by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"The most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents."... ...Eric Hoffer.
Commentary of the Day - September 7, 2003: We Don' Need No Stinkin' Gifted Programs! Guest commentary by Tina Blue.
When my children were in grades 1-3, they were placed in their school's gifted program. But by the time my younger child reached third grade, the gifted program was discontinued as "elitist' and "discriminatory," as well as "too expensive." It was changed to an "enrichment program," and its director became a "consultant."
From that point on, there were no special classes or activities to challenge the students who were too advanced for the school's regular curriculum. Instead, all of the same children whose lack of academic preparation and lack of motivation forced the regular classes to proceed at a snail's pace were lumped together with those who really were interested in learning more and more rapidly.
With gifted programs being cut back, redefined, or discontinued altogether, almost the only way that gifted children can meet their academic needs is to enroll in college classes at a very young age.
My daughter was especially gifted in math. In seventh grade, she had nowhere to take her precociousness, so she was allowed to work in her seventh grade classroom with textbooks used in more advanced classes.
But her studies were constantly interrupted by her math teacher, who insisted that Becky use her time in math class to tutor the slower students. Becky found this incredibly frustrating, because the students she was forced to tutor really didn't want to learn math, and they deeply resented being taught by one of their own classmates. The only person who benefited from the arrangement was the math teacher, who fobbed her own responsibilities onto a twelve-year-old, while actively interfering with Becky's efforts to learn more math.
By the second semester of her seventh-grade year, Becky was able to enlist the aid of her school's "enrichment consultant" to get her out of that classroom and into a newly established advanced math class at another school in the district. Along with a handful of other students from her school, she was bused to a different junior high every other day for the advanced math class.
When she was in ninth grade, Becky began taking math classes at Kansas University. By the time she graduated from high school, she had taken several college math classes, up to and including differential equations. She added a math minor to her college major (biology/premed) and her other minor (chemistry), not because she particularly wanted to, but because she only needed three more college math courses to complete that minor, so it seemed silly not to. She recently graduated from college with a 4.0 average and starts medical school at Georgetown on August 18.
Obviously Becky is a serious student, one who wants to get as much as possible out of her education. Her schools often interfered with her efforts to learn more, but because she is both determined and ambitious, she was able to cobble together her own "gifted program," with occasional assistance (as well as occasional resistance) from the "gifted consultant."
Equally obviously, our [public] school system has little use for her and for others like her.
It is assumed that such students will do fine on their own, and that our educational dollars are better spent on the students who are not academically advanced, or particularly serious about getting much from their education.
But gifted students don't always do fine on their own. The fact is, fully one third of the students at our local alternative high school -- you know, the school where they send students who are academically at risk -- test as highly gifted.
Think about it: one third of the students who cannot function in the regular high school and who are at risk of failing or of dropping out are among the most gifted students in the school district!
My own son was one of them.
Michael finished his high school credits a full year ahead of schedule. He began taking college classes at age 16, while still technically a junior in high school . He graduated last December from Kansas University, with a double major in Spanish and International Studies -- and with a 3.97 GPA. He is presently working on an MSM at the Warrington School of Business at the University of Florida.
But when he was 15, we switched Michael out of the regular high school and to the alternative high school because he was getting C's, D's and even the occasional F, and on the verge of dropping out.
Many of the other gifted students at the alternative high school ended up there for similar reasons.
What an indictment of our [public] educational system that so many or our most intelligent and academically advanced students are simply ignored or allowed to drop by the wayside.
Michael was lucky. Though as a teenager he lacked his younger sister's academic drive (something he developed with a vengeance once he got free of high school and started college), he had a mother and father (as well as a stepmother) who were themselves academics, and who could ensure that he had the necessary background anyway, so that when he finally realized that he really did want an education, he was not starting from an educational hole so deep there would be no way out of it.
But just think of how much talent and intelligence we waste, simply because our educational system isn't particularly interested in motivating and challenging our most gifted students.
Most of Michael's classmates from the alternative high school, even the highly gifted ones, did not go on to earn college degrees. In fact, most of them are stuck in dead-end jobs where they make barely more than the minimum wage, just enough to supply their beer and marijuana habits.
Too bad. We could have used their intelligence and talent, if only we had considered it worthwhile to encourage them when they were in public school.
©2003 Tina Blue
Tina Blue is a lecturer in English at the University of Kansas. She also publishes the "Teacher, Teacher" web site.
The IP comments: The IP is all too familiar with the experiences that Tina relates in her commentary. Programs for gifted and talented students in the public schools receive little or no support from the educational community. While enormous sums are spent on the education of children at the other end of the spectrum, whose capacity to learn is extremely limited, little or nothing is spent to ensure that our most talented children receive the education that they need. We are often told that a society can be judged by how well it treats its handicapped members; and, that is true. A compassionate society does not overlook its most challenged members. But, at the same time, a truly progressive society nurtures the talents of its members with the greatest potential.
The IP wonders if the decline in programs for gifted and talented children in our public schools stems from the fact that far too many of our public school teachers are drawn from the bottom third of the academic talent pool in our colleges and universities. Could it be that those cries of "elitist" and "discriminatory" really are expressions of jealousy?
© 2003 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.