Sunday, May 18, 2014
Reading between the lines: A principal on gifted children
I'm always happy to see gifted education covered in the press, especially when not under the headline "the myth of giftedness" (or some such). But reading how people write about giftedness is sometimes a reminder of all the narratives that are out there, and that may or may not be true. That was my thought while reading the "Your gifted child" column from Lenore Hirsch in the Napa Valley Register. (Curiously, I was actually in Napa in California when the column ran, though I read it later, not at the time. I certainly would have clipped it if I'd seen it!) Hirsch writes that gifted children often have difficulty if they're intellectually years older than they are, but sometimes behave like their real age. This can indeed be frustrating for parents and teachers (not to mention the kids themselves). But then that sage observation is followed with this: "I have known children who were so far beyond their age-mates academically that they were bored in school and their parents wanted them to skip a grade. But parents and staff must consider the social ramifications before making such a move." Here we have someone who is profoundly sympathetic to the issues of gifted education writing in a way that implies that skipping a grade is a risky and drastic move -- as opposed to one of the best (and cheapest!) ways available to challenge gifted kids. The reason it's risky? The "social ramifications." Except that one of the best summaries of the research (the A Nation Deceived report) found that social worries were widely overblown. Most kids who've been accelerated turn out fine. Hirsch's preferred solution is this: "Sometimes the best route for the gifted child is to stay in class with others his own age, but have the curriculum and teacher expectations tweaked to give him an academic challenge. He can read a harder book or write a longer report, while still exploring the same topic as his classmates." I'm not sure that assigning a child a 7-page report instead of a 4-pager is all that's required to meet a child's needs. But unfortunately this mindset is quite prevalent. I don't know why acceleration gets such a bad reputation. But given how even people who support gifted education write about it, there's no doubt that it does.