Abbott Elementary “Gifted Program” Spoilers Ahead
ABC’s Abbott Elementary is undoubtedly the best new comedy of the year, and it’s entirely because of its wholesome, thoughtful approach to teaching. Despite the fact that the majority of us viewing are no longer in elementary school, there’s something special for us to take away every week. If nothing else, then there’s an opportunity to continue appreciating teachers.
This week, however, Abbott Elementary’s “Gifted Program” did something different, prompting me to get a little personal. It touched on my frustration and anger from my own experiences through Tyler James Williams’ Gregory Eddie. When a new student from another school’s gifted program comes to Abbott, the teachers look into incorporating more lessons in their curriculums to involve other gifted kids.
On paper, it sounds like a solid plan—reward the kids who showcase their talents to step ahead. We saw another form of it last week with Janine trying to find ways to get through a misbehaving student like Courtney. It’s a great plan, and a steady approach, but what about the kids who aren’t traditionally gifted? What about the kids who suffer from so much test anxiety they could never show their true potential in a classroom setting? Abbott Elementary’s “Gifted Program” understands exactly what this means by the end of the episode, and there’s something incredibly special about this.
After a mishap of supposed chicken eggs hatching into snakes causes chaos to unravel in the classroom, Gregory vocalizes why he believes the program was never the right call. “The point is, when you give some kids chickens, other kids are gonna get snakes. And if you get snakes for long enough, that’s what you think you deserve,” he tells Janine with emotional reverence. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt comforted after he pointed out the distinct ways each of the kids are gifted.
And that’s when my heart nearly dropped because I was immediately taken back to the deep sadness I consistently endured for not being part of gifted or honors programs. I even had a teacher hold a conference to tell my mother that “she’s just never pays attention; it’s like she isn’t even here.” And well, that was the truth. I wasn’t paying attention, I was checked out. Why? Because I knew I’d never get an A, I’d never be rewarded as a student of the month in her class. I felt her indifference towards me because I always failed math tests. And I knew that I couldn’t say “I need help” out loud because I fervently believed that there was something wrong with me. I was the problem and I wasn’t ever going to be one of the smart kids because for some strange reason, even though I got the answers right while doing homework, in a school setting, with the word test attached, I would fail.
I would still fail. Despite my 4.0 GPA in my English Literature Master’s program, despite all my knowledge and expertise in film/TV, the second you put the word test in front of something, I’m right back in that third-grade classroom with my hands shaking, blurry vision, and my brain completely emptied from relevant information. But Abbott Elementary’s “Gifted Program” cements something I’ve been trying to consistently re-learn and take back for years now: There’s more than one way to be gifted. Don’t carry those days when you weren’t special with you.
All kids are special. All adults are special. Gregory Eddie and I, included, even if we were nowhere close to the programs. There is no part of me that could ever solve anything beyond the most generic math problem, and 90% of the time, contrary to teachers telling us there won’t be calculators in real life, ours are handy with iPhones. Just because I can’t remember every single relevant date in history or anything in chemistry doesn’t mean I can’t grasp the importance of learning from our past in the present. When you constantly see Fs on your test, you expect the teacher to walk over to you and turn the test upside down with shame.
People weren’t talking about anxieties and ADHD in children the way we are now. My immigrant parents were completely unaware of all of this, and no one in my school ever once addressed how to properly help. I finally realized I had anxiety in my Junior year of high-school and severe test anxiety later. Teachers today are more accommodating than they were back then, but there are still ways to go before we rework the entire system and inspire children to know that they are special despite how different they are from the student sitting beside them.
There’s no way to universally measure talent. There are standards, sure, but for the most part, we all take different approaches. People write an essay from beginning to end while others start in the middle. You could never praise one format and ridicule the other.
Abbott Elementary’s “Gifted Program” understands this fact beautifully, and it uses it to develop its characters in the process, making it an excellent half-hour of television. Watching Gregory finally feel comfortable enough to smile and let his walls down just a little bit in the parking lot was the kind of moment worth waiting for. He needed to feel safe enough to do so, and Janine’s presence continually does this. It’s working, and shipper hearts everywhere are now flailing.
What are your thoughts on Abbott Elementary’s “Gifted Program?” Let us know in the comments below.