The Neglected Middle?
USA Today ran a column from Patrick Welsh, a D.C.-area teacher earlier this week, called Students Aren't Interchangeable. A true statement, of course. He makes the perfectly reasonable point that average children need to be challenged and that the curriculum should fit the child, not the other way around. He also points out that many educators are more interested in social engineering than in challenging kids. But I found the column unfortunate as a whole. He wants to be contrarian, so he decides to characterize gifted kids and their parents as poorly as possible so the much-neglected middle seems more deserving by contrast.
He starts by referring to parents of gifted kids as "fanatical" -- and "usually white, in my experience -- who think their kids are geniuses, who must be protected from less talented kids and who are entitled to every advantage and resource the school system has to offer." There you go. If you speak up about your kid needing educational accommodations, not only are you pushy, you're "fanatical." And while we're at it, let's get some racial overtones in there, too. Why not? No wonder Nicholas Colangelo, professor of gifted education at the Belin-Blank Center of the University of Iowa, and an expert on acceleration, recently told me that many parents of gifted kids perceive that any such requests will be viewed negatively -- so they don't ask. They don't want to be seen as pushy. With teachers like Welsh roaming the halls, that's not an unrealistic fear.
Welsh then goes on to say he has "heard teachers in neighboring Fairfax County, VA, joke that every middle class white kid is labeled either gifted and talented or learning disabled. The LD label goes over with parents because it implies that the kid is brighter than his or her work shows."
This is complete hyperbole. Fairfax County, VA's own reports show that about 8% of 3rd through 8th grade kids participate in its gifted programs (see the report here (and let me know if the direct PDF link doesn't work. It's the Fairfax County Gifted and Talented Advisory Committee Report from 2004). This is a wealthy district -- more than 8% of the kids are middle-class and white. Furthermore, the district is home to Thomas Jefferson high school, a magnet high school for gifted kids that's ranked among the top in the country. If you do have a highly gifed kid, and live in the greater D.C. area, you're quite likely to move to Fairfax for precisely this reason. So it would stand to reason that Fairfax would have a high percentage of gifted kids, particularly among the high school set. But even so, it's not a de facto segregation system. TJ is nearly 40% minority (Asian children are the largest minority group; interestingly, Asian parents are somehow exempt from Welsh's fanatical label). I'm surprised USA Today let Welsh get away with this stereotyping statement with absolutely no evidence to back it up.
But we're in a mode these days where complaining about pushy parents is hip. Columns like this are the result.