The Limiting Experience


I was in the third grade, and Christmas was rapidly approaching. My class had gathered in the school library where a special treat was awaiting us. Clad in polo shirts and jumpers, we plopped down upon the old grey carpet and awaited our treat from our librarian.

The librarian wheeled in a metal cart of books. It was maybe three shelves high, and was absolutely jam-packed with a variety of books celebrating the Christmas season. Because this was a Catholic school, they could give us books which were explicitly Christmas-themed and not really allow other holidays in. There was great jubilation as a sea of small children rushed forward to nab books from the shelf.

I looked at the choices in front of me with some distaste. They were primarily oversized pictures books with maybe a few short children’s novels thrown in-all things that I felt I had mostly outgrown by that point. I had known for a long time that I was an advanced reader, and had even been in a gifted reading group at school in kindergarten. I was completely bored with the choices arrayed before me.

Scanning the shelves, my eyes finally alighted on a book on the bottom shelf, shoved unceremoniously among a group of cutesy stories about Santa and elves and the baby Jesus. It was A Christmas Carol, the evergreen classic by Charles Dickens. I was already familiar with the story, as many people are-the tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve who force him to alter his cold-hearted ways-but I wanted to see the original book myself, to see how Dickens wove this story that nearly everyone seems to know.

I was only a few pages into the book before the librarian came over and snatched Dickens’s novel right out of my hands. “You’re too young to read that”, she intoned angrily, “Pick another book”. I was absolutely livid with anger. She was a bat-like retired nun, with a scrunchy, wrinkled face and a bad attitude, especially when it came to kids who seemed to be just a little bit too bright. Looking much like Scrooge himself, she glowered down at me over a pair of glasses. After this, I only remember crying and my parents being upset at the librarian’s behaviour.


There is a tremendous hatred towards gifted and talented students in the United States school system. Compared to other nations, we tend to want to cut down the best and the brightest-something known as “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, which is also prevalent in other Anglophone nations like Australia and Canada, but might just reach its apogee in the USA.

We feel, being a nation founded on the ideals of equality, that those who are smarter or more talented or more inquisitive than us are simply “spoiled”, “privileged”, or “unfairly ahead”. After all, they didn’t “have to work” to be smart, they were just intelligent already, from the day they crawled out of the womb. Clearly, they have to be discouraged because their ideas are a threat not just to classroom stability, but to society at large! If one child knows more about a topic than the teacher does, then we are on the road to anarchy! Or, conversely, they are undermining our pre-determined script and cannot be allowed to have their ideas flourish! So goes the thinking of many an American.

This can be seen in my own career. In kindergarten, I was a part of a small group for “advanced readers” that read more challenging texts while the other students did their typical “ABCs”-level work. I do not recall much of it, but I do remember it being more rewarding and interesting than what I typically worked on. Then, suddenly, it was yanked away from me for no apparent reason, especially as we entered the lower grades. I would never have a real advanced/gifted programme after that for the rest of my schooling career, which frustrates me to no end. There were so many hours wasted in the classroom with kids who read aloud at a snail’s pace, or who stumbled over basic facts about geography, or who didn’t know who so-and-so was, or teachers who bungled simple things and hated to be corrected, that I felt like I was going insane. Sure, I could do the work. Sure, I suppose I liked it on some level. But year after year, I always had some teacher who despised me and didn’t appreciate or understand my intelligence or the intelligence of others, who instead taught towards the middle and ignored those who might have wanted to stride above and beyond the pablum vomited at us by the mandated curriculum.

And, controversially, this has not improved now that I have arrived at SLA. I still feel like teachers are teaching towards the middle, that students make stupid mistakes, or that they feed us stupid stuff (like Terence from Housman’s famous poem). We are trapped in limiting streams that force us to work with people who may or may not care about the fate of our projects. Our assignments, projects, and benchmarks themselves seem to have descended into frustrating busy-work that only serve to bore and anger the inquisitive.


One of the great quests of Civilization is to preserve what has come before it. The great corpus of works that has defined the history of literature stands as a testament to humanity’s collective glory and wisdom. Without its light to shepherd us along the path of life, we would be lost, adrift without any signals as to how the human person works, lives, loves, and suffers.

We cannot allow it to be subsumed by the foolishness and myopia of a series of present-day bureaucrats. We cannot allow the Beacon of Civilization to be snuffed out, and for the heritage of the world to be destroyed.

But presently, it is under grave attack. It is being subsumed by a series of cheap, small-minded quasi-reptiles who cannot see the necessity of our traditions and our lifeblood.

That is why our gifted and talented children are central to the preservation of our heritage. They can understand our fallen nature as imperfect beings and how that even includes our highest authority figures-even our teachers. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel, much like the monks scratching away in the monasteries and chapels of Ionia over a thousand years ago. They can see that, though there is much darkness, there is also greatness and light. They shall persevere. They shall preserve.