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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Rant about Gifted Education

I am sorry for those who opened this blog posting expecting to see more on gifted fiction or for tidbits about the four novels of mine cranking through the pipeline. This particular post doesn’t contain that. What it contains is another rant about gifted education. I am not an expert on this subject, this is just my opinion.

There is such a tangle about the definition of giftedness, whether or not giftedness is really a talent developed, whether or not the tools developed for gifted education can be applied to the normal classroom, whether gifted education can be justified by developing methods that improve the nongifted classroom, and on and on.

Giftedness is doing exceptional work or the potential to do exceptional work. Not really. Defining like that sounds like a slavery contract in that if you don’t do exceptional work or can’t be “fixed” to do exceptional work, then no one cares about you simply because you are not useful to the “others” (read in some cases, people who plan to use a gifted person for a particular purpose).

Giftedness truly means that your brain is wired differently—that you experience the stimulus of the world or think about the problems of the world in a wonderfully exhilarating way. If you want to identify a new gifted student, find a gifted student who is a little older and have them spend a little time with the new student. Then take the older student aside and ask them, “Do you think that kid is gifted?” If they say yes, it’s very likely they are. If older student says “I don’t know”, then they probably are (maybe 2e). If they say no, it’s likely they are not. Why? Gifted kids want other kids to be gifted. They don’t want to be a sole oddity. How can they tell? Beats me. They probably detect the different thinking pattern, that different wiring. In any case, one common experience among teens I’ve talked to is that they can just tell. They don’t know why. I’ve had similar experiences. There are a lot of people living in Silicon Valley who have never heard of gifted identification. So they are unidentified. Yet, in a crowd, they can find each other. You just know.

With respect to trying to show people the wonders of how the methods of gifted education could be applied to educating  nongifted people, give it up, they don’t want to hear about it. There are two aspects to this. The first can be demonstrated by this analogy: “I have a new teaching technique for the mentally disabled that will revolutionize the nondisabled classroom.” *Cough* But it’s different for gifted! Not really. First you have to get the people buy into the whole giftedness is a good thing. They may not say anything negative, after all, they are supposed be thinking of the kids. But really in their minds they are thinking:

      1.      Gifted kids disrupt the flow of cramming information into the skulls of the other kids. That is, after all, what is truly required to make them pass the test.
      2.      Gifted kids are discipline problems. They have that whole bored thing going on. “They don’t have the self discipline to control themselves, take what they can get like the rest of the kids and behave properly.”
      3.      Gifted kids, like the mentally disabled, cost extra money. However, if the mentally disabled aren’t taught to be self sufficient, then society will bear the burden of caring for them. It’s a strong threat. A gifted kid can “choose” to be self sufficient if they “want to”.

Secondly, people recognize the “new technique”, no matter how wonderful it may be, as a thin veil for begging. Begging means you have tried every way possible to get resources for gifted education, been told no, and now you are trying this. Many extinct animals are fond of this method. The environmental movement generalized their existence to many wonderful things that would be lost if they were gone.

The talent development trap: If you equate developing a gifted student to developing talent then you bury the different wiring issue. You start to get articles like the one recently where someone claimed that they could teach any kid to be gifted. It’s just a matter of developing a talent, right? It’s such a pleasing way to look at things, like spraying hair spray into a paper bag and taking a huge whiff—first you get a pleasurable jolt and then a mental numbness that lasts for the rest of your life.  You see with the talent argument: “Everyone can perform so much better if their talent is developed. We try to find ways to develop talent so that everyone can perform at a higher level. There is only so much development that can be done with current budget, but we hope to find ways to get increased resources or more efficient ways of teaching to make an impact and improve our student’s talent every year.” A pleasing way to put the following: “We have minimized the permanent damage we are doing to gifted kids minds. We hope every year we do less damage.”

Some people who are performing this damage are nice, well intentioned people. Some really try hard to help the gifted. But the facts are the facts: If the needs aren’t met, the damage occurs. I know that for me, some of the places where damage occurred were in classrooms where I liked the teacher (upper elementary). She was nice and she was trying her best to meet mine and sometimes 2 or 3 other kids needs. I certainly never told her what her classroom was doing to me. What was the point? It would just hurt her. She was out on a limb as far as she could go. Yet, if the needs aren’t met, damage occurs.

I showed a few gifted teens the article on “Making a kid gifted.” The response was, “If they knew what giftedness was really about, would they still want to make their kid into a gifted kid.” It a poignant question because one thing many gifted kids desire is the owner’s manual for their giftedness. It’s that different wiring…

So why go off on this rant? Here it is: Too much talk about the gifted is abstract, idea centered talk. There is not enough pull up the sleeves and do what can be done right now. At least that is my perception.  Some of those gifted kids (the older ones) will be reading those papers to figure out why damage is occurring.

Stop debating issue about how to define giftedness or how to identify it or what to call giftedness or trying gain approval from outside the gifted community. Stop begging and start doing. Forget the outside world. If we can’t find enough support within the gifted community to support what needs to be done at a practical level, then who are we anyway?

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