In 2008, I lost my only brother, six years my junior, to pancreatic cancer. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t remember his warm smile and how he could make me laugh. While out and about, I sometimes spot the back of a head and a body built like his, when he was healthy and strong, and I stop for a second and wonder—could it be him? I know it cannot be, but for a moment it’s a nice sliver of a break from the non-ending grief I will forever own.
Sometime back, when I heard of John Andraka, who at 15 was discussing a biomarker to detect early stage pancreatic cancer, I noticed. For the most part, I usually dislike seeing super kids promoted on TV. I’m skeptical and wonder if their parents are pushy. But I felt I owed it to my brother to listen to Andraka on 60 Minutes.
There’s some controversy surrounding his findings—I can’t tell you about it because I never studied medicine. But I wish him luck on his research, which also involves ovarian and lung cancer. I hope, after being thoroughly examined, his test succeeds. Finding these cancers early could save lives.
What I do know, as an educator, is that there are other Jack Andrakas out there, supercharged young people with I.Q.s in the brilliant range, who most likely will not get the opportunities Andraka got to work with Johns Hopkins et cetera but, who, instead, sit in dull public high school AP classes where they grind out busywork and often don’t have access to the barest necessities—including adequate science labs.
With all the hype about student high expectations, the reality is few really have high expectations of our gifted young people.
Worse, there are young—very young—gifted children, boxed-in by scripted learning, who shout regimented chants sounding like soldiers preparing for battle, without recess, facing too many high-stake tests. They are being forced to prove themselves at an early age—with developmentally inappropriate activities that stifle curiosity and steal the great joy of learning. You cannot talk about gifted education without talking about how all children are instructed.
Let’s First Get Rid of Misconceptions
Today’s education reformers like to say everyone can be gifted if they have the right teacher.
I believe in finding strengths and talents in everyone. You only need look at what I have written to see that.
The reality, however, is students with extremely high I.Q.s and gifted tendencies, no matter how anyone might want to deny it, are different. They are big minds in young bodies. It isn’t always an easy life.
Along with the misconception surrounding what constitutes being gifted, I also take issue with the notion, aptly displayed in a 2012 Education Week article titled “Don’t Forget Gifted Students: High Achievers Are Essential to Global Competition” by Frances R. Spielgagen. This sounds like an article from the old Soviet Union!
Instead of global competition, should we not work on global cooperation when it comes to schooling?
Contrary to what some people think, and aside from my belief that gifted students must be identified and mentored, our kids are not bred to make us victors in some corporate competition. They are children who should be nurtured from the start as living breathing humans with likes and dislikes and lovely ways about them. To be sure, all children deserve such respect no matter where they live and no matter the point they find themselves on the continuum of learning.
We must step beyond this narrow thinking of placing the burden of the world’s problems, many we adults created, on the backs of children. By focusing on the children themselves and their needs, I firmly believe, they won’t disappoint. And that is what should be done for all children!
The Gifted Black Hole Act
In 2004, in their revealing book Genius Denied, Jan and Bob Davidson said, “There are no federal requirements for gifted education and almost no allocated federal funds. Consequently, gifted education exists only when states and school districts choose to offer and fund it. State budgets for gifted education vary widely, ranging from roughly $100 million a year to nothing.” (p.36)
Eleven years later, America is still not doing enough for gifted students. The recent TALENT Act (H.R. 2960) introduced in July by Jared Polis (D-CO) and David Young (R-IA) doesn’t look like it addresses anything much. It’s a black hole! Politically claiming you support gifted students with a TALENT Act for more testing is NOT supporting gifted students! It’s companion Act, S. 363 isn’t much better.
It does break down subgroups so underrepresented students might get identified as gifted–a serious issue. Many bright students still go unidentified in our public schools. They are poor and do not have the backing and opportunities to demonstrate all that they know. But what programs will they get once they are identified?
It also notes twice exceptional students–students with autism and/or learning disabilities who are also gifted. That is a step in the right direction.
It talks about professional development of teachers for gifted kids, which I worry in today’s corporate teacher prep world is a “how to be a gifted teacher FAST” online quackery program, like many of the other fast-track teacher prep programs we see popping up all over the country. I’m talking about programs like Relay Graduate School. Most are online.
Or they are pushing general education teachers to teach these students in the regular classroom, with a couple of added class credits. This will be done instead of placing teachers who seriously study gifted students into schools as resource teachers.
The bill stresses more accountability. Are they kidding? Gifted students need programs that address who they are, their insecurities and passions, and what they know. They don’t need the kind of tests they are talking about here…to plaster on some data wall for show.
And how good is a TALENT Act for poor students who have watched art classes stripped from their public schools? It’s a rare find these days for any public school to offer a balanced curriculum.
The Act brags about no-cost solutions. What does that tell you?
For years politicians, think tanks, and education reformers, mostly from huge corporations, have looked askance at the gifted student population while they have intentionally dismantled our public schools.
They might care for the wealthy private school gifted and a handful of charters that selectively choose bright students, but they are leaving many others behind.
What are we missing? What do we lose by not addressing these kids and their needs?
Same Old Same Old
Congressman Young says of the TALENT bill, In Iowa and across the country we have exceptionally gifted students who are not reaching their full potential. We simply are not maximizing their abilities in the classroom, but the TALENT Act changes that and it is good policy.
He’s partly right. But it doesn’t seem like any great policy to me. It’s incomplete. It does not really get at the heart of what’s missing and what is needed in gifted education. What’s needed is excellent programming–mentoring by professional teachers who understand the intricacies involved with teaching gifted students.
We need America to believe in these students and their public schools.
In the meantime, how many Jack Andrakas will continue to wither away undiscovered in public school classrooms today?
We have huge problems—climate change, overpopulation, Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer and other medical issues. There’s plenty of room for peacemakers too at the local, state, national and world levels. All these issues produce controversy, and we need brave, fair, bright minds to sort things out and find worthy answers.
Before America continues to sit back and accept more disregard for its gifted students, shouldn’t we question what life would be like now if our country, instead of tearing public schools apart the last 30 years, had united behind them and nurtured all students—including students who are gifted?
One thing is for certain, time flies. John Andraka is older now and on his way to Stanford. For me personally, I will forever live with what ifs.
What if we’d paid better attention to gifted education in the past?
What if we would have built a world class democratic public school system open to and respectful of all students—an example for other countries to emulate?
What if a John Andraka had identified a biomarker for pancreatic cancer that worked twenty-five years ago?
What if I still had my brother?
I bet if you think hard enough you can find some what-ifs in your life too!
Isn’t it time we quit tearing public education apart and damning real teachers and their students?
Isn’t it time we destroy the black hole that is gifted education and invest in real public schools?
Can we afford to continue not to?
Davidson, Jan & Bob. Genius Denied (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004) 36.
Spielhagen, Frances R. “Don’t Forget Gifted Students: High Achievers Are Essential to Global Competition.” Education Week. February 22, 2012.
Dr. Jennifer Morley says
I believe “Gifted” needs to be re-branded. It seems a 1980s construct, useful for cocktail parties and affluent parents. I don’t have the answer, but maybe a new label and a new discussion…”high ability,” “talented” (alone), or something…something that fits in more with terms we use now (no matter how dubious).
It is no surprise that corporate reform is killing gifted education. A corporate model simply prepares kids to fit in to an economy and does not really value education in terms of intellectual development. It is an over 100-year old battle (Dewey v. Thorndike…experiential education v behavioral control).
Even at the top of the ability level, gifted kids often do not tow a corporate type line where they assimilate values and maintain structures intended only for profit of a few. So, the conversation has to be larger. How is this corporate education reform model killing education for almost everyone?
Nancy Bailey says
Great points! I’d like to see special ed. labels dropped altogether, but I”m not sure how it would translate into services. And right now I’m concerned the dropping of labels means no services! But everything you say rings true. We should be talking about it all. Thank you, Dr. Morley.
Demarie Anderson says
Dr. Morley, I couldn’t agree more. Where I teach in NC, we have a highly academically gifted program at a centralized location, and an academically gifted program at all elementary schools. We were required to take two years of coursework to earn an add on certification in order to teach in these programs. After all of that, these poor students are still required to .experience the common core curricula (although they are accelerated up to two grade levels) and they must still endure state tests on their grade level. I don’t understand why we had to take that coursework, at our own expense and receiving no additional compensation, if we are not going to use it. Those in power in our state claim to be supporting gifted students when what they really want support is creating a generation of “workers” who won’t question what they are asked to do. So sad.
At least you have that. I have a daughter who was reading Harry Potter at 4 years old, and who was used as a teacher’s aide in Kindergarten and first grade because her school had no gifted program. She tested gifted enough to aply to Mensa when she was 7,. I asked her principal to please move her up a year. She wa sthe oldest child in her grade and had missed the cut-off date by 1 day. “We don’t do that here.” Her principal told me ” Besides, most gifted kids plateau by grade three, and work at the same level as all their peers”. No they don’t. Nor did she. Though my only option forgetting her gifted programming (other than $25,000 a year private school) was to homeschool her, and I did. She is a very happy, very motivated college engineering student. But I still angry and sad for her classmates who had parents who couldn’t see that the school really wasn’t working in our kids’ best interest.
Nancy Bailey says
I have heard of gifted students being used as tutors in the class much too often! Sometimes they are also sent to the library to work on their own. Both are troubling. Thank you for pointing this out.
ararc – I’m interested in what curriculum you used with your daughter.
Nancy Bailey – thank you so much for the article!
I enjoyed reading your article. Can you point me in the right direction in regards to where to go to receive high quality training to become a gifted educator?
Nancy Bailey says
Excellent question, Jamie! I would suggest checking with any major university if you want to attend classes. I would stay away from the for-profit schools or online programs from unknown sources.
Some reputable universities offer good online classes. The University of South Florida has a good program I think. If you don’t live in FL you could check to see if your state would give you credit for the USF online program or a university near you may have a similar program.
Here’s the link. http://www.coedu.usf.edu/main/departments/sped/gifteded/GiftedMain.html
Really gifted people tend to be ethically more sensitive too, and probably not happy with the corporate agenda of more power and money for the rich, in a world in which richness trumps smarts. As such, really gifted people have a good chance of acquiring anti-corporate views that would not serve the interests of the financial elite. As such, they would be threats to the corporate elite, who might feel they should try to distract or bore gifted youth into insignificance.
Nancy Bailey says
Excellent point, John! Thank you!
Celi Trépanier says
Well said. Very well said! Thank you for supporting our gifted students.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank YOU, Celi, for supporting our gifted students!
Ms. Bailey, so beautiful written and I believe you included all the most relevant issues in here. As a mother of EG I am grateful for speaking up for our children. Where we live there are a few resources -at high expense- for us but so much needs to be done. It’s exhausting how we keep dragging this conversation to deaf ears, what a waste of time, when we think of lives that can be solved, global issues that can be solved… Meanwhile I do not feel our young child will get to see these changes on time, We will do everything in our hands to keep advocating and providing what it is needed. Including a very expensive tuition in a private school that still with scholarship we can barely afford.
Nancy Bailey says
I am sorry.
If you look on the website under Special Education and Gifted you might find some helpful resources. This is a work in progress but maybe there’s something there that might help.
I’d also see if there is a parent support group where you live. If there’s not you might want to start one. My guess is you aren’t alone.