Education Week has a fascinating article up on their website titled "Gifted Label Said to Miss Dynamic Nature of Talent." It requires a free registration to read, but I hope a few Gifted Exchange readers will take the time to do so, because I'd really like to hear your take on this one.
The article is basically a preview of a new book being released by the American Psychological Association called "The Development of Giftedness and Talent Across the Life Span." In this book, various researchers comment on giftedness at different stages, with an emphasis on the idea that talent can wax and wane.
“The essence of this book, and the reason I found it so exciting, is that it is moving away from this idea of talent as something that some people have and some people don’t. It’s showing talent as something developable,” Carol S. Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of the book's forward told EdWeek. Dweck is, of course, the researcher who's made a name for herself by showing that praising for effort, rather than ability, inspires children to try hard things and risk failing. Children praised for being "smart" don't want to challenge that assumption, and hence don't want to try things that make them seem not smart.
The book will talk about giftedness in various areas (spatial understanding, music, art) and the problems with the way school gifted programs tend to address the issue. "If schools were to view giftedness as more of a developmental process than an immutable attribute, they would likely need to test children more often. And children might move in and out of “gifted” programs more frequently, based on their individual needs," the article notes. "Instead, many schools test children once for academic advancement, and students tend to retain that classification for the rest of their school careers."
It's all well and good -- we all know that talent, not nurtured, can certainly fade. And hard work is probably the deciding factor between which, of two talented children, will wind up succeeding as adults. Furthermore, the whole pull-out enrichment concept is -- as we've talked about many times on this blog -- absolutely ridiculous. There is no reason you need to be gifted to spend 90 minutes a week learning about bugs, or Robin Hood, or the culture of Japan, or whatever. All kids could benefit from these programs. What gifted kids really need is advanced, accelerated academic work. It at least sounds like the contributing researchers are pushing that idea.
But... I'm worried about this book. I'm worried because of this explanation of the thesis near the top of the article: "Academic talents can wax and wane, the latest thinking goes, meaning that a child who clearly outpaces his or her peers academically at age 8 can end up solidly in the middle of the pack by the end of high school. Instead of being innate and immutable, giftedness can be nurtured and even taught."
If acceleration were widespread and uncontroversial, if students were grouped by ability and schools were committed to meeting gifted kids' needs, this statement, that academic talents can wax and wane would be fine. True enough. I used to be sharper on, say, math than I am now. We all know some kids who were identified as gifted who wind up having trouble later for a variety of reasons.
But the problem is, we don't live in that world where intellectual talent in children is seen as a precious resource and is nurtured appropriately. We live in a world where school systems seek out any reason to not allow acceleration, seek out any reason to mainstream gifted kids, do heterogeneous classroom groupings and the like. The last thing we need is a group of gifted advocates trying to make headlines by claiming that yes, kids really do all even out by third grade (the argument that's used to avoid serving younger gifted kids) or that giftedness can be taught, and hence we don't need gifted programs. See, all kids can be gifted! Gifted kids are probably just hot-housed by their parents and once professional teachers get involved nurturing other kids' gifts (and neglecting the gifted, who will fend for themselves) it will all get straightened out.
I hope I am wrong about this, and that the book calls for a massive upgrade in how our country nurtures its brightest kids. But trust me, that won't be the headline.