On March 15, 2005 on a farm in Venango, Nebraska, 14-year-old Brandenn Bremmer — Gifted and promising — held a .22 caliber varmint rifle to his head and pulled the trigger. He didn’t die immediately. When his parents found him he was still breathing. Brandenn’s body was airlifted to Denver, Colorado where his organs were harvested over the next two days.
Brandenn’s suicide haunts Nebraska and the rumors and facts were sketchy for outsiders but if you were from Nebraska and you knew about the loneliness and isolation of living on a farm near a village with 165 people you can’t help but know Brandenn’s death should have been anticipated and avoided. In the January 18, 2006 edition of The New Yorker, author Eric Konigsberg writes a spectacular 25,000 word piece on Brandenn — Prairie Fire: The Life and Death of a Prodigy
— that brings new flames to feet of how Gifted children are educated in America.
I urge you to read the piece if you want to better comprehend how a smart life like Brandenn’s could so carelessly and easily careen into a dumb end. Brandenn graduated from high school at age 10 by using a self-study distance learning high school diploma program meant for those seeking a technical vocation and not a college track.
Brandenn’s fast-paced high school homeschooling did not prepare him for a hoped for pre-med studies program he needed in order to become an anesthesiologist. Britney Spears was in his “graduating class.”
At age four Brandenn’s I.Q. tested at 146 and a year later he scored 178 on I.Q. test that is not widely used. When Brandenn was being tested he would try to leave the room when he didn’t know the answer to a question. That behavioral mark of seeking an escape when faced with the unknown would point to a more disturbing end a decade later. There is no doubt Brandenn was smart.
He had an ethereal intelligence. He was well-liked. He did well on tests. When, however, he did not do well in music theory, he withdrew. When he did not know how to write a Community College term paper with proper citations, he withdrew.
When, at the end of his life, he was facing self-expressed depression and the prospect that, just perhaps, he might not have been as “Gifted” in all areas as he had been led to believe by the caregiving adults around him, he withdrew a final time with a rifle shot to the head. It doesn’t help community healing today that some of those adults closest to Brandenn now believe he killed himself in order to help others live through his donated organs.
That excuse misjudges the jagged edge of reality that isolation kills and suicide is a selfish, not a selfless, act of revenge aimed at those who percolated a controlling desire against the expression of unpopular realities. Isolation kills slowly and mordantly on three levels — emotional, intellectual and social — and it kills even faster when levels are combined and compounded.
Gifted children, by default of their gift, are emotionally and intellectually isolated from their peers. They feel and understand the world with a maturity that is foreign and peculiar to other young minds. When social isolation is added to the mix and the Gifted are only in the company of adults — especially only their parents — and not their peers on a daily basis, danger begs the horizon.
All children — Gifted and Ordinary and Intellectually Challenged — need the constant stimulation of each other to find the stable viscosity of human equilibrium. Gifted children enjoy interacting with other children and they can learn social skills and other talents from children who are Gifted in ways beyond the mind.
That social peer group bartering for information and bargaining with experience is an important tool for understanding how one fits into a life. When that vital element of interaction goes unclaimed a deep and severing isolation from the world results and a shallow self-esteem becomes the loose, lonely, unavoidable, unbearable, result.
Gifted children should not be removed from the mainstream classroom. Separation from social peers sentences them into a suffering against their gifts.
To remove the genius mind from interacting with the ordinary mind is to punish both with isolation from the intrinsic merits of the other and the end result tempts the dimming of the bright and the glowering of the ordinary at the blunt end of a rifle.