What Should Be on the Tombstone of Gifted Education? Part 5: Writing the Tombstone

In Part 4, the focus was on extracurricular activities and their lack of use in gifted education today. While all students would benefit from the extension of knowledge into social issues, gifted students are those that are most likely to attain positions of influence and their ability to solve social issues should be at the heart of their educational plans. These experiences could take several forms from shadowing doctors or engineers, conducting research in any number of areas, reporting that research to the professional community, or aiding in the design of urban planning or alternative methods of planning. Any experience that forces gifted children to incorporate learned knowledge and integrate this knowledge into their moral structure solves the issue of whether or not the knowledge learned is truly understood and can be utilized effectively.

As the facts in Part’s 1-4 are examined, it is not hard to figure out why gifted education programs are not being funded or being closed completely. The education of gifted students actually requires more time and resources than the traditional student. If those resources and money were spent on the traditional school, many more students could have their test scores raised and their political clout (test scores) would remain intact. Not only are resources an issue in teaching the gifted, the administrator’s attitudes toward them also is changed by these very same test scores. It is assumed that the gifted will do well on their own so they are left to their own devices to prepare for state tests.

Identification of the gifted student also raises issues in housing these students, how districts will pay for their education, and what types of special curriculum will be used to train these students. Since most districts house gifted students in a single facility rather than providing each school an individual program, many students go unidentified as gifted. This limits the resources that are spent trying to educate these students. Identification of the gifted also raises issues involving just how far a district curriculum or teaching resources will go to be sure the student is educated. Extended experiences are required to be sure that knowledge is processed and incorporated into the student’s foundation of understanding.

So, what should go on the tombstone of gifted education? Gifted education is not dead yet but with the overreliance on state testing the allocation of resources into its preparation, gifted education has one foot in the grave and a headstone should be carved in anticipation of the end. In preparation, I suggest the headstone read as such:

Here Lies Gifted Education

Shot in the Back by State Testing

Mourned by Everyone, Missed by None

What Should Be on the Tombstone of Gifted Education: Part 1 – Invasion of the "Gifted" Snatchers

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.

What Should Be on the Tombstone of Gifted Education? Part 3: Classroom Activities for Gifted Student

In Part 2 of the series, the distribution of gifted programs in school districts was analyzed in terms of the allocation of this resource within a school district. In the vast majority of school districts, gifted students are segregated in dedicated facilities in which they have to apply for entry. While this method has advantages for both children and adults in the c=school setting, the major disadvantage is that students who are truly gifted or highly motivated are filtered out by a variety of statistical factors such as test scores, grades, and age. Not only are statistical factors used but having a dedicated facility opens up the possibility of filtering based on human factors such as race, culture, and gender issues. The best option is to have gifted programs in each school so that many more students who are capable will have the access they need to gifted resources.

One of the worsening factors of modern gifted education is the level and quality of classroom activities available for these students. The modern classroom is not geared toward gifted students but rather to the middle student who is perched on the edge of passing the state test. The second priority in the classroom is the lowest student who contributes to the failing rate of state tests. It is assumed that gifted students will pass state exams so they are at the bottom of the school’s priorities. For those teachers that are allowed to design their own materials, this forces them into a teaching mode that focuses on the middle and low-level students and to virtually ignore gifted or highly motivated students. Since most school districts force teachers to use their materials, the district itself sets the stage for ignoring the needs of the gifted student.

In terms of the individual classroom assignment, gifted students require a higher quality set of goals and objectives to meet. Most assignments are geared toward a lower quality set of objectives which hinge of meeting goals based on lower-level thinking skills. The majority of students are operating at the knowledge, comprehension, and application levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This forces the assignment created by the teacher or district to be based on simple modes of vocabulary mastery and simple application to prescribed situations. Once this is done, the students and teachers move on to the next assignment. The gifted child, who is in need of further learning at higher levels, is left with an experience that only marginally stimulates their higher potential.

The assignments that are provided to gifted children are not properly designed for their educational needs. They are designed for students who are working at much lower levels on a daily basis. Gifted students require assignment and activities that stimulate their natural abilities to a much higher level of thinking. This is not to say that lower level assignments do not have value to the gifted student, but if the teacher stops at this point, then the gifted child to left with unfulfilled potential.

Coming up: Part 4- The Use of Extracurricular Activities as a Method of Fulfilling Potential.