So much energy has been expended arguing whether giftedness is an elitist construct, or a parent's choice, or if it exists at all. Debates have raged over the gifted label (admittedly, a controversial term), whether gifted children deserve "special" services tailored to their needs, and if gifted education is even necessary.
These debates appeal to those among us who don't understand gifted people - or envy them - or hold false stereotypes about them - or have been hurt or emotionally threatened in some way by a gifted person. It is easy to blame gifted education (which amounts to a fraction of the cost of special education) for depriving other children of the education they deserve. And after dismantling gifted education, critics clamor to eliminate ability grouping, claiming that it stigmatizes other students (whom these critics assumed were oblivious to their academic struggles until grouping was initiated).
Let's get real; let's accept that gifted children are different.
1. Gifted children possess advanced intellectual abilities
Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But there is push-back against this reality. Yes, we know that many gifted children are underidentified, especially minority and ESL children and those from impoverished schools. Yes, IQ testing is flawed, can miss some true gifts, and ignores talents such as creativity, leadership qualities and performing arts abilities. Nevertheless, those who receive an IQ score of 130 or higher account for 1-5% of the population. Just because we have more work to do within a flawed gifted identification system should not mean ignoring those already identified students.
How is this push-back manifest?
One tactic is the false claim that anyone can become gifted if motivated enough and offered the right opportunities. This fallacy clouds the truth about giftedness and results in disappointment for many hard-working high-achievers. Gifted children's abilities are innate. Of course, exactly how these abilities are expressed depends upon and can be modified by environmental influences. A childhood filled with encouragement and creativity will enhance learning more than one plagued by poverty and neglect. But while sound nutrition, a safe and loving home, verbal stimulation, and learning opportunities give every child an edge, you cannot instill giftedness through hot-housing, flash-cards or prep classes. Gifted children's brains work differently, as shown here and here and here. Researcher Marcus Munafo points out how genetic denialism dismisses the influence of genes, despite evidence to the contrary, and reminds us that:
"We are born equal, but we are also born different - we should embrace that diversity and use it to understand ourselves."
A second assumption is that we can somehow "normalize" the gifted child by ignoring giftedness altogether. Yet, pretending giftedness does not exist will not tame the child's burning creative drive and intellectual curiosity, nor will it quell the often co-existing social and emotional complexities or asynchrony. It is time to stop debating whether we have a "choice" in the matter. We can choose to work with what we have - and encourage our children to utilize and improve upon their innate strengths and weaknesses. As I wrote in a previous blog post about choice:
"You don't get a choice. You don't get to decide whether your child is gifted any more than you can choose eye color or athletic ability. Giftedness is a mixed bag of strengths, multipotentialities, and social/emotional challenges that are far from easy. You might decide not to "label" your child as gifted: however, your child's academic and emotional needs will not magically disappear."
2. Gifted children have very real emotional needs
In addition to their aptitude, gifted children often exhibit asynchronous development, multipotentialities, and heightened sensitivities. As they are a minority in most schools, they tend to keep a low profile, and may struggle socially. Gifted children are not trying to stand out, become the target of others' frustration, or deprive anyone else of an education. Many "dumb down" their interests so they can fit in with peers. Others are bullied. Acute sensitivities, existential angst, and a heightened sense of fairness and justice color their views of the world around them. A recent study suggests that they are at risk for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities. According to lead researcher Ruth Karpinski:
"...individuals with high cognitive ability react with an overexcitable and behavioral response to their environment. Due in part to this increased awareness of their surroundings, people with a high IQ then tend to experience an overexcitable, hyperreactive central nervous system."
This overreactivity may leave some gifted children open to anxiety, existential depression, apathy, cynicism, and despair. In addition to coping with others' perceptions and misconceptions about their differences, and attempting to fit in to a social world that may feel alien to them, they must manage these intense feelings that affect their self-esteem and well-being.
3. All children are gifts; not all are gifted
Children are precious gifts to the families who love them, and each child possesses his or her unique traits. But not all are gifted. The gifted label unfortunately evokes controversy, as many misunderstand and bristle over the term, assuming their neurotypical child is somehow devalued if others are identified as gifted. For now, we are stuck with this term. But regardless of the label, gifted children are a small minority of students, and possess advanced intellectual abilities. They are not better than other children; they are just different. As one writer aptly noted:
"Children are not all the same and it does them a disservice to claim otherwise. Just like not all children have special needs, not all children are asynchronous and advanced.
Gifted doesn't mean special. It doesn't mean better than everyone else. Gifted is wiring. Gifted is a brain that doesn't think like the standard brain - that doesn't learn the same way, see things the same way, or act the same way. Gifted is different."
Another writer, Mohan Dhall, noted in a recent commentary:
"There is an oft-quoted educational maxim about students that characterises them as follows: 'All students are gifted - in their own way'... However, the actual statement is one of egalitarianism pushed to the point of educational idiocy. In one statement the needs of intellectually able students are wholly dismissed whilst simultaneously, the needs of all students are devalued.
All children are unique. They are gifts, undoubtedly. But only very few are academically gifted and these students should be understood, encouraged, supported and valued rather than disparaged, maligned, [or] ignored"
4. Gifted children deserve an education specific to their needs
The NAGC has highlighted research supporting the benefits of gifted education. Myths about gifted children's needs have been noted and debunked. But gifted services are often an afterthought, provided after other students' needs are addressed. Gifted education is underfunded and unregulated in many areas. Some claim that gifted education is disparaged due to anti-intellectualism, or stigma, or a refusal to appreciate their special needs. Others recommend eliminating gifted education and emphasize improved education for all children. While a lofty goal, most classrooms already serve those in the middle, not outliers like the gifted, and attempts at differentiated instruction in large heterogeneous classrooms are often cumbersome and futile. Gifted children will not learn on their own; many become underachievers and lose interest in school completely.
Some parents resort to homeschooling. Others opt for private schools, although choosing a school can be fraught with uncertainty. Some parents advocate for academic acceleration. Most try to patch something together to fill in the gaps - extracurricular activities, online programming, enriched learning at home. But many families (particularly those under emotional or financial stress) do not have the time or resources to provide this level of involvement or advocacy for their children. Without mandated services for appropriate resources within the schools, those gifted children will suffer the most.
Let's get real
Let's get real about gifted kids, and stop wasting time debating whether giftedness exists or if gifted services are necessary. Let's devote our energy toward ensuring that they receive the educational services, the encouragement, and the understanding they deserve. Just like we would want for any other child.
Bravo, Gail! You say it clearly and succinctly. This is a strongly written, important piece. It should be shared widely!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Paula! I appreciate your feedback, and your support of the gifted as well.Delete
Absolutely spot-on! Time to cut the crap.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Willem. I appreciate it, and I agree with you!Delete
I would like to know of some exemplar schools meeting #4- mandated services for gifted, successfully in their school at the secondary level. Anyone know of any?ReplyDelete
Great idea! It would be wonderful to start a list of schools that successfully provide gifted services.Delete
YES!!! As the sole gifted specialist serving a large rural district, I agree. We need, as a whole, to adopt a strength-based vs. deficit-based approach to education. This would help flip the bias against high ability students, and allow better identification among twice-exceptional and underrepresented groups. It's a battle every day to fight for the level of education gifted students deserve.ReplyDelete
Anonymous, Thank you for your feedback. I am aware that serving gifted students in large rural areas can be as difficult as in urban districts. I am sure that the parents of your gifted students appreciate your hard work.Delete
Well done! I enjoy this sentiment greatlyReplyDelete
Jeff, Thank you!Delete
Yes! Very nicely explained! My husband is in the military so we had to move many times, and with each new school we had to try and explain our extremely gifted son....we were always met with essentially an "eye roll" and the tests from other states/schools obviously are not as rigorous as their school system. We have finally moved to our last location and he is excelling- the school "gets him" they know he is actually top 1%, and it takes him minimal effort.ReplyDelete
Tom and Dana, Thanks for you feedback. So glad to hear that you finally found a school that is working out!Delete
Yes, yes, yes! I detect a bit of the same frustration I feel after waiting and waiting and waiting for the system to change. Now I believe our hope lies in helping our gifted kids change the system in the specific ways they need! Thank you for this!ReplyDelete
Deb, I agree - it's so frustrating. And your idea about getting kids to advocate is a good one. Sometimes schools will listen to the children more than their parents!Delete
Gail, thank you many times over for writing this! This is excellent information. We do send our gifted child to a private school but they just don't get it and, in fact, have suggested to us that our child simply needs medication....imagine the anger and frustration after hearing this. Our daughter sleeps through homework and has trouble getting motivated to stay with the snails pace of the class but aces all of her tests. Finding a school program that fits her needs is like finding the proverbial "needle in a haystack". We have the financial ability to provide her what we believe she needs but the problem is finding the resource to give to her. We have her in Mensa and signed up for the NUMATS program through Northwestern University but would like to get her in a regular school program that can help her expand her abilities and desire to grow cognitively. Any suggestions that you have would be greatly appreciated.ReplyDelete
Unknown, I understand your frustration. You might check on the Davidson' website for ideas about schools. Good luck!Delete
Totally agree. Very well written. So, where does all the negative criticism come from? Maybe it all starts with making assumptions what giftedness is and still seeing it as a'gift'? Maybe it is time to choose a different word for it, along the lines of asynchronous development? That might describe it better for those critics who seem to be unable to figure out what giftedness is.....just a thought.ReplyDelete
Anonymous, I agree that the name "gifted" contributes to a lot of the controversy. There have been a lot of debates about changing the name, and ultimately, this might help. Right now, though, we're stuck with this word, and have to work around it and enlighten others that this does not mean that gifted children are any better than other children, and that it does not disparage those who are not gifted.Delete
Thanks for your share. Can i share this post for my website quà tặng. Thanks again :)ReplyDelete
Minh, Yes, please go ahead and share this. Thank you for asking.Delete
Any thoughts about a term other than "gifted"? This terms seems to be fraught with negative/controversial connotation that often gets in the way of productive conversation regarding how to serve the needs of students who meet those criteria. Thank you for sharing any insights.ReplyDelete
Unknown, I would agree that another term would be ideal, and wrote about this in a blog post quite a few years ago. Many terms have been proposed by many in the field. Some counter that even with a less controversial term, adults and children will still recognize when a child is gifted and treat that child differently. But a term that is less emotionally charged would be helpful. It would take a lot of consensus in the educational and psychoeducational fields to stick with any new term, but it could be something to work toward. Do others here have any suggestions?Delete
In regards to #4. In California, categorical funding for gifted programs, was eliminated about 10 years ago. Districts are expected to finance the needs of the gifted by dipping into the district's general funds. As a result, many districts have put all their efforts into "bringing up" academic levels of the lowest 5% while completely ignoring the needs of the upper 5%.ReplyDelete
To change there must be buy-in from the administrators and school board with expectations/ideas/training given to the teaching and support staff.
Our K - 8 rural school district bought into the idea of academic and arts growth many years ago. There is not enough money for a separate gifted class so instead we have a huge number of enrichment classes which may be attended by any student. These are before, during lunch and after school ~ over 25 programs in all, most led by parents and/or teachers. On occasion, if there is an club or class a GATE student would like to form, working with that student we put their idea in motion and they have an integral part in the activities success. It is amazing how the gifted find each other and cluster to certain enrichment classes.
An even number of gifted students are placed in every classroom and teachers are able to cluster when necessary. All staff have access to the district GATE coordinator. Portfolio assessments are used to qualify those highly gifted in music and art. As a result, 35% of our student population are transfers from other districts ~ many are GATE. The best part is students, at all levels, are being challenged, have cross-grade level friends and activities, are finding a niche for their particular passion, have tons of enthusiasm and have outlets for their individual uniqueness.
Great solutions to the lack of state mandated programming! Thanks for sharing what has worked in your district.Delete
I love this article, it speaks more deeply to me than I thought it would.ReplyDelete
I have a question for you if you be so kind.
As what can (off of your specifications ) be stated as a gifted child who is about to graduate high school do you have any advice on trying to work and excel in a college environment while being said gifted? My issue is that if something is not at all interesting it goes down the drain and most nothing works.
A second question that came up from this article. How would you think it would be best to go about designing a teaching environment for gifted children?
I've found that the average school curriculum is infuratingly dumbed down (yay no child left behind... go common core. Woo) to the point where it is impossible to accurately follow along,at face value it might be simplest to simply make the curriculum more difficult, but then comes the issue that I've found to show up of staying on track with curriculum; aka is there any ways that you can think of which would be solely based around yhe needs of gifted children, that accommodate for the amusing yet infuriating ability of some gifted students to learn and apply in a multitude of different areas, but set in a single curriculum?
This question arose when I realized that I was spending more time in my basic physics class trying to figure out time dilation and pH functions in the same period and realizing the sporadic method of thinking that occurred.
I apologize for the long winded questions.
Logan, Thanks for your interest and comments. Usually, co llege is a lot more challenging for gifted people, as long as the classes are engaging. Some colleges are more demanding and challenging overall than others, and honors programs within colleges tend to offer more. Regardless, though, gifted people often need to accept that they will be bored at times, and need to learn ways of managing this fact, especially when they HAVE to get through a particular class, or for that matter, a business meeting later on.Delete
I am not a teacher by training so am not qualified to speak to your second question. However, I know that the literature consistently emphasizes the need for an approach with greater depth, complexity and a faster pace, and one that engages the child's curiosity, creativity and intrinsic interesting in learning. This is difficult for most teachers to achieve in a heterogeneous classroom where they need to teach to the middle and accommodate all learning needs.
As a gifted student coming out of a high school with no gifted opportunities, I thoroughly appreciate this piece of literature!ReplyDelete
We are not some mystical being taught in folklore. If anything, we're underdogs.