that I was a target - from both my fellow students and my teacher (If she can get her mastery tests done in X time, all of you should be able to as well...). I saw no point in doing daily homework...if I can pass the test, why do the busywork. I finally got into a gifted program in HS. Of the first 5 admitted, I was the only one who got a diploma. The rest quit...and why not? They could get their GED and go to college based on ACT scores, and not have to be "kept in a cage" so to speak.

Now having a child with ADD inattentive, I had been looking at things like "welcome to Holland" but this fits as well. I know that she is wonderful in her own way, and she has her own way of showing it. She is six, and can't really read yet, but she can tell you all about how your body gets food (mouth to stomach, to small intestine, to capillaries, to cells that convert food into energy). The difference between butterflies and moths. Double digit math problems without fingers. And the difference between herbivore dinosaurs and carnivores. Just don't ask her to read you a book. She is amazing, she is smart, and she has ADD. And I have OCD. And we are both OK. If only the schools could see that.
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Old 08-02-10, 11:45 PM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by zerby1470 View Post
That is wonderful! I spent many years being denied any sort of gifted protocol because after all, I was a C average. The fact that I was able to read Dante's Inferno in Italian, and compare and contrast the poetry of A E Houseman in junior high was irrelevant. I learned early that if I got my work done fast and well that I was a target - from both my fellow students and my teacher (If she can get her mastery tests done in X time, all of you should be able to as well...). I saw no point in doing daily homework...if I can pass the test, why do the busywork. I finally got into a gifted program in HS. Of the first 5 admitted, I was the only one who got a diploma. The rest quit...and why not? They could get their GED and go to college based on ACT scores, and not have to be "kept in a cage" so to speak.

Now having a child with ADD inattentive, I had been looking at things like "welcome to Holland" but this fits as well. I know that she is wonderful in her own way, and she has her own way of showing it. She is six, and can't really read yet, but she can tell you all about how your body gets food (mouth to stomach, to small intestine, to capillaries, to cells that convert food into energy). The difference between butterflies and moths. Double digit math problems without fingers. And the difference between herbivore dinosaurs and carnivores. Just don't ask her to read you a book. She is amazing, she is smart, and she has ADD. And I have OCD. And we are both OK. If only the schools could see that.
I loved the article! It gives an entirely different perspective on ADHD that I never truly thought through before.
My son is ADHD combined. Some days are quite difficult, but, like you zerby, I've seen areas where he's brilliant! I've never met a 5 year old before who could successfully and flawlessly parallel park his battery-operated riding jeep before! (It stunned me the first time I saw him do it!) He loves to look at mockups of engines and anything to do with cars. He identifies the differences between a Jeep and a Land Rover at a glance. He's turned our backyard into a parking lot and has a space for everything. His bike, trike and Jeep all have reserved spots.

Not only do his talents lie with anything related to vehicles, but he loves to do mazes and can work his way through them amazingly quickly. He can recreate from memory a page out of a book that grabbed his attention (which he demonstrated after his preschool class read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and he made a cut-and-paste picture exactly how the book portrayed all the letters falling out of the tree) and he has an amazing spur-of-the-moment sense of humour.

I only hope that school won't try to stifle his brilliance, even if it is in a less than conventional "academic" venue...
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Old 11-25-10, 08:55 PM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

This is my first post on this forum so here it goes. My son has been diagnosed with adhd and is a very quirky and talented child. He can design his own levels for computer games and draws endless levels on paper and is very visual. If something interests him he puts it to paper. He is struggling at school, especially socially and doesnt like going. He is on medication but I am still not comfortable giving it to him although it does seem to help him complete his work. I have recently looked at 2 alternate education schools in Sydney and am thinking about sending him to one of them. You just want your child to be happy and enjoy school and the process of learning. The kids have a lot more freedom and input at this school and they allow them to use their natural talents. I think I am making the right choice. It will cause a bit of upheavel at home in getting him there and back as my daughter is fine in a mainstream school and this school is not just around the corner. What to do, what to do???
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Old 05-25-11, 02:44 AM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raccoon_1 View Post
I loved the article! It gives an entirely different perspective on ADHD that I never truly thought through before.
My son is ADHD combined. Some days are quite difficult, but, like you zerby, I've seen areas where he's brilliant! I've never met a 5 year old before who could successfully and flawlessly parallel park his battery-operated riding jeep before! (It stunned me the first time I saw him do it!) He loves to look at mockups of engines and anything to do with cars. He identifies the differences between a Jeep and a Land Rover at a glance. He's turned our backyard into a parking lot and has a space for everything. His bike, trike and Jeep all have reserved spots.



I only hope that school won't try to stifle his brilliance, even if it is in a less than conventional "academic" venue...
Ha, this sounds so much like my son. He loves anything with an engine--very into RC cars--and frankly, he knows more about them already than I do (he's 7). And he's also an awesome driver--always been able to manuever his ATV into extremely narrow spots at super high speeds, and excellent on his bike as well.

So interesting to read that your son has such similar interests! And, as I've been finding out, as far as school goes, it's all about getting the right teacher.
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Old 05-26-11, 05:28 PM
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Re: Is it a cheetah? (A different way of looking at our "different" children.)

Hi

Im also in sydney and really struggling with my boy at school. He goes to a expensive private school but it's been a real nightmare since day one. Getting the diagnoses of ADHD helped but they don't really understand the condition. They were telling me at the start when he was in Kindy that he had Aspergers. I went to one ped who said he was fine. Then a child psychologist who said he was borderline impaired as he scored a few points below normal IQ.

I found a really good developmental Ped who gave him a very extensive Evaluation. He scored very highly in reading, 2 years in front of his age, same in spelling, normal in maths, normal IQ but Ped thinks he has a much higher IQ but the ADHD is masking. Problem is Public school will put him in special needs which is the last thing he needs. Mine is very quirky, loves building and video games. I'm trying to find a school that will cater for his needs. The school is ok that he is now but they are pretty clueless with the different child that doesn't fit into. As it's an expensive school my boy stands out like a sore thumb. I don't think theres many like him there.

I really dont know what to do.
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