Sunday, November 10, 2013
Building bridges -- but to where?
I have recently learned that my state, Pennsylvania, requires that gifted learners be identified and served. My local school district sponsored a small gathering on gifted education recently, which I'd hoped would feature a discussion of our district's policies and offerings for such children. Instead, we got a discussion of the skills gifted students would need in the 21st century. And while it was fun, and fascinating, it reminds me of the trouble gifted advocates have gotten ourselves into, historically, in the way we've shaped the conversation on gifted education. We spent much of the hour devoted to this conversation on gifted education building a bridge. Each table had a divider in the middle, and the teams on both sides of the divider had to build a bridge with a package of random materials. The catch was that it had to exactly match the bridge on the other side of the divider. Every 3-5 minutes or so, we'd send up a negotiator to talk with someone from the other team. They'd confer, they'd come back, and we'd all adjust. It was certainly a more enjoyable way to spend an hour than many other things we could have been doing with our time, but the point was that we were using 21st century skills: problem solving, negotiating, team work, and so forth. These soft skills are the ones that employers say people most need. They're also the ones employers are likely to say people lack. These are the skills that gifted children will need in the 21st century. Except they're also the skills that all children need. And this is where the gifted conversation goes awry. Because many pull-outs over the years have been built around fun project based learning. But all kids can learn that way, and all kids can enjoy going to science museums, or whatever other trips these pull-outs have entailed. What gifted kids need in particular is work that stretches their brains to the extent of their capabilities, in an environment with their intellectual peers. Bridges can be part of that. But bridges can be part of everyone's learning. What belongs under the gifted education rubric is something a little different.