As President, What Will You Do for Gifted Education?

We have a natural resource in our country, more significant than oil, more valuable than diamonds, and it has more impact on our future than any other resource—our children. Education should be a top priority for us in order to nurture our children’s talents and strengths, and to give each and every child the tools they will need to make the most of their lives. Our education system in the U.S. is struggling to meet the learning needs of all students, children are getting left behind and many are not provided what they need to join the race to the top. Many children do not have the educational opportunities they need and so they are unable to reach their full potential. This is a shameful failure on our part.

As a presidential candidate, what will you do to make sure our educational system provides every child what they need to succeed?

And I don’t say every child lightly; there is a very crucial point behind this word, every

Most do not know that there is a group of students we have been neglecting in our schools. These children and their needs are wholly misunderstood. They have special learning needs which educational and psychological professionals have known about for decades, and those learning needs are rarely met in the regular education classroom. Yet, more and more, the very education these children require to learn, to thrive, and to reach their potential is taken away, and they are expected to adapt to an education which does not at all meet their learning needs. We are taking away their right to an education which meets their special learning needs.

Research studies, statistics and other data have shown that this student population has suffered serious consequences from being neglected educationally. Anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, underachievement, behavioral issues and dropping out of school are on the rise among these students as they sit, year after year, in a classroom, not learning much of anything they don’t already know.

I know this.

I have a child who has been misunderstood and his learning needs neglected in our schools—so misunderstood that my family, like many families, had to give up a second income in order to educate our child at home. We have had to forge uncharted paths to get him the education he needs. As parents of these children, we worry if our child will ever fit into this world because so few people understand them, or accept them. Many shun our children and us as their parents because they see our children’s special educational needs as an advantage. It’s not uncommon to have others publicly voice their dislike for our children and criticize us as their parents. Bullying and mocking of us and our children is very common.

My own child has experienced bullying by peers, teachers and other adults because they are certain my child’s special educational needs are not real, that he is just a smart kid from an advantaged background who wants more than others so he can get ahead.

My child is gifted. He was born that way.

Gifted children are a real special needs population and are born into all walks of life—in impoverished families, in minority populations, in all cultures and ethnicities. Giftedness does not discriminate. But, not all families have the means to ensure their gifted child has the education their child needs. They rely on our public schools who have historically underserved gifted children. Sadly, these are the neglected gifted children who end up dropping out of school, in trouble, or incarcerated. You’ve heard of the school-to-prison pipeline, right?

“But, isn’t gifted the same as being smart?”

There are many myths and misunderstandings about giftedness in children. Giftedness, although there is no agreed upon definition, is inherent—when a child has been identified as gifted, most often his siblings are also gifted, and one or both of his parents are gifted as well. Generally, giftedness is defined by these traits: an IQ above 130; asynchronous development (emotional and social development often takes a back seat to intellectual development); advanced cognitive abilities; distinct educational, social and emotional needs; and intense physical and emotional sensitivities.

Smart is usually defined by traditional school constructs such as learns quickly, makes good grades, is conscientious and excels in school. Not all gifted children make good grades or excel in school and that is often because school is very frustrating for them, and it rarely meets their educational, social and emotional needs.

“I’m still confused. Aren’t gifted programs just for the smarter students?”

Again, smarter or high-achieving is defined by school standards—good grades, high test scores. Giftedness is defined in psychological terms as a neurodiversity–it is a neurological diagnosis. It is an above-average cognitive difference usually demonstrated by superior intellectual abilities and social and emotional attributes—all of which need addressing in school in gifted education programs taught by specially-trained gifted education teachers. More confounding is the fact that a gifted child can have co-existing learning disabilities or challenges. There are many facets which make the breadth and depth of giftedness much more than simply being smarter.

“So how is a gifted child different from a smart child?” 

For comparison, here are two general descriptions, one of a high-achieving child and the other, a gifted child. (all children are different and no child, whether gifted or high-achieving will fit consistently into either description)

High-achieving

  • Does well in school
  • Shows above-average achievement, earns excellent grades and scores well on standardized tests
  • Often demonstrates maturity, self-motivation and leadership
  • Is often popular among peers and well-liked by teachers and other adults

Gifted

  • Does not always do well in school, can underachieve and disengage from learning and school
  • Shows exceptional intellectual abilities which are not always accurately measured by standard school assessments and tests
  • Gifted children most often develop asynchronously and their emotional, social and intellectual abilities are out of sync. A 10 year old gifted child with the intellectual capacity of an 18 year old can have the emotional maturity of a 6 year old.
  • Gifted children can struggle socially and often don’t fit in with peers because of their atypical intellectual interests.

Although gifted children can and do excel in school, they don’t always, especially when their educational, social and emotional needs are not met in school.

Gifted children need gifted education because of their many specific educational, social and emotional needs, and these needs are not met in the regular classroom. Even with decades of psychological and educational research showing the very real and very specific educational needs of our gifted children, our schools still treat gifted children as simply the smart students who will do fine on their own. We know this well–as educational budgets become strained, we watch as the gifted education programs are the first to be axed to save money. Sadly, the educational research and data gathered from years of standardized test scores have shown that our gifted children have demonstrated minimal year-to-year progress compared to other student populations in our schools. Their education has been neglected.

As I sit here, a mother of a gifted child who has experienced the educational neglect and the frustration of sitting in a classroom, day after day, being taught information he already knew, being told by teachers, “well, if you are so smart, you should be able to…”, and facing the envy of peers and parents of other students, I worry about my child’s future—a future he deserves as much as every other child. Like many parents of gifted children, we then become financially and emotionally strained because it then becomes our responsibility to nurture our child’s talents and strengths and to give our child the tools he will need to make the most of his life. My child’s right to a free and appropriate education has become my own personal responsibility. But, my family is lucky that we can provide my child’s education. Gifted children from two-income households, impoverished families, and disadvantaged homes must rely on our schools for an appropriate education. Our schools are failing these disadvantaged gifted children.

When will we stop squandering our most precious natural resource?

So, I ask you, what will you do to stop this educational neglect? What will you do to ensure the special educational needs of our gifted children are adequately met in our schools? What will you do to make sure all children receive an appropriate education which meets their specific learning needs and  gives them the opportunity to reach their full, God-given potential?

As President, what will you do for gifted education?

 

RELATED ARTICLES AND RESOURCES

 

Education and Miseducation

“Gifted by State”, NAGC—National Association for Gifted Children

“Are We Failing Our Gifted Students?”, Cindy Long, NEA Today, September 18, 2013

“Neglecting gifted students harms nation”, Jacquelyn Drummer and Del Siegle, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 8, 2009

“The poor, neglected gifted child”, Amy Crawford, Boston Globe, March 16, 2014

“Gifted, Talented, and Underserved “, Chester E. Finn, Jr., National Affairs, Issue #18, Winter 2014

“The miseducation of our gifted children”, E. Winner, Davidson Institute for Talent Development, 1996

“Gifted Students Can Have Learning Disabilities”, Celi Trépanier, Crushing Tall Poppies, June 30, 2014

“Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science”, Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, and Frank C.Worrell, Association for Psychological Science, 2011

 

Social and Emotional

“The Misunderstood Face of Giftedness”, Marianne Kuzujanakis, Huffington Post, April 10, 2013

“The dark side of being the ‘gifted kid’ ”, Marcello Di Cintio, Calgary Herald, February 1, 2015

“Social/Emotional Needs: The Rage of Gifted Students”,  Tracy L. Cross, Gifted Child Today/SENG, Spring 2001

 

Intolerance

Throwing Stones at Cacti: Our Intolerance of Gifted People”, Celi Trépanier, Crushing Tall Poppies, May 26, 2014

“America Hates Its Gifted Kids”, Chris Weller, Newsweek, January 16, 2014

“I hate hearing about your gifted child”, Joyce Slaton, Baby Center, January 31, 2012

“The Issue: Why People May Not Like Your Gifted Child”, Stacia Garland, Examiner. com, February 17, 2010

“Gifted and Tormented”, Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post, May 16, 2006

 

 

2 Comments on “As President, What Will You Do for Gifted Education?

  1. AMEN!! Excellent article! You really covered all the bases.

    I wonder if we need a new word to replace “Gifted?” Just the word makes people sneer, sadly. My husband and I were blessed to be in a full time program, but we heard the criticisms and bore the humiliation. It was as if they thought we were making it up, or being snobby, but nobody would consider those on the other side of SpEd to be “pretending.”

    “Gifted” is supposed to be the other half of SpEd, yet it’s been lopped out. How about 1 hr a week for the intellectually disabled? Would a “Project Room” be enough for them? If it’s a civil rights issue for them, isn’t it a civil rights issue for the Gifted, too?

    • Grace, so true–I agree with you, on all points!

      Sometimes I feel that even if gifted ed. is not at all the other half of special ed. (which we know is more often than not), EVERY child deserves an education that meets his needs. If a child in 6th grade is reading on a 3rd grade level, naturally he gets remediation. If a child in 6th grade is reading on a high school level, he gets….to repeat reading on a 6th grade level, then repeat reading on a 7th grade level in 7th grade, and so on. It is morally wrong to hold any child back and it can seem like a civil rights issue.

      So many have thought we should change the term “gifted.” It definitely is a hindrance. I often wonder if we were to change it to something emotion-neutral (doesn’t make people bristle), would the new term eventually become associated with children who are so often perceived to have a significant advantage intellectually? And then would the sneering would start all over again? It would be a huge, monumental task to change the term since it is the term used in education, psychology and medicine.

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts and sharing a little bit about your experience as a gifted learner. I really think the more we all share and speak out, the more likely we will be heard–one day 🙂 Thank you, Grace!

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