Monday, December 12, 2011

A Bold Step?

Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, director of Northwestern's Center for Talent Development, recently took over the reigns of the National Association for Gifted Children. In her first address, she called on the field to take a "bold step" toward focusing on talent development, rather than giftedness. Focusing on "giftednesss" has led to marginalization, she says (and given that the spell check on this blogger software doesn't even recognize "giftedness" as a word, I'd have to agree that the field is not exactly central to much of education).

This announcement has been controversial for several reasons. One is that parents of highly gifted children often have to fight to convince schools that there is anything different about their children and their children's learning styles. Olszewski-Kubilius's point is that the field has been focused too much on identification -- sometimes a bit of an angels dancing on the head of a pin type question of whether a tested IQ of 129 vs. 131 means anything, and on which test, and at what age, and then nothing happens to the kid anyway except getting 45 minutes of enrichment once a week. But after decades of work, at least many school districts now try to identify gifted children. Clearly, people would be a bit miffed to have the head of NACG say that's not so critical.

I have mixed feelings about this myself. Regardless of whether children grow up to do anything remotely high-achieving as adults, they deserve to have their educational needs met. Sure, some gifted kids grow up to win Nobel prizes, write great symphonies, etc., but others live quiet and normal lives. One's temperament has a great deal to do with these things too -- one's level of ambition, one's level of self-discipline, competing priorities like family obligations, etc. I don't view the quiet and normal types as failures.

On the other hand, Olszewski-Kubilius is correct that identification is only the very, very start. Personally, I'd rather live in a world where there was no identification, but all children were challenged, stretched, and had their talents maximized, vs. a world with perfect identification but none of the above. The question is whether this "all children challenged" vision is too utopian for the world we do live in, where the educational establishment likes to ignore high-achievers as a matter of policy with NCLB, and sometimes just for sport (cutting down the tall poppies and all).

What do you think? Should the field talk about "giftedness" or "talent development"? Is there much of a difference in focus, or is there plenty of room for both?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I have no objection to talent development as more important than identification, but Paula Olszewski-Kubilius has written some rather dubious stuff.

I commented on one of her papers at

There is always hope for the future. said...

Laura, we allow our child to home school currently because he has been cognitively at an above average adult level that we noted since he began speaking English fluently and with a wonderful vocabulary at age twenty four months. What I have been through in the last six years since then has been like any other part of human life - part tragedy and part comedy. There is so much to say on the topic of helping gifted children (at the same time we are trying to help the increasingly aging community of grandparents) that it could almost leave me speechless and feeling breathless ... and that almost never happens. I am at the same time exacerbated and not the least bit surprised. Unless someone is a high IQ, high sensitivity person and gifted person, they do not understand the issues. Our beloved American President told the country in a State of the Union Address that he wants to help geniuses, but the general population does not know about them, does not acknowledge genius, does not want anyone to get ahead of them (even if a genius is the very person that could help them), and has one human characteristic that is very strong apparently to their own human survival -- jealousy. I have worked hard my whole life and at a very high level. As far as a 'quiet life,' I think a gifted person is very likely to be working for human good 'behind the scenes' since a high IQ person understands, probably before the age of nine years, that there is no 'fame and fortune.' We are all humans on the planet Earth (These are all English words created by humans by the way.) in a vast universe that is being studied. Gifted people just want to find out about the natural world around them. The education that I have seen in two parochial schools, one public school and one cyber-charter school (all explored in the last six years) is no where close to the level at which a gifted child can function. We are allowing our child's gifts to develop naturally and are trying to keep the gift from (basically speaking) being hurt. Once the child is through the state ruled educational system through age 17 years and becomes 18 years of age, I will sigh a huge sigh of relief. In the meantime, you would be proud of the books that my kind husband has paid for and that I have bought for our student to read, to own, to write in and explore. We are not letting anyone's ignorance get in the way of our child's self education. Since the homeless community is in our big city's free library, we bring water, money and leftovers for the homeless. Nothing is going to stop us from wondering at and learning about the amazing world around us. Nothing stops us from learning all day, everyday. We are in favor of humans educating themselves no matter what any state is requiring them to do or not do. Lately, I have realized that 'gifted and talented' makes sense as a phrase applied to these children. People tend to think of talent as an act that can be shared with a viewing audience. These kids make great actors due to their access to their own human emotions and verbal gifts, great writers for their ability to put it all down well on paper, artists who draw everyday and high musical IQ that has them singing, moving and making sound. Gifts like reading comprehension and mathematical ability come through in a more private way in test scores. You know exactly the group of persons that we are trying to help. It is just a question of whether or not America will try soon to help them more and stop hurting them, too.

hschinske said...

gasstationwithoutpumps: the business about "psychological science" rather than "psychology" may be something of a political or turf-war statement. According to a message I just coincidentally received on an unrelated listserv, "the Association for Psychological Science, formerly the American Psychological Society, was formed by members of the American Psychological Association who split off because the APA endorsed therapies that were not evidence-based."

I am certainly on their side as far as wanting more evidence-based therapies (as I assume you would be as well), though I agree with your other criticisms of Olszewski-Kubilius's work.

StefanyS said...

We had to move our daughter through three schools before we found one that was even willing to identify gifted children, because "all kids are gifted". She spent two years waiting to learn something in the classroom. (We are now in a school that truly understands the needs of gifted children and differentiates to meet all of their needs). In our experience, schools aren't doing enough identification - and most don't really understand what it means to be gifted. If this new focus on talent development minimizes or eliminates identification, I think gifted children will be short-changed. Giftedness is not a label for talented, it is a label that indicates a learning difference.

Lisa Van Gemert said...

I agree that this is tricky. The idea of focusing on talent development adds a burden layer to the idea of giftedness that I'm not sure I'm comfortable with. What I mean by that is that if schools are focusing on developing my talent (which can be code for high expectation), what happens if I am not really performing, but I still am going to crawl out of my skin if you leave me hanging in a class of typical learners with no differentiation? I'm not sure that's what she means, but I think it's a danger. Should gifted kids be expected to do more all the time?

Anonymous said...

I've barely squeaked by emotionally in life having been identified as Gifted at the age of 9, while my closest friend who was in his late 30s before it was determined that he too was gifted, has been plagued with issues nearly identical to my own. I'd always blamed the school system and the gifted program for exacerbating my woes to a large degree by slapping that label on me and segregating the lot of us from our peers but my my friends discovery put a wrench in that idea and now I don't know what to think. I'm not sure how to best educate gifted children. I'm perplexed. I don't have children or even plan to but I can't stand the thought of another life made unnecessarily and ridiculously difficult from this ignorance. My father does not express emotion, even eulogizing his father last December he was stoic, but on a recent visit without my mention of anything related to the subject, he said he was sorry he let me participate in the gifted program. He regrets that decision most and he wanted me to know that. One more soul adversely affected by this thing called gifted.

Tardigrade said...

"but others live quiet and normal lives"

Yes, some do. But don't conjunct the words "quiet" and "normal".