Monday, December 09, 2013

The wrong argument for gifted education

Here are four statements that are true: 1. Some gifted children grow up to do amazing things. 2. Some gifted children grow up to have rather quiet lives. 3. Some children who do not score multiple standard deviations above the norm on IQ tests grow up to do amazing things. 4. Others with similar "average" IQ scores do not.

None of this is particularly profound to say, but occasionally people trot out points 2 and 3 of the above statements to make a point about giftedness, or gifted education. Even people generally sympathetic to the cause make such points. I was reminded of this while reading Jay Mathews' recent column on "Why geniuses don't need gifted education."

The point? Much of what passes for gifted education doesn't particularly nurture gifted children's talents. And many adult high achievers didn't have much in the way of gifted education as kids. All true. But so what?

Often, advocates for gifted kids try to appeal to the public's self-interest of why such children should be identified and served. The reasoning goes like this: "These kids will make the future scientific discoveries that will save us all!" or "These kids will be the future Nobel prize winning novelists whose work we'll all read" or something else along those lines.

But I think this is the wrong argument for gifted education. No one knows what anyone will do later on in life. All children deserve to be challenged to the extent of their abilities. They deserve to be treated respectfully. Done right, gifted education doesn't require extra or special resources. If you're going to have 5 sections of a grade, it doesn't cost anything extra to concentrate children according to their level of preparation, so people can be taught right where they are. If you're going to have 13 years of available public schooling, it doesn't cost anything to have people go through that in, say, 10 years. Indeed, it costs a lot less.

Mathews argues that potential geniuses need room to explore, and shouldn't be confined to grade level classes. And that's true. But what should be done? Given that most parents aren't going to home school their children, schools need to do something for these kids. Likewise, there are certain skills that it helps to learn from other people. Gifted writers need space to write. But they probably need teachers to help them learn grammar, too.

There are many factors that come into play when we're talking about outsized achievement as adults. But whether gifted kids become those achievers or not has nothing to do with whether schools can't also do their best by these kids. I wish the arguments over gifted education wouldn't take this form. Instead, it should be about all children receiving the education they deserve.


nicoleandmaggie said...

Though monetarily, many of our classmates at our gifted school did hit it big in the tech industry and have donated back to our high school. Same is true for private schools. (My son's current school is being kept afloat by an alumni who got a great education and became rich.) It happens... and if someone is going to hit it big, it's better to have them thinking fondly of your school than to feel that they achieved in spite of it. From a self-interest perspective.

Though really I am more concerned about gifted kids' higher propensity to drop out of school than I am about nurturing their talents to achieve on a grand scale. Still, it would be nice to give them the tools they need to make the world a better place rather than burning them out before (or when) they hit college.

I wonder what happens when they hit their 30s to gifted kids who flamed out in K-12 or college (from not getting their needs met). We're seeing some of that with our K-8 friends/acquaintances/relatives who didn't escape. The ones we know seem to have stabilized into lower-middle-class local jobs status. (Drafter, TGIF manager, etc.)

helen noble said...

As the parent of a gifted child who has accelerated 3 years through school, I can only agree that the meeting of all individual educational needs will never be satisfactorily achieved by a general'system' However, there are other influential factors at work (personality;financial availability; health to name but 3) which will determine 'success' in life - itself something of a vague definition. How is success measured and who has the measuring stick? For as long as our assessment is based on judgement the results will prove unsatisfactory. Giftedness is about a difference which should be celebrated - all human life is about quality not quantity.

Gail Post, Ph.D. said...

Great points and good response to that "pointless" article. The article once again made the same tired and naive arguments about giftedness, measuring the value of education against future achievement.

Implementing a fair and appropriate education is necessary for gifted children because they NEED to be stimulated - not because of some future potential outcome.

Gail Post/

Marnie said...

"All children deserve to be challenged to the extent of their abilities." - amen.

You are right, and public schools may not ever get there - the extreme of giftedness just doesn't lend itself to being pigeon-holed (then again, what does, really?)

These are a lot of the reasons we are looking to homeschool our son - and that was never on our minds before we realized the situation today with public education, as well as our sons individual needs. Will he grow up to be a famous mathematician? Maybe, maybe not. But all I really want is for him is to be happy and successful -- I think that's all any parent wants. I will do everything to make sure that he gets the education he deserves.

Thank you for this post.