Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maybe my child is gifted, maybe it doesn't really matter response

I just finished reading a blog by Farrah Alexander entitled “Maybe My Child is Gifted. Maybe Not. Maybe It Doesn’t Matter.” The piece has been roundly commented upon since its publication. See some examples by Scott Berry Kaufman and MBA Mom here.

First I would agree that in some programs, lots of anxiety surrounds identification. Often more on the parent’s side than the child’s as Alexander assured us she suffered as a student. This anxiety might mimic the anxiety surrounding our current testing battery that determines if a child (teacher, principal and school) is proficient or not. If she believes that gifted identification is wrong, I assume she is a proponent of the opt out movement as well. Actually, she may not be since her entire experience with children expands across the vast three years of her own children’s lives.

To assert that “Every child is gifted and talented” is patently false. We can say that every child has special skills that they are strong in. To discount the educational definition of giftedness. New York state, where I live defines giftedness as "pupils who show evidence of high performances capability and exceptional potential in area such as general intellectual ability, special academic aptitude and outstanding ability in visual and performing arts. Such definition shall include those pupils who require educational programs or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their full potential." To paraphrase, it refers to kids who show extraordinary talent in academics and performing arts and consequently need different services to meet their needs. Just like we do not say that every child with a learning disability can perform adequately in school without assistance and modifications to the standard educational approach, students who are gifted need different approaches to education. If we support the view that every child is gifted, we eliminate the idea that some children need different educational experiences.

We have no trouble identifying special athletic talent and appealing to it. We have varsity sports that cut less talented players. We have travel sports teams where some children warm benches. If eliminating special educational experiences for gifted kids is appropriate, then we should level the playing field for sports. Let’s have no cut all play sports activities—oh wait, then we might not be the winners. In this day and age we can accept winners and losers in sports, but in academics it is passé.
Farrah can argue that it does not matter if her kids are labeled gifted. She has not lived with a child who is painfully bored in school. Whose teachers recognize that they are not teaching her much, but have few or no ideas or options of how to help. Too many programs do not have programs for the gifted. Too many schools are eliminating “tracking” or differentiation where students get challenging material based on where they are rather than what grade they are in. Yes, tracking has problems- overrepresentation of minorities and rigid lines that prevent flowing from one level to another as appropriate. Tracking can, however, be applied in ways to meet student needs- to differentiate instruction so that students are not bored stiff or sitting like a deer caught in the headlights. Flexibly so that as students learn, grow and develop or struggle and stagnate can be moved to different groups for instruction. Children are individuals; they learn in bumpy paths, not straight consistent trails. We need to meet them where they are and push them farther. If we do not recognize that they have different starting points and 50 yard dash speeds, we fail to recognize their uniqueness.​

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