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The Gifted Child ~

Now What, When Lobotomy Isn't an Option?

May 4, 2022

In this last part of the Gifted series, we address possible options for both gifted children and adults living right now. In part one of this series, we dove into the detrimental, and potentially fatal outcome of a gifted child in a conventional education system. Following that, in part two, we investigated the why, the science behind why a gifted child must be adjusted and accommodated in school and the science behind the link of the gifted and suicides. 

As mentioned previously, there has been endless data and studies done on the topic on why the gifted children, like special needs children needed to be accommodated in school. While there has been no universal commitment to accommodate these children, and as statistics has shown, year after year, we seem to be withdrawing further and further away from giving any attention to the gifted children ... lets not forget the administrators and educators out there that do see this issue. Unfortunately, sometimes it does take a village and one teacher or one principal in this case, just cannot move mountains. 

One study had suggested that a possible solution in accommodating gifted children, 

would be to group children by their rate of learning, rather than chronological age. For example, a gifted 9-year-old may share a geometry class with high school freshmen. A 15-year-old may hit the advanced placement ceiling at his high school, and head over to the local community college to take classes. The key is to personalize an individual's education, even in preschool: If someone is a whiz at differential calculus but can't discern between her pronouns and her prepositions, maybe moving her out of the 11th grade entirely isn't the best move. Don't raise the entire ceiling, in other words – just remove a few tiles. To some, this method of learning may sound familiar. It is not uncommon to see Montessori schools. Montessori is a method of teaching, developed by physician Maria Montessori. One of the standout elements of the Montessori method is mixed age classrooms. In a mixed age classroom, Maria Montessori believed, can achieve two things: fostering a child to mentor and be mentored and also being able to excel younger children to their natural abilities if they are in fact at a higher level. My son attended Montessori since age two. When he was three years old, he could be in the same math group as a five year old kindergartener. The core subjects are all grouped by abilities. No one has an age in the Montessori. However, the problem with Montessori learning, is that in most part of the country, Montessori fades out at certain age and students are forced to go into conventional schools whether it is private or public. In my son's case, I either had to choose to drive him an hour away each way, each day to a Montessori with an elementary school after his kindergarten graduation, or move him to what I thought would best accommodate him locally. I chose the latter. As a mother, I will forever question if that was a mistake that was made with a gifted child. 

There are in fact, educators that recognizes advanced children should be advanced, purely for the fact that they see their potential in doing so. Maybe they are uninformed about the psychological aspects of not accommodating and advancing a gifted child, but there are numerous teachers and administrators that do have the heart to do so. Unfortunately when the US education system is so restrictive, in order to implement something long lasting, will take more than just a handful of teachers and administrators. One principal in my son's current school had attempted a brave new act that I thought was a foot in the door, which was what she called "differential learning". It is to recognize and to accommodate both ends of the spectrum by offering variations of each assignment, tailored to a student's ability. But it was met with dismay by teachers whom are used to an one size fits all curriculum, those that have been used to giving every child the same ditto assignments. I saw the principal struggle but she thought it was important enough to put up a fight. It gained momentum but due to unfortunate private school politics, this principal left after her short tenure. While the act of differential learning took momentum in my son's school, it was a slow progress. It wasn't something that could have just started across the board came the new school year. She had to start one subject at a time. With at least 7 subjects, in order for this to work, and if it was to be met with no teacher struggle, it would have taken at least 5 years for this to completely taken in place. That is one generation of gifted children already unaccommodated properly. Nevertheless, a foot in the door was better than no foot in the door. Unfortunately, her plan foiled with her resignation. 

Fantastic educators, this country is in no shortage of such. However, it is not to say that they may be who that can't manage the delicate balance, or is uncomfortable teaching outside the norm, if schools were to implement programs like "differential learning" across the board. It is simply outside of what they are used to. For the U.S. to reach the upper echelons of educational attainment in an increasingly competitive global environment, it probably needs change that comes from both the bottom, through teachers, and the top, from serious education reform focused on cultivating intellectual achievement. Before innovative ideas like my son's former principals, can take hold, there needs to be a consensus among all the stakeholders that winning is important, and it isn't enough to simply enter the race.

In order for this country to be able to cultivate this group of gifted children universally, first there are six major factors that needs to be resolved as whole:

First,  there's nervousness about elitism. This is fed by a country that is so much driven by everything associated with the possibility of racism. We know nearly 60% of students in gifted education currently are white children, according to the most recent federal data, Black students, in contrast, made up 9% of students in gifted education. Politicians will always have a fear of being associated with boosting what sees to be a white-elitist program. In reality, however, this underrepresentation reflects the education system's own failure to identify such kids and counsel them into a sufficiency of classrooms, schools, and programs -- a failure that inevitably advantages upper middle class youngsters with pushy, well-educated, well-connected parents. Again, if programs were to be implemented universally, it would be inclusive of every child that has the potential to advance. 

Second, Most of American society does not seem to believe that giftedness constitutes a "special need" or that inattention to it violates some children's equal rights. The stigma that comes with the word "gifted" needs to be re-evaluated and dropped. Gifted is a neurodevelopmental need. Plain and simple. 

Third, there is a mistaken belief that gifted children will do fine, even if the education system makes no special provision for them. This mindset is particularly convenient in a time of budget crunches, when districts feel pressured enough focusing on low-achieving kids at failing schools. Again, this factor goes hand in hand with the mistaken term of what a gifted child is. 

Forth, there is no universal qualification for the gifted. There is no standardized method for identifying gifted students. What is considered gifted? Who qualifies as a genius? When are you talented? Every school, every district, every educator seem to have their own definition. And then you have those that would like to see every child as gifted in some way ... a notion that doesn't help matters, at least in policy circles. However, when children are grouped by abilities, it is clear cut who can advance from subtraction to multiplication. It is clear who can advance from reading book A to book B. 

Fifth, going back to what my son's principal had wishfully attempted in a real school setting of "differentiated instructions" ... that the implementation would enable every teacher to succeed with every child in a mixed classroom. This, as much as I agree is a fantastic idea and was happy to see the momentum, but reality tells me that it is probably a close cousin of other false beliefs -- for instance, that tracking, even ability grouping, is inherently pernicious.

Lastly, sixth, it is a game of hot potato. Whose responsibility is it to push these programs through? To allow the same access regardless of public or private schools, regardless of districts ... Whose responsibility is it to tackle this problem? It's hard to picture many liberals getting worked up about the plight of intelligent children -- even those who are poor -- for fear of being labeled elitists.

America will always have problems with one thing or another. It's a matter of who is going to rise up, bind together and be the universal call to action. For what it's worth, this, this is something worth fighting for. It's morally correct. It's educationally sound. It's economically beneficial. And ultimately, back to why I even brought this issue up in the first place ... it will save lives. 

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