Every one of us in the pre-retirement set remembers what it was like in school. It was a tiny little microcosm of fragmented social groups. Some groups were popular while others banded together to rebel against the popular crowd. Even inside these groups, further stratification was based on who was interested in school work and who wasn’t. Not that academic success mattered within the group, you were still accepted as a member and given the status you thought you deserved. As we graduated, we drifted from high school groups into college or social groupings and tried our best maintain our status as long as we could. Generally, most of us were successful in life in one way or another and we gave birth to the next generation that would run through the gauntlet until it was repopulated again.
Each generation that has lived through public education has seen fit to allow the cream to rise to the top and take their place as leaders of the perpetuation of the American social and political ideal. The gifted students were given unique and surplus resources to allow them to develop their talents so that they may graduate high school and take their place among their peers at the college honors table. From this table of Phi Beta Kappans and research assistants, it was assumed that the gifted student would maintain their grades and the quality of work necessary to move them into graduate school where they would achieve their academic credential. This would catapult them into the elite of medicine, law, politics, sciences, etc. Here are our leaders! They achieved their goals from the blood, sweat, and tears of their high school teachers.
Let us fast-forward to the 21st century where the number of gifted students has shot up in number like they were on academic steroids. Today’s gifted student is not that different than they were in the 20th century. However, their number and membership has been invaded by the greatest disease that the early 21st century has produced: Equality with a side dose of fairness! If you walk into my employer’s high school as it begins just after Labor Day, you will see a sea of students that have labels attached to them. Some of those labels will say “504”, others will say “SPED”, and quite a few will say “Gifted”. Many of these gifted kids will have had the gifted label pasted on them from the early elementary days and will have carried this with them ever since. However, once you begin working with these kids, the “g” and “I” begin to loosen from the gifted tag. They whine, cry, and complain about how hard your class is and start opening their Ipods while you are trying to teach them. Wait a minute! Are these the same kids that have been gifted the entire time? What happened to their ability to step up on their own and take those extra assignments and research work to build up their futures? You begin to wonder if the really earned those grades or were they simply passed on to you from the previous teacher to get out of their hair.
Yes, in the name of equality and fairness, the gifted class of students has been invaded by the formerly mediocre students who were once content to sit in regular classes and do their nails and discuss the series of plays from Friday night’s football game. As I sit and work with gifted classes these days, I see the cream of the crop (They are always there) working away to achieve their future goals. But, now they must sit in the same classes with the popular set whose parents insisted that they be labeled as gifted and take the higher level classes. Rather than the teacher of the gifted spending quality time educating them to achieve those awe-inspiring goals, the gifted teacher must now spend that resource on those students who do not need to be in the gifted class. Equality has suggested that there should be no class of students above another. Fairness suggests that it is not right to punish those poor mediocre students for doing their nails in class. They should be given the right to be gifted.
Coming up in Part 2: Why There Needs to be a Separate “Gifted” program in All Schools.