Monday, July 09, 2007

A Class of Bright Sparks

Like the U.S., Australia has long been trying to figure out what to do with its gifted children. As in the U.S., with its egalitarian culture, Australians sometimes talk about cutting down the "tall poppies." That means that anything that makes someone stick out is viewed as bad. This recent article, A Class of Bright Sparks, from the Brisbane Times, examines the issue in light of the New South Wales system of selective secondary schools. I really recommend reading it.

The issues of achievement and intelligence are hard to separate out, and so admission into these schools is seen as an honor, and the schools are perceived as "better." But, of course, the issue is never entirely clear-cut. Students who obtain admission, but choose to go to "regular" schools do just fine, and plenty of students (some of whom have been coached like crazy) who do go to the elite schools flounder. The article notes that attending the selective schools does not necessarily raise self-esteem, which is obvious to anyone who's ever attended a rigorous, ability-grouped school. You learn the first day that while you were the brightest kid in your previous class, you aren't now!

The article brings up the usual note that educators are divided on whether ability grouping is good for students (though no one who seriously considers the needs of highly gifted kids is divided on this). As gifted expert Miraca Gross says in the article "Research shows that children are less likely to succeed if they are not accepted in their peer group... The earlier you put a gifted child - for some period of time at least - with other children of similar ability the more confident a child becomes. They have less time to dwell on the fact that others may think they are weird or strange which may make them feel confused and unlikeable and lead them not to develop skills of friendship and be socially isolated." Some people seem to believe that ability grouping hurts "socialization" but the truth is the exact opposite. A highly gifted child kept in a regular class becomes nothing but the "smart one." Only in a situation with her intellectual peers is she allowed to become other things.


Anonymous said...

Hello Laura,

I’m writing to suggest a topic for discussion for your column, which I read weekly.

We recently received the Spring 2007 Vision newsletter from the Belin-Blank Center. The Director, Nicholas Colangelo wrote a strong, page-long argument for school choice as a means to improve the quality of public education for all. He asserts that choice forces competition which is desirable and necessary in sports and business, yet is considered political incorrect and the enemy of public schools.

I looked for the article on-line, but the web-site doesn’t have the most recent new-letters posted. Perhaps they will update it for you.



robin said...

Hi All,
Highlight of a nice article, more balanced than usual. I think it's key for families to have alternatives to choose from, yes?

I got interested in this reference and I think
would be a good, and international, topic. This model of gifted and talented really seems reasonable.


Davidson Institute Staff said...

Here is the link to the latest version of the Belin-Blank newsletter, Vision: