A lot of people argue that gifted education is elitist.
“All children are gifted.”
“You should care more about your child being kind than being gifted.”
“Why spend money on these kids that have it so easy when there are kids that are really struggling.”
I’m paraphrasing here. And from an outsider’s perspective, I can see the point. I can see that to a parent whose child is struggling with reading, finding out that my child who taught himself to read at 2 should receive the same special needs accommodations that they are fighting for would seem unfair. But wait, does that do the other parent a great injustice? Don’t we all want what’s best for our kids? Shouldn’t we as parents be able to understand each other’s struggles and understand that we’re all coming from the same place? Why does it have to be me or you, not all of us together?
This has been my greatest battle. How can I explain that gifted students are just as deserving as students with disabilities when it comes to classroom accommodations without sounding like a complete asshole? The thing is, I have not yet met a person in real life that has (to my face anyway) said that my struggle isn’t worth it. It’s only when I read articles on the internet that I feel frustrated and let down. My friends and family, my son’s teachers even, have been filled with every emotion from regret to outrage that he just doesn’t belong in public school. Because emotionally, yes Junior Kindergarten was perfect; socially, grade 1 would have been better; and academically, well crap he could fit anywhere from grade 1 to grade 9 depending on the subject. How are they supposed to accommodate that?
I get it. I do. We are an exceptional case and school is primarily designed for the middle of the road. What do we want from the school? They have done all they can and are still looking for loopholes for us. I appreciate that more than I can put into words. But how am I not supposed to be upset over the fact that my son has been proclaiming his love of school since 18 months but now instead is resigned to being homeschooled? Which yes, he loves, and I love, and now that we’re here we wouldn’t have it any other way; but it’s like going to Disney World and finding out that all of the rides are switched off for the day. He had this great image of what school was going to be: finally, other kids who would want to play math and read and do the periodic table over and over again only to find out that it’s more Lord of the Flies than anything he imagined. It breaks my heart. I know it pains those that are near and dear to my son. But I love our choice, and besides that, we’re lucky.
We’re lucky because there aren’t a lot of kids out there whose parents are able to pull them out of school. There aren’t a lot of kids out there whose parents even understand giftedness and why it’s so important that they get the resources that they need. I was so thankful that the teachers at my son’s school and our psychologist understood giftedness enough to know the emotional and social implications giftedness can have on a child. Gifted doesn’t mean smart – it just means a brain that works differently and comes with all sorts of emotional and intellectual overexcitabilites.
But imagine you’re a parent who wasn’t identified as gifted. Maybe you are, but you fell through the cracks. You turned out just fine didn’t you? Or maybe you were identified, and you got some lousy pull out classes that only made you feel like more of an anomaly among those who were supposed to be your peers. On top of that, testing is expensive. And what is the school going to do anyways? A big fat nothing in most cases. So what is the point?
Well, the point is our children deserve an education. They deserve to go to school and come home having learned something everyday. They shouldn’t have to wait. I think every parent can recall a time when their child wanted to do something with them right now, but by the time we got around to sitting down with them the moment had passed. That’s pretty much a gifted child’s education. We can only ask them to wait so many times before they decide it isn’t worth it. We can only give them so much theory without application. We can only allow them to get by doing the bare minimum for so long before the only thing they know how to do is the bare minimum. We are wasting their time. We are wasting their minds. And we are wasting their passion.
So far I think we can all agree that kids should learn when they go to school right? That’s kind of the point. Oh, unless your kid is gifted because then you’ll be told time and time again that school is for socializing. What. The. Actual. Fuck. I kid you not. Tell people that you’re going to homeschool them because it’s what is best for their education and people will immediately warn you that you’re going to turn your kid into some kind of bible thumping, shot gun toting, antisocial psychopath who has no idea about the real world. Psst… did you know that homeschooling doesn’t have to happen at home? That homeschooling is really just an umbrella term for education that doesn’t happen at a private or public educational institution? That my child actually sees the light of day and interacts with *gasp* people? Shocking. I know.
I don’t mean to be snarky but guys, you can only hold so much of this in for so long.
Okay, so aside from me being kind of a snarky asshole for a minute there, I hope you’re all still with me. So if we can all agree all kids should learn, and hopefully at their own pace (whether it’s what sound the letter A makes or how many protons are in californium), and we can all agree that special education has a place in our schools (oh dear lord do not tell me I need to argue that point because I will lose my actual shit) can we talk about where this “elitism” of gifted education is coming from?
Because that’s all gifted education is: providing students with an appropriate education.
Not so scary is it?
And as parents, I think we’re all down for that.
So why the fuss? Stay with me here: the school system. I’m sorry school system, I’m coming after you. And if you are a teacher, please don’t curse me out because OMG I have all the respect in the world for you. We had nothing but amazing experiences with the actual teachers with my son. But I think we can all agree to damn the man and save the Empire! The school system, as a system, is a piece of flaming garbage. I believe in public education, I do! And I definitely don’t believe in throwing it out completely. I believe whole heartedly that we just need to fix what’s broken.
Gifted programs are seen as fancy pants programs for rich, white, males to get special attention and special field trips and special resources that isn’t available to the masses. And, sadly, both for the gifted children and the neurotypical ones, that’s a travesty. What’s more, is these programs often require expensive psychological testing to get into. Sure, school boards will test for free, but the wait lists from what I’ve heard are long, and parents are given little say about when and where the testing takes place or what tests are done. What’s more, most school boards (where I live anyway) do this testing in the 4th grade based off a cut off score on standardized testing.
What’s wrong with that?
I’m so glad you asked.
A high score on a standardized test indicates achievement- not giftedness. Giftedness is a neurological difference, not smarts. Yes, gifted children are highly intelligent, but it may be in one subject area, or be clouded by other exceptionalities and situations (yes, gifted children can be twice exceptional -meaning they also have other needs). And many gifted children, especially by grade 4, have learned that they don’t need to study or try to get by. Most of them don’t even know how to try by grade 4! If you’ve heard “it all levels out by 3rd grade” you haven’t heard the whole story. Giftedness doesn’t just disappear. But apparently the advantages of an enriched childhood do. (But you know, the first five years and all that crap. Make up your minds, experts!) So that’s why when many of these students who reach these cut off scores on standardized tests don’t test gifted when intelligence tests are given (which is often the second step to being admitted to these gifted programs). Meanwhile, many gifted children who have figured out they only need to do the bare minimum, or maybe have other exceptionalities, are forgotten.
Strike 1: the schools set a standardized test score which makes giftedness = smarts, which is a falsity.
But what if you know about giftedness, and you think your child is gifted? Well, enter private testing. For the low, low, price of $2000 you too can find out if little Timmy really is gifted after all. And then you can bring those results to the school and get little Timmy the education he deserves.
Strike 2: private testing is freaking expensive.
$2000 isn’t a low, low price? Well there’s a problem. I think we can see why gifted programs are full of rich white boys. Not girls? Well, frighteningly, we still live in a time and age where we think girls just don’t have the brain power to do scary Math or Science, you know, things it’s easy to spot an advanced learner in. Not to mention, girls are more likely than boys to hide their abilities from their peers and learn to be “normal” at a scary young age. Families from low socioeconomic backgrounds just don’t have the time and money to be shelling out that kind of cash for some program that may not even be any good in the district their in, especially if they live in a more working class area. So, here are your rich white dudes who now have had at least somewhat of a superior education. Because what we need are more rich white dudes.
(Love the mother of a white dude.)
Strike 3: eliminating minorities and those from low SE backgrounds.
So what’s a school to do? For starters, I strongly believe that all children should be screened from their first day of school. Sounds scary and intimidating and rife with the possibility of being abused? Mhmm. Possibly. But it seems that screening all kids, not just ones who are nominated by parents and teachers or get a benchmark score on a standardized test, seems to lower inequality in gifted programs. This would make these programs less elitist by eliminating pretty much all of the issues I raised above.
But that’s not all. Maybe with universal screening we’d have enough children qualify for gifted education that the classes could be more than measly pullouts that happen sporadically throughout grades 5-8, or self-contained classes reserved especially for students dubbed “behavioural.” Maybe there’d be an actual point for parents to want their kids to be in these programs. And, I’m dreaming big here, maybe that want would trickle down to our regular schooling as well and our schools as a whole could become amazing places of experimentation and discovery instead of standardized testing and curriculum scheduled drudgery.
What I would really like to see, is the freedom for children to move through the curriculum at their own pace. How can this possibly happen? Okay, well, here’s a crazy idea. Everyone loves Finland and their education system right now. It’s a thing, get on board. Their teachers stay with their class until grade 8. So a teacher that knows the curriculum up until grade 8 should be able to help their students in any grade no matter what level they are at. In theory. Of course, they’re going to need small enough class sizes to be able to pull that off. But add it to my wish list since I’m dreaming here. Classroom sizes of 15 kids, plus an EA in the younger years. Add it. Even barring that, the freedom to move through the curriculum at one’s own pace has been shown to be the cheapest and easiest way to accommodate these kids.
Oh and, grouping students based on what year their parents decided to procreate, no thanks. I understand the implications of having a twelve year old in a group of littles, or a little in high school. But why can’t there be a three year gap for example? Where you can decide if you want your kid to enter school at say age 4, 5, or 6? I really think this would be a better grouping of maturity than just an arbitrary cut off.
Is any of this going to happen? Probably not. But I can’t reconcile with the fact that there are other little Kalebs out there, languishing in classrooms. And when someone does try to stand up and fight for them, they are called names and put down until they run away with their tail between their legs. Every child deserves to learn. Period. Full stop. It’s not elitist for parents to want their children to be challenged, and we shouldn’t vilify parents who are asking for more.
For more information about giftedness:
Gifted 101 from Hoagies Gifted http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/gifted_101.htm
Definitions of Giftedness from National Association for Gifted Children https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/definitions-giftedness
Davidson Institute for Talent Development http://www.davidsongifted.org
Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted http://sengifted.org
A Nation Deceived http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Nation_Deceived/Get_Report.aspx
A Nation Empowered http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Nation_Empowered/Order/Default.aspx