Monday, December 09, 2013
The wrong argument for gifted education
Here are four statements that are true: 1. Some gifted children grow up to do amazing things. 2. Some gifted children grow up to have rather quiet lives. 3. Some children who do not score multiple standard deviations above the norm on IQ tests grow up to do amazing things. 4. Others with similar "average" IQ scores do not. None of this is particularly profound to say, but occasionally people trot out points 2 and 3 of the above statements to make a point about giftedness, or gifted education. Even people generally sympathetic to the cause make such points. I was reminded of this while reading Jay Mathews' recent column on "Why geniuses don't need gifted education." The point? Much of what passes for gifted education doesn't particularly nurture gifted children's talents. And many adult high achievers didn't have much in the way of gifted education as kids. All true. But so what? Often, advocates for gifted kids try to appeal to the public's self-interest of why such children should be identified and served. The reasoning goes like this: "These kids will make the future scientific discoveries that will save us all!" or "These kids will be the future Nobel prize winning novelists whose work we'll all read" or something else along those lines. But I think this is the wrong argument for gifted education. No one knows what anyone will do later on in life. All children deserve to be challenged to the extent of their abilities. They deserve to be treated respectfully. Done right, gifted education doesn't require extra or special resources. If you're going to have 5 sections of a grade, it doesn't cost anything extra to concentrate children according to their level of preparation, so people can be taught right where they are. If you're going to have 13 years of available public schooling, it doesn't cost anything to have people go through that in, say, 10 years. Indeed, it costs a lot less. Mathews argues that potential geniuses need room to explore, and shouldn't be confined to grade level classes. And that's true. But what should be done? Given that most parents aren't going to home school their children, schools need to do something for these kids. Likewise, there are certain skills that it helps to learn from other people. Gifted writers need space to write. But they probably need teachers to help them learn grammar, too. There are many factors that come into play when we're talking about outsized achievement as adults. But whether gifted kids become those achievers or not has nothing to do with whether schools can't also do their best by these kids. I wish the arguments over gifted education wouldn't take this form. Instead, it should be about all children receiving the education they deserve.