In my last blog post, I urged educators to identify a new term for “giftedness” since the label incites so much controversy (see “Let’s not call them gifted”). Although the term is not going to disappear any time soon, new alternatives still need to be explored. Given an opportunity for a change in terminology, what might constitute an improvement?
A term like “high aptitude learner” could describe gifted abilities without provoking so much debate. Use of a more technical-sounding name is less likely to generate an emotional reaction. The label of giftedness can inspire fantasies implying that a child is somehow more special and beloved. If a more technical, descriptive term were used, there might be less deliberation over whether one’s child is special or not. School administrators would not have to apologize for presumably offering an “elitist” program supporting special kids. When a term describes a variation in learning ability, not a judgment about a child’s inherent value as a person, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with the task of education.
Secondly, the new term focuses on aptitude, or “a natural ability to do something” (Oxforddictionaries.com). Aptitude reflects one’s innate capacity to master something, referring to potential and what is sometimes seen as raw ability. While talents and abilities must be nurtured and developed, they are sometimes unfairly linked to images of pushy parents, flash cards, prep classes, or tracking. Misperceptions about aptitude sometimes lead to assumptions that gifted children are either pampered, privileged kids who have received every available learning opportunity, or conversely, have been rigidly bombarded with intensive academic demands, mountains of homework, and expensive tutoring. While these unfortunate stereotypes may be the reality for some children, regardless of intellectual ability, they do not contribute to aptitude. Mastery of a skill involves learning, practice and experience; innate ability is not something that can be taught.
Finally, the concept of learning is essential to the new term. Learning continues throughout life; it does not begin and end with formal schooling. This is why most high aptitude learners demonstrate exceptional learning capability long before they start elementary school, and why they continue to seek out and absorb information at a higher level as adults. It also may explain why some run into conflicts with peers, spouses and co-workers as they adamantly espouse their complex view of the world, sometimes with little patience for those who fail to grasp their perspective. (This impatience, grounded in their quicksilver learning pace, will be the subject of a future blog.) Many high aptitude learners thrive on acquiring knowledge throughout life, obtaining great joy from the act of learning once they have moved beyond the constraints of traditional education.
Although I prefer the term “high aptitude learner,” in future posts, I will use this term and “gifted” interchangeably. “Gifted” is still the formally recognized label, and until consensus for another name is reached, it may be less confusing to use the more familiar terminology. Hopefully, continued dialogue among education professionals will result in the eventual revision of the term, so that there is less time wasted in debate and more time devoted to education.