growing up gifted

from evy's notebook

I grew up in the gifted program. This significantly affected my upbringing and how I interact with the world. But this isn't a piece about how I was told I was special and now feel lost, it's about living in a bubble.

I started gifted program education in grade three, the year I moved from Montessori to the public school system. This school had a designated "gifted program", which meant that all 25 kids in my class were "gifted", and the group of us moved from grades 3-8 with very few changes. We joined up with about 75 other students in high school, and almost all my classes consisted of a subset of the hundred "giftees" in my grade.

We called ourselves "giftees". We called the other kids "normies". I would be lying if I said we didn't consider ourselves better than them. Especially as we got older, I remember thinking about how the other kids were drinking and partying and being "dumb teenagers" in ways that my peers and I generally had little interest in. We were nerds. Some of the boys in my grade five class got in trouble for playing a lot of poker at school. In high school, they got into bridge (and also brought back Yu-Gi-Oh for some reason). We lived far away from each other, distributed across the city and brought together only for this school, so we spent most of our evenings alone playing video games, talking on gchat, and doing schoolwork. High grades were a path to high status, especially for those who seemed to succeed without any studying. (Those who studied hard were dubbed "keeners".)

There were several consequences of this setup. One is that our classes had a very particular racial makeup -- about two thirds white and a third east asian, with occasionally someone indigenous or brown. I don't think I hung out with any black people growing up. (Latine people were less common in Canada.) For the city I grew up in, my social circles were much less racially diverse than the average classroom, and also generally much wealthier due to the time and money it took to get a gifted program assessment. This racial difference was visible to me, because I could see who else was attending my school and playing in the playground -- but we barely interacted with them.

I also expect that about at least a third of us were neurodiverse. Many of us were weird and awkward with various nerdy hobbies, but because so many of us were weird it was easier to fit in. There was still teasing and I still felt a desire to belong, but it was easy for me to enjoy and pursue math and music, to memorize how to solve a rubik's cube, to nerd out about public transit, and so on. I proudly identified as a nerd, felt no social stigma around that, and had friends to be nerdy with -- and this is something it seems many self-identified adult nerds did not have growing up.

So I was in a bubble. The bubble was wealthy privileged people who were weird, proudly nerdy, and generally not into typical teenage rebellion. I had many amazing learning opportunities -- I competed at the middle school math olympics provincials, studied for math contests with peers who would go on to compete in international olympiads, learned viola in a beginner strings program at school, was taught university-level problem solving skills in my high school STEM classes, and had many peers who were happy to help explain things to me. I went on to attend the most nerdy STEM-oriented university in Canada, and then worked in Bay Area tech -- both of which were comparably nerdy and privileged and mostly-white-and-east-asian. I was put in the nerdy smart kids group and never left. I don't know many people who've been in this bubble their whole life like this. It feels both completely natural and also very strange.

I'm really grateful to have had such a good experience with the gifted program. I loved school, and regularly would count down in the summers until school would start again (in a gchat status message, and some friends would tease me about it). I had some really amazing teachers, made some wonderful friends, and felt really empowered to be curious and explore knowledge. I'm also lucky that I happened to really enjoy a kind of nerdiness that makes a lot of money.

In the last few years, I've been putting in some effort to leave this bubble. I still want to spend time with nerds and people who are proudly weird, but I want to meet more of those people who aren't in the tech world or who didn't grow up wealthy. I appreciate the different perspective these people have, and I feel like my life is richer with them in it.