Wednesday, February 06, 2013

If not 'gifted,' what?

News flash: many people don't like the word "gifted." Even if they recognize the concept -- that some people have swifter cognitive processing power than average -- they dislike the word.

I was reminded of this while reading Stacy Hunt's column in a New Zealand newspaper (the Otago Daily Times) on how 'Gifted Should Be Retired For Good. Some of the column is just puzzling. Hunt writes that the whole gifted concept leads to separating a group of people off, which is news to me. If only modern gifted programs actually separated children into homogeneous groups for any real period of time! The reality is often small pull-outs which cause the problems of separation but give none of the benefits. Other parts of the column rehash the usual arguments (yes, motivation matters. And so does intelligence -- these are not either/or concepts). Others are a bit more sensible ("some children show unusual aptitude in specific areas of learning. Our society should provide support and resources to give them the chance to realise their potential.")

Anyway, this piece -- and the many, many others like it I've read over years of looking at gifted education -- got me thinking again about the word "gifted." Is it helpful or not? There are certainly other ways to describe the same idea of helping children who can learn swiftly be challenged and reach their potential. One can talk about talent development. One can talk about "readiness" for different levels of challenge. One can talk of being accelerated, or advanced. Or then there's the euphemism of "special needs," which could certainly be adapted to other contexts. Perhaps, if there is broad adoption of "personalized learning" then giftedness will simply manifest itself in kids moving forward in progression much faster than their similarly-aged classmates. She's in level 10 and someone else is in level 4. Ho-hum, just another day of personalized learning.

But here's a question for people who don't like "gifted" -- is there another word or concept you would use? Or no? "Gifted" is, of course, not perfect. But I suspect many people who don't like the word don't like the idea of gifted education in general, and so this is not an easily mollified problem.

Is there a word you like better than gifted?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Advanced learner.

DonnaMusic said...

I like cognitive asynchronity-simply because most people THINK they know what "gifted" means-but if I tell them my daughter is "cognitively asynchronous", they usually ask what that means-and I can explain it means that, basically, she's physically 8, emotionally sometimes in her 20s and sometimes about 4, and cognitively about like a high school student.


Anonymous said...

I have found that, most of time, those who do not like the term "gifted" are in fact not gifted and dislike the idea of others being more advanced cognitively than themselves. I like DonnaMusic's "cognitive asynchronity." That gives a perfect definition of my three kids.

Gary Franczyk said...

I agree with anonymous. Most people that don't like it feel that it makes others qualitatively better than themselves, and therefore consider it inegalitarian. The blank slate theory is still the defacto view of most, especially those in education.

They are either not willing to acknowledge that some people are innately more intelligent, or find it unfair that something that someone is born with should give them a lifelong advantage. (Hence, the term 'gifted': it is a gift, not earned). It is much like how some people view the Walton family and their inheritance of the Walmart fortune. They did nothing to earn it, so why should anyone give them any advantage over others?

I find it unfortunate, since those gifted children are those that will be the ones discovering cures for diseases, running companies, and teaching at universities.

If they aren't challenged, they will not learn how to work hard and become the typical underachiever "C" students.

I don't agree with finding a different word than "gifted". It just continues the long slide from euphemism to euphemism, just like "retarded" and "African American" have. Its already a euphemism for more accurate words such as "highly intelligent" or "genius".

"Cognitive asynchronicity" is just as bad as "gifted". It makes the word even more vague. At least "gifted" connotes a higher intelligence, whereas cognitive asynchronicity can mean either dull or bright, or even mentally imbalanced. "Cognitively gifted" would be more accurate. By replacing "gifted" with "asynchronous" you are just trying to avoid offending by introducing ambiguity.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Here's us on labels in general: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/on-labels-a-deliberately-controversial-post/

I'm sure any term that a person makes up to mean gifted is going to end up having the same connotations as gifted does eventually. Just like it doesn't matter if the pen you use to grade with is red or green or purple-- eventually people are going to associate that color with the corrections/comments you make.

Anonymous said...

Deep thinker

L Johnson said...

We were just discussing this very concept at our GT committee meeting. I suggested that the term "gifted" does not begin the conversation with others with an open mind. It seems they view that "term" as putting their child down. I proposed that we rename the link on our district's website from gifted support to high aptitude learner. This term has a basis in Gange's theories and separates others that possess high abilities from hard work etc. but don't have innate giftedness. Giftedness is something you are not especially have earned.

Anonymous said...

I don't like gifted. When my kids were little, I said academically inclined, but now that my kids are middle school, I say "ahead". We'll see what I say in high school. Hopefully I won't have to say anything but "thriving in school".

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I don't like the term "gifted" because it is a euphemism. Finding a different euphemism doesn't help.

I prefer to use purely descriptive terms that say something specific, like "fast learner", "smart", "creative", "good test taker", "hard worker", … . Note that these descriptors don't all call for the same pedagogical treatment, and that pull-out programs aren't really a suitable treatment for any of them (except, perhaps, "bored").

Anonymous said...

I had this issue when I was writing my master's thesis. My committee was completely fine with me calling one group of kids "gifted," but was offended that I'd labeled the other group "non-gifted." They finally caved after 20 minutes of discussion, when I challenged them to come up with a non-potentially-offensive alternative and they couldn't.

Anonymous said...

Until recently, I was completely against the use of the term "gifted." But after more thought, I've realized that without that term, I would not have found the resources (via internet) that I did so that I could advocate and help for my child.

Once I learned what I needed to know and my child was getting the help she needed, I became cavalier about the term and what it meant.

So now, I think terms that are more descriptive should be used, such as academically talented, academically exceptional (also use academically typical for others), super smart, very intelligent, etc. However, I hope that people working in this field do not completely abandon the term "gifted" or any other traditional or mainstream terms. These traditional terms should be kept particularly when categorizing, indexing or tagging information meant for the general public.

Julia Dumas Wilks said...

I'm not against the term gifted. But people seem to be offended if I use it. I usually say my son is highly intelligent.

Anonymous said...

Gifted is used as an adjective in many areas without a thought of offense: gifted athlete, gifted speaker, gifted leader, gifted artist, etc. Parallel usage in intellectual ability might remove the offense: the phrase "my child is gifted" might be replaced with "my child is a gifted learner."

Anonymous said...

Other choices: attuned, in tune, innate, intuitive, evolved.

Anonymous said...

Right now I say "bright". She is only 5. I usually don't bring it up unless someone else does. I mean, how do you slip "my kid is gifted" into casual conversation.

When people who don't know her ask how she is doing in school I say she "loves" it and I leave it there.

On the rare occassion that someone pushes for more detail I give them specifics not labels. "looking for programs that accomodate 5th grade reading levels for 5 year olds." for example or "don't want her in a reading group alone but don't want her with 10 year olds either."

I only use a label like "gifted" as an abbreviation or shrthand with friends who already know her.

Anonymous said...

Gifted is the term used by our state legislature and school aged children are identified. All of the parents seem to be aware of the term.

Anonymous said...

I hate the term non-gifted. Because it is impossible for any identification tool to be 100% accurate, and because some gifted kids are twice exceptional, and some are late-bloomers. I like the term typically developing.
I grew up thinking that schools were evil. As a parent it looked like schools were good places filled with well intentioned people that worked very well for the majority of kids, those who develop typically. It may or may not be anyone's fault that elementary school was so painful for me and other kids on developmental paths that are too far outside the norm, but what I disliked the most was bumping into that firm belief that we did not exist, for example:

All good readers become good spellers.
All students learn to do X before they are ready to learn Y. (memorize math facts, Algebra) (have neat handwriting, think abstractly) (walk, speak)
All students even out by 3rd grade.
We only test reading up to two years above grade level, which is right because we certainly aren't going to do anything differently so why bother. then...
All students are within 2 grade levels in reading ability.

I guess I am a fan of Personalized Education.

Anonymous said...

Laura, I do not know how much you are researching the topic scientifically, but regardless of the label, the high-IQ people (I think) are more likely to have a memory that is either autobiographical, encyclopedic or both. I would definitely study memory function as an important component of 'gifted'.