Gifted Education

The New York Times profiled a school for highly gifted students in Nevada today. According to the banner on their website, Davidson Academy serves “profoundly gifted” students. The only concern I have about pushing gifted children through school so that they graduate early is that it forces them to become little adults. While they may have a vast intellect, they do not have the social and emotional skill sets of adults. The movie Little Man Tate, directed by Jodie Foster, explored this issue. In my opinion, what we need to do is create good programs for gifted students that allow them to stay in the same grade level as their peers.

I am certified to teach gifted students. I was also considered gifted in school, though I was not profoundly gifted, and to be honest, my IQ puts me in the moderately gifted range. I was enrolled in gifted classes beginning in 5th grade. I opted out of gifted education in the 10th grade. My gifted education classes in the 1980’s were kind of joke. I went about once a week. I was pulled out of other regular instruction classes, which meant I missed instruction. I mostly did brain teasers and logic problems. While those were fun, I was never really sure what I was supposed to be getting out of the experience. I did one project in which I researched Susan B. Anthony and created a display box biography of her life. That was fun. Once I got to high school, my gifted instruction centered more around subject matter. I was in what they called Honors English, but that was my only gifted course. When I moved to California, my school records were apparently lost. My school in Anaheim wanted me to re-take the gifted test. I was scared to do so, because qualifying for gifted education in 5th grade was very different from 9th grade. My peers were really smart. I was afraid it was a mistake — the fact that I was in gifted education at all. I decided not to take the test, and I was required to drop into regular college prep classes. I regret that stupid mistake to this day — I should have taken that test, continued gifted education, and taken AP classes. Gifted education in high school, at least my experience with teaching it, is so different from elementary and middle school. I hope things have changed since my days as a student.

When I was taking my certification courses, I recall we had a discussion in class about a statement made by our textbook’s author that teachers of gifted students ought to be gifted themselves. I really don’t think that is out of line. Gifted students require some level of understanding, some level of thinking like them in order to challenge them. One teacher disagreed with that statement, and our “professor” agreed with her (he was actually a vice-superintendent of a local school system, so I’m not sure what his actual degree was). I didn’t say what I thought. I read the room and decided my opinion was unpopular.

The article mentions that “Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the ‘vast majority’ of federal spending for children in kindergarten through 12th grade was for the neediest children.” Our position in this society is that if you are gifted, you have everything you need, so we don’t need to devote resources to you. This is true emotionally and socially, too. We assume gifted students are OK because they are gifted. A study cited in the article notes we don’t spend enough money on gifted students:

Nancy Green, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, said that state and local efforts were admirable but that their inconsistency reflected lost opportunities. A new survey by her association found that among 39 states that responded, 24 spent as much as $10 million on programs for gifted children but 7 spent less than $1 million and 8 spent nothing.

Green continued: “For a nation, I’m not sure why we value equity over excellence. All kids are entitled to an appropriate education for their ability, not just those we’re teaching to a minimum standard.”

Have you by any chance read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut? In a sense, what we are doing with gifted education is handicapping gifted students as much as the Handicapper General’s office handicapped any individuals who showed excellence in any area. At one time, gifted students were considered “exceptional children” in the same way as special education students were considered “exceptional” — meaning “different from the norm.” I’m sure someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I learned in my Exceptional Children course in college (back in 1992 or 1993) that the conventional wisdom was to remove gifted students from underneath the umbrella of exceptional education, although I see the CEC still includes gifted education as part of its agenda. In some ways, this harmed gifted education, because dollars earmarked for exceptional students no longer went into gifted education.

Because our gifted kids are smart, we assume that they will be fine if we focus on students who are not gifted. We assume those other students need us more, while gifted students will get by on their own. All of our students need us.

Some gifted education resources:

2 thoughts on “Gifted Education”

  1. Hi, connected to your blog from Reflective Teacher's site… interesting post. Just tonight another teacher and I (she teaches GATE at our school, I don't), about the incredible amount of money spent on our GATE students. Each teacher gets a large extra amount of money for their classrooms to better serve the gifted students' needs. I teach at a public school in California, and was a GATE student up until high school (late 70's). Our high school didn't have GATE classes, but somehow I turned out fine. It's not that I don't believe that gifted students need specialized education; I do. It's just that in my understanding, the GATE program was developed as a special needs program, for the top 2-5% of students in our schools. That surely doesn't apply to the 25% of students in our GATE classes here. Gosh, you've inspired me to write my own post about it on my own blog. Cheers.

  2. I love the story Harrison Bergeron. Love it. I might debate over equity and excellence, but not about the quality of the story. BTW, thanks for the suggestions of readings.

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