Friday, August 12, 2011

Services, Not Labels

Many districts, faced with budget shortfalls, are trimming their gifted programs. So I was encouraged to see an article from Wisconsin's State Journal highlighting a new program in the Madison School District. A group of parents had filed a complaint with the state that the district was not upholding various education laws requiring identification and services for gifted students. As the article puts it, "The district also has historically blanched at grouping students by ability."

It's too soon to see what the effect will be. The idea is that there will be a lot more grouping by ability, with gifted education treated somewhat more like special education. Children with the most profound needs that can't be met in a traditional classroom will get services outside the classroom, and grade acceleration will be an option. All sounds good.

But what I liked most was this line: "Sue Schaar, the district’s new talented-and-gifted program coordinator, said the new program differs from past practice by focusing on services, rather than labeling students."

This is what gifted education, ideally, comes down to. Over the years I've started to think that much of the resistance to the idea of gifted education in general stems from this word "gifted" or the phrase "gifted and talented" -- which implies that some kids are somehow better than others, even if this is not the intention. We're prone to many euphemisms in education (like "special education") and the word "gifted" is yet another in a long list. But the word just doesn't matter. You can call it something neutral, or even negative if necessary. The point is that children will have their educational needs met, and will be challenged to the extent of their abilities, ideally in an environment with their intellectual peers. Services, not labels. The only reason for the label is to get the services. If there would be some way to downplay the label, that would be great.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Changing the label will do no good—look at the long history of label-changing for the handicapped (or whatever this year's euphemism is). It has not done a lot of good for the handicapped and has opened up a social minefield for older people who learned a different set of euphemisms.

What has helped there is the Americans with Disabilities Act—a law that requires all schools and businesses to make reasonable accommodations for disabilities.

That is what gifted students need—a law with teeth that says that schools have to educate them. I don't expect to see that any time soon, though.

Anonymous said...

I think that labels do matter in this case. The difference between non P.C. terms like "handicapped" is that such terms denigrate only the persons being labeled.

The term "gifted" can be offensive to those not being labeled. Those not gifted are slighted by the term. The term itself creates animosity toward the person being labeled because it somehow denigrates the person not labeled.

In order to pass a law with teeth, buy in will be necessary from those who are not "gifted." If the term used offends those persons in charge of making that law (or the electorate), such a law is not likely to pass.

Suzanne said...

I agree with what others said about the label. I always find myself saying, "It's not better, it's just different" when the topic of my children's intelligence arises. It would be nice if there were both a law and a label that everyone could agree upon.
It's really not better. It's just different and because it is different there are different needs involved. There is no superiority. It makes me sad that people would take offense to the needs of my children.

StefanyS said...

We definitely need a better way to identify gifted children, and we certainly need better services for them (most of our schools in California don't even offer gifted programs any more), but I think it really needs to start with our teacher education/training programs. Very few of our programs address recognizing and teaching gifted children in a substantial and meaningful way.

Even with a special needs law for gifted children, if we don't have teachers who understand giftedness, we are still short changing our kids.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

As long as people perceive gifted as better, no mucking around with the label will reduce the envy and animosity. I don't like the euphemism "gifted" for a number of reasons, but see no point to changing the label. All that does is make people irritated that they have to learn a new label or risk getting called out for not being in touch with the current euphemisms.

Part of the problem is that "gifted" often does mean "better at school", and for some reason that is resented more than "better at sports" or "better at music".

genxatmidlife said...

I have messed around with other words and phrases to describe my child. "High ability" and "high IQ" are ones that I see/hear often. I'm not sure these are any less offensive than gifted. Why are these kids gifted? Because their potential is greater than the vast majority of others in a particular or many areas.

As a parent, I find myself being almost apologetic sometimes for using the term gifted. Recently, I read something about how parents of talented athletes feel no pressure to downplay their strengths. Certainly, people see no problem if they are quite proud of them. Why can't this be the case with a gifted kid?

We are in a school that wants very much to provide differentiation for gifted children, but our resources are limited. Being able to explain my son's needs with a term with which educators are familiar has been helpful. Not every teacher has fully understood it, but it offers a better alternative to things like "ADHD," "not working to his potential," and "checked-out."

alligriff said...

Gifted children have been fighting for services since the inception of the gifted program. Gifted children deserve to have their needs met. A label does not change who the child is.
In many classrooms gifted students become the second teacher, helping the teacher help the students who are falling behind, but then what happens to the gifted student? He does not get his needs met and he is not being challenged, he becomes tired of "teaching" and eventually decides school is not for him, no one teaches him and he drops out. Nearly 20 percent of gifted children drop out of school each year. The services provided failed them.
As educators, we need to be aware of the needs of all students, but I believe gifted students should have ARDS and accommodations just as much as the special populations.
We need to hold teachers accountable to teach to the needs of these gifted children as well. Set goals for the child, and we should expect to see progress made for those goals.
While we do not want to label children, we must label in order to service. Service cannot come about without a label. Good instruction differentiates for all learners. Gifted, Special or Regular.