Dumbing Down Can Be Problematic for Gifted Children

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Depending on the context, the phrase "dumbing down" can refer to the hiding of natural intellectual abilities, or to the altering of the school curriculum to make it less rigorous. In either instance, it is a negative thing, and to say something is "dumbed down" is to suggest it is inferior. If a person is behaving or performing at a lower level than they are capable, this is also considered a form of dumbing down.

Gifted Children

This practice is especially problematic when talking about gifted children, who often feel different from other kids in their class, and sometimes don't feel accepted. In order to fit in, or to avoid being bullied or singled out, some gifted children will deliberately not perform as well as they can in school. They may intentionally miss questions on a test, fail to turn in homework, or say they don't know the answer to a question if the teacher calls on them when in fact they know the answer quite well.

For parents and teachers, it's important to address issues of bullying across the board, but especially for kids who are identified as gifted. Kids shouldn't see giftedness as something they can't be proud of, or as something they should avoid, and a clear message from parents and teachers is crucial.

If a gifted kid's school performance suddenly drops off, it's worth a conversation to see if there are factors in the classroom contributing to the problem.

If there are deeper issues, it's a good idea to speak to a professional counselor. High-achieving students put enough pressure on themselves, and when they're getting mixed signals about how to behave socially, it can increase their stress levels.

School Curriculum

On the other side of the coin, critics have pointed to what they see as the dumbing down of school or course curriculum, with the intention of making it easier for students to receive passing grades. In this scenario, academic requirements are made less challenging and less demanding so that students are better able to pass tests and complete assignments satisfactorily.

This phenomenon is blamed largely on the introduction of standardized testing, which is used in many states not only to assess student performance but to grade teachers and allocate funding for academic programs.

Some educators fear that dumbing down curriculum, and students feeling pressured not to achieve their potential will lead to a decline in standards. Whether it is widespread remains unclear, but dumbing down curricula and lowering academic benchmarks has wider implications for the global economy. The thinking is that lowering standards in math, reading, and science may prevent American students from reaching high levels of achievement in adulthood.

4 Sources
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  1. Jumper RL. Communicating about bullying: Examining disclosure among gifted students. Gift Educ Int. 2019;35(2):110-120. doi:10.1177/0261429418824113

  2. Majid RA, Alias A. Consequences of Risk Factors in the Development of Gifted Children. Procedia Soc Behav Sci. 2010;7:63-69.


  3. National Association for Gifted Children. Perfectionism.

  4. Homeroom: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Arne on Dumbing Down Standards and the Next Generation of Assessments. 2011.

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.