We Can’t Just Let the Gifted Be

While taking a course on educational exceptionalities, I was a shocked to discover that “giftedness” was a subject explored by my special education textbook among chapters about learning disabilities, brain injuries, and physical disabilities. My attitude towards those individuals who are “identified at the preschool, elementary, or secondary level as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of higher performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative specific academic, or leadership ability, or in the performing and visual arts” was never negative. I understood what giftedness meant, and I even had a friend who was “gifted” in high school. However, I had never though that they were considered to be students who needed ‘special education’ in order to succeed in school (Turnbull, 462). Like most children, I didn’t really understand how someone who was not like those prodigies on television could still have a much higher intelligence aptitude than his or her peers. I thought that there were only three places individuals could be on the spectrum: far below average, average, and prodigious.

Then, in first grade, a kid in our class moved up to second grade, effectively skipping the second half of the first grade curriculum and the first half of the second grade curriculum. Needless to say, we are all impressed, and even a little jealous of him, but our jealously was not reason to keep him behind academically. Later on, he left the school to find a more academically challenging environment. Our school was one of the highest ranking elementary schools in the city, but his intellectual capacity was being stunted in our learning environment. He needed to work at an even faster-pace, though the rest of us were fine.

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He illustrated perfectly the greater aptitude for knowledge that is not prodigious, but still requires additional attention, that most people simply don’t understand. Many people–teachers and parents forming the majority–don’t understand why additional resources and programs are needed if these gifted students are characterized by self-motivation, an ability to adapt well, an ability to learn quickly and on their own, and finally a high intellect. With such a great intellectual package, shouldn’t those students be just fine in a regular classroom? Shouldn’t they remain to serve as examples for the other students? The answer is simple. Gifted kids are bored in normal classrooms, and the possibility exists that they will either develop behavioral issues or start exhibiting attention deficits. No one would expect a child of average achievement and aptitude to “be educated in a classroom of twenty children with intellectual disabilities like Down’s Syndrome” (Schemo, 2). This average child will not develop to his or her full potential, and he or she will be bored learning and reviewing concepts that he or she has already mastered.

A student might start acting up in class because being the class clown easily solves the issue of boredom and allows the student to feel accepted by his or her peers. Or, the student will stop listening and participating in class because the material isn’t challenging, and the student can divert her attention toward daydreaming or some other, more entertaining activity. Critics of gifted education programs argue that the programs only serve to create a sense of elitism in students with high IQs, and that they exclude individuals with high potentials who work hard. These critics are missing the point. If a student shows high potential in an area and needs additional resources in order to develop his or her potential, he or she should be receiving additional attention.

Simply put, some kids need more services because they learn at a faster pace in certain subjects and can move ahead in the curriculum before other students. When we group students academically by age, we are ignoring the fact that there will be students who are both ahead and behind intellectually. These students should be placed in programs that will foster their abilities. Just as athletically inclined students are placed in higher intensity sport programs like varsity and club teams, we should be willing to place intellectually advanced students in advanced programs, even at a young age. Every student is on a different path in regards to academics and extracurricular activities.

Some students walk along the path, some dawdle, some run, and others sprint. Every student will need different resources at different times: water, new shoes, nourishment, encouragement, and maybe even a trainer. Giving each student what he or she needs along that path when it’s needed is not discrimination, it’s being fair and prudent. Nobody questions the need for extra training for the athletically gifted child. Why? People are willing to recognize that some individuals are born with an inclination toward athletics and will thrive if given proper attention and training.

Now, take that concept and apply to it academics and people are up in arms in about the situation. They don’t want their children discouraged from learning because they are not given the “gifted and talented” label. They don’t want their children’s academic growth to be stunted because the most intellectual children are being “pulled out” and can no longer serve as examples for their children. They are also concerned about the social skills of gifted children and whether or not such a program would stunt their social growth (Turnbull, 474). These concerns are understandable.

Any division between people, especially children, should be regarded with suspicion as they may result in discrimination. For example, separating people by class, race, and gender has proven, through history, to have negative consequences. Still, there are no logical reasons to use those as means of sanctioned separation in public schools. Students who have disabilities are provided additional resources through IDEA, Section 504, and ADA. It’s illegal not to provide resources for them. Still, “there is no federal legislation that requires state or local education agencies to offer special education to students who are classified as Gifted and Talented” (Turnbull, 462).

Advocating for legislation that requires schools provide resources for gifted students is not asking for discrimination, it is merely asking for equality. Students will not thrive when their needs are not being met, and we are ignoring an entire part of the spectrum: gifted individuals. Still, some may claim that by allowing gifted programs to exist by way of government funding, we are only giving these children a label, and one that conveys that they are the elite. If this is so, don’t call those programs gifted programs and don’t tell the children that they are talented in areas that they are skilled. But, while you’re at that, don’t tell the kids on high school basketball teams whether they’re on the junior varsity or varsity team. Also, don’t talk about the games that they’ve won over the announcements- it’ll only make the other teams feel bad and give the winning team a feeling of elitism over everyone else in the school.

It seems absurd, right? We should be encouraging athletes, students, musicians, artists, dancers, actors, leaders and anyone with any sort of talent or passion to be developing it whether it requires additional resources because they‘re falling behind or jumping ahead or not.