Monday, August 8, 2016

Failing Our Brightest Kids - More Attacks on Gifted Education

Last year I saw a commercial for a tutoring service which used the tagline: "Because every kid is brilliant in his own way." And, I thought to myself, "Yeah, .... uh, ... nope." Many kids have varied talents and interests, and we should honor and cultivate those in every way we can. But every kid is "brilliant"?  So, every person is "brilliant"?  Nope. Not even close. And anyone who thinks so has apparently never met or worked with brilliant people. Is every music student "Mozart in his own way"?  Is every swimmer "Michael Phelps in his own way"? Is every politician "Abraham Lincoln in his own way"? Not by a long shot. The world is filled with all sorts of people of varying talents and interests - but not everyone is brilliant or gifted. Not everyone can make varsity. Not everyone can ace Calculus at the age of fourteen. There are truly "gifted" people, and our education system - notably edu-reformers - are doing a great disservice by ignoring that reality.

The latest educational leader to commit the professional malpractice of dismissing diversity and talents of individual kids is Dallas Dance, a superintendent in Baltimore County, who wants to drop the legal identification of "gifted and talented" students. Dance is apparently unaware that the world has some specifically gifted people whose learning needs are separate from the pack based on their unique abilities. He focuses his criticism on the idea of "labeling" kids, mistakenly believing that if we stop openly identifying such unique gifts then all kids can somehow be brilliant. The problem of course is that "giftedness" is and should be a legally defined exceptionality with all the same respect that we afford other deviations from the norm, such as disabilities.

Research has shown that gifted and talented children have social and emotional needs that differ from those of other students. State law requires local school districts to identify them and tailor classes to meet their needs. Jeanne Paynter, a former director of gifted and talented education for the state Department of Education, said the county risks running afoul of state law. "Gifted and talented has 60 years of research documenting the needs of the student, the characteristics, the methods to identify and the methods to serve" those students, said Paynter, who now teaches at McDaniel College. "Lumping all the programs together is fine," she said. "But where is the policy that stands up for the rights and needs for this special needs group?" "The word gifted, complex as it is, really does mean something," Miller-Breetz said. "It takes students out of the purely academic sphere and into the unique social and emotional sphere that gifted and talented kids often inhabit."

Viewpoints like Dance's are simply part of a mindset that is primarily focused on ensuring that all kids achieve at grade level. And it is founded on the belief that all kids are the same. However, kids are unique with varying needs, and the use of age as a determiner of intellect and ability is only the easiest way to lump kids into a system. In reality, some kids are ready for Calculus, or reading Shakeseare, or composing music, or creating apps, and developing non-profits long before other kids their age who may never accomplish those tasks - and certainly not with the ease and fluidity that a true "gifted and talented" kid can.

Just one more example of how we are ignoring the needs of our brightest students.

What a shame.

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