Recent hate crimes and shootings over the past week - including pipe bombs sent to politically liberal leaders, two African-Americans killed while grocery shopping in Kentucky, and the murder of eleven Jews at their place of worship in Pittsburgh - have left the country aghast. Gun violence and terrorism anywhere is repugnant; when people are specifically targeted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology, it is especially abhorrent.
Statistics regarding the rise of hate crimes over the past few years foreshadow these recent events. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there was a 57% increase in hate crimes directed toward Jews and a 94% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools between 2016 and 2017. The Southern Poverty Law Center also saw an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-immigration incidents during that time, with an overall increase in the number of white Nationalist, Neo-Nazi, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration groups. And according to FBI statistics, black Americans are victims of hate crimes more than any other racial, ethnic or religious group.
Some have argued that recent political rhetoric from politicians and some news media commentators, and anger among disenfranchised citizens stoke this rise in hate and bigotry. And while there is obviously a clear difference between verbal expressions of prejudice and committing murder, there should be no place for hate in any form within our country.
There certainly should be no place for hate within our schools. A recent article highlighted how schools are struggling to address the increase in hate crimes without appearing to take political sides. Children and teens struggle every day to fit in, gain popularity, and avoid bullying. Some express racial, ethnic and homophobic slurs in an attempt to gain acceptance with their peers. Many have little or no exposure to some ethnic or religious groups, and develop misconceptions about them through film, the media, and online slander. Teachers face a monumental task as they wade through this morass of peer and media influence. It is also a challenge to help children understand and cope with the aftermath of hate crimes or displays of bigotry, such as the rally in Charlottesville last year.
So, how does this relate to gifted education?
Of course, hate crimes affect ALL children. However, there are several additional reasons that addressing the impact of these recent hate crimes is relevant to gifted education:
1. Gifted children are highly sensitive.
Gifted children and teens often are overthinkers, and respond to distressing situations with increased empathy and sensitivity. Some struggle with existential depression as they ponder the meaning of existence. They may become emotionally distraught as they experience profound sadness and empathy for the victims of violence and the suffering their families endure. Gifted children may need added support as they weather these difficult situations. Young children, in particular, need reassurance that you will keep them safe. If symptoms of anxiety or depression persist, counseling with a licensed mental health professional may be indicated.
2. Gifted children possess a strong sense of fairness and justice.
Gifted children question what is just, and become outraged when they believe others are not treated fairly. Younger gifted children may have difficulty grasping the reasons that bigotry and hate crimes even exist; adolescents may be enraged and activated to fight for change. Gifted teens and older gifted children may benefit from channeling their frustration into charitable causes that help victims of violence, or by donating their time to organizations focused on change.
3. Gifted children represent our future.
Gifted children are our future thinkers and theorists and policy-makers. The foundations and values we help to instill will serve as a framework for them as adults. There is a pressing need for bright, motivated young adults to channel their energies into social science, social services, public policy, urban policy, and economics. Even those in STEM careers can tailor their skills toward the good of society. Gifted young adults can harness their creative, strategic, out-of-the-box thinking to hopefully envision some solutions to the problems we face.
Let's help our gifted children - all children - weather these recent national crises. Let's help them feel safe, and allow them to learn from history, understand the meaning of these current events, and encourage them to direct their skills toward finding a solution - now and in the future.
For those affected by loss from these recent events, I want to express my deepest condolences. I cannot find the words to offer the comfort you need, but please know that I am so deeply sorry for this tragedy and for your suffering. - Gail