Thursday, January 28, 2021

Gifted, Talented, & Advanced

"Every child is gifted in their own way."

That was the tagline years ago in a commercial for some cram school or tutoring center, and I've never liked it. Beyond the grammatical error and the manipulation of the consumer, the idea of everyone being gifted is a flawed and somewhat disingenuous idea.  

Of course, that poses an important question: Is there something special about a term like gifted? I truly believe there is. And there is something special, unique, unusual, and "extra-ordinary" about truly gifted individuals.

Advanced academic learning, acceleration, honors classes, enrichment activities -- these are all important in educating children, but they are not necessarily synonymous with or to be used as a substitute for the concept of giftedness. In many (or most) states giftedness or GT or T&G are legally defined exceptionalities that hold equal significance and are as relevant as exceptionalities protected under the American Disability Act and the Rehabilitation Act. In that regard, all schools should have staff and resources under a gifted title, as opposed to just "advanced academic services," which is what my district shortsightedly tried to call it a few years ago.

And this is not to say I believe the term is always accurately, appropriately, and equitably applied. White and affluent students are disproportionately identified compared to other demographics. And, truly the benchmarks of the 95th percentile lead to IDs for simply bright and hardworking students with resources. That doesn't mean gifted. Metrics are tough because in many ways it's a "know-it-when-you-see-it" sort of quality. My school has a large number of incredibly smart and high achieving students. However, some of them achieve through a lot of hard work and access to vast resources. And that should be honored, but it's not always gifted. If someone masters a standard or a class or a skill after diligent practice, that's wonderful. But if someone masters it almost immediately, is that not truly exceptional?

A great example of the distinction I'm getting at can be found by digging into the problematic claims by commercial intellectual Malcolm Gladwell in the book The Outliers about the the ten-thousand hours to mastery myth. While Gladwell's loose reading and interpretation of data has has been exposed as inaccurate by numerous researchers, many still believe it. And that can complicate discussions of giftedness. One of the best books on the counter-argument is David Epstein's The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Achievement. In reality, some people master skills and knowledge with hard work and access, and others simply do it naturally in far less time. Bill Gates is described in Gladwell's book as having great access to resources which led to his success. It's true. But he is also truly gifted. A real genius. The same can be said for someone like Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. To be an NFL quarterback, you have to work pretty hard and be pretty great. However, there are some who are just beyond any sort of norms. And some are far beyond simply being the sum of access and hard work.

Some people are just gifted.

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