Monday, December 22, 2014

Ten best Gifted Education articles of 2014: Informative, controversial and enlightening

Whether aimed at defining giftedness, championing educational rights, or understanding what enhances or limits academic growth, the internet was flooded with powerful articles in 2014. The best of the bunch targeted advocacy and what it means to be gifted. I have selected the ten articles that I felt were the most meaningful and enlightening. Some were controversial. Others were straightforward and informative. Still others were heartfelt and moving.

Here they are (in no particular order):

Ending our neglect of gifted students
"It's time to end the bias in American education against gifted and talented pupils and quit assuming that every school must be all things to all students, a simplistic formula that ends up neglecting all sorts of girls and boys, many of them poor and minority, who would benefit from more challenging classes and schools."
Practice does not make perfect
"If we acknowledge that people differ in what they have to contribute, then we have an argument for a society in which all human beings are entitled to a life that includes access to decent housing, health care, and education..."
The poor neglected gifted child
"...among young people with off-the-charts ability, those who had been given special accommodations - even modest ones, like being allowed to skip a grade, enroll in special classes, or take college-level courses in high school - went on to publish more academic papers, earn more patents, and pursue higher-level careers than their equally smart peers who didn't have these opportunities."
The ultimate plan to help gifted education (and improve education for all kids in the process)
"Gifted education is not going to fix itself. No matter how many gifted people talk to each other about how much their children need different educational experiences, we still cannot move the mountains of politicians and corporations who stand in our way."
Too many kids quit science because they don't think they're smart
"When students thought of their intelligence as a thing that's just fixed, they were vulnerable. They were not willing to take on challenges that might test their intelligence, and they weren't resilient when they came into obstacles." 
Yes, IQ really matters
"...the bottom line is that there are large, measurable differences among people in intellectual ability, and these differences have consequences for people's lives."
Talent vs. practice: Why are we still debating this?
"They found that sheer amount of deliberate practice does not, in fact, explain most of the differences in expert performance. Additionally, there were huge differences between fields..."
Gifted men and women define success differently, 40-year study says
"Researchers spent four decades studying a group of mathematically talented adolescents, finding that by mid-life they were extraordinarily accomplished and enjoyed a high level of life satisfaction. Gender, however, played a significant role in how they pursued - and defined - career, family and success."
Where is the outrage about the pipeline to prison for gifted students?
"There is much indignation over the school to prison pipeline that funnels children into the criminal justice system, especially regarding the large number of special educaton students within this population... Lamentably overlooked, though, is the other at-risk population, gifted and talented students."
Smart is not a dirty word
"It's impossible to deny that persistence and hard work are important life lessons... But in the rush to add grit to the lesson plan, we risk leaping from anecdote to antidote, and making assumptions about the correlation, or not, between effort and intelligence."

There were so many great articles this year. I apologize for the many I may have overlooked. Please add your favorites in the comments section below. Thanks!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Being gifted is not a choice

Being gifted is not a choice.

Yet another article has been published implying that parents can determine whether their child is gifted. In "Why I won't call my daughter 'gifted,'" the author claims that "gifted children are as common as muck...hailing from the leafier suburbs," and goes on to pronounce, "I don't want a gifted child."

While the author later points out the importance of "grit," helping a child learn to fail successfully, and attribute success to effort rather than innate ability, his inflammatory headline and dramatic initial statements perpetuate misconceptions and stigma against gifted children.

You don't get a choice. You don't get to decide whether your child is gifted any more than you can choose eye color or athletic ability. Giftedness is a mixed bag of strengths, multipotentialities, and social/emotional challenges that are far from easy. You might decide not to "label" your child as gifted; however, your child's academic and emotional needs will not magically disappear.

Giftedness is rare. Only 5% of the population have an IQ at least two standard deviations above the norm. Hardly "common as muck." While some schools may label advanced tracking as "gifted programs" and there is still a tired debate from some who claim that all children are gifted, the reality is that only a small segment of the population fits this criteria.

Giftedness is everywhere. It is not limited to wealthy suburbs, as the author proclaims. Probably the most offensive aspect of the article is how it perpetuates the widespread myth that giftedness is a middle class construct. It implies that privileged families shepherd their children into gifted education programs, serving as a badge of accomplishment. Perhaps if gifted education and identification improved in schools with lower socioeconomic populations, this myth would eventually vanish.

While the article makes valid points regarding the importance of hard work and effort, and taking risks rather than relying on innate abilities, its false assumptions and initial generalizations are misleading and damaging. Yes, it is important to help your child learn from failure (although other opinions exist on how to implement this in the classroom). Yes, it is necessary to explain giftedness to your child. However, denying that giftedness exists, or making false, flippant and classist statements is pointless and harmful.

Make the "choice" to call gifted what it is. Don't muddy the waters any further. And help your child and others get the education they deserve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

There is life after high school - even for gifted teens

What can gifted teens expect after high school? Finally relieved of tedious routines and underwhelming classes, gifted students are no longer faced with the boredom of high school. They may be able to reignite the love of learning that vanished during their school years.

For gifted teens, getting into a college that is challenging and stimulating is critical. While not every gifted child must go to college, those who do will benefit most if they find one suited to their abilities.

I recently read a bio of Ashton Carter, nominated for U.S. defense secretary. I don't routinely scour reviews of every nominee, but was personally interested in this story because he was an alumni of my high school. Despite graduating from an overcrowded, suburban public school, he studied physics and medieval history at Yale, and then, as a Rhodes Scholar, pursued theoretical physics at Oxford.

As he writes in the article:
"High school in Philadelphia had left me hungry intellectually. I attended a large public school with thousands of students." He played sports, worked various odd jobs, and then, "rather unexpectedly was accepted into a good college, Yale..."
What might have happened if Carter had never gone to an exceptional college, one where he was finally challenged? With over one thousand students in each grade, his former high school did little to enrich its students' education, and it is likely that he languished in many of his classes, just like the rest of the students. Clearly, his talents and abilities opened the door for attendance at a highly respected university (although admissions is a much more competitive ordeal now than when he went to college).

What can teens and parents take away from this?

1. Yes, there is life after high school for gifted teens - one that is challenging, enriching, and intellectually creative.

2. Finding the best college fit is critical.

3. You can overcome a mediocre or even deficient high school education - if you apply yourself.

High school also can be difficult for gifted adolescents because of social challenges, as many gifted teens feel like outliers who don't quite fit in. Some "dumb themselves down" to be popular, but still may feel lost. College is a welcome opportunity to find like-minded peers where differences are accepted and appreciated.

Defense nominee Carter's example may be exceptional, but his trajectory from an unremarkable early education to an enriching experience in college is common for many gifted individuals. Discouraged high school students need to remind themselves that opportunities await them after graduation.