July 07, 2010

Gifted Education - A Parent Joins the Debate

by Diane V. Mcloughlin

July 4, 2010:  My son is a gifted young man who is at risk of becoming a high school drop-out. I am far from the only parent to face this sinking boat.

Some things he is good at and some things he isn't. He has needed help. Perhaps because of the label, he has been browbeaten plenty. He has never received help - or recognition and fostering of his strengths.

One of his strengths appears to be irretrievably lost. He was retested in Grade Six. A new school, considering his performance, didn't believe he was gifted. Could we do a few tests? Sure, I said.

In some ways he was struggling. This was clear. Great. Fantastic. So you'll help him? Oh, no, we don't have the resources to help him.

In other ways? Still gifted. Spec. Ed. teacher of forty-years plus experience told me she had never had a kid score as he did in science; in point of fact she couldn't tell me with any accuracy his aptitude. For the first time she ran out of questions to ask, somewhere in the third year of university on the hypothetical scale. (He did very well on other parameters, as well.)

But try to suggest science when thinking about careers - after his scholastic experiences? Tragic.

My son was tested and formally identified at the end of second year kindergarten. I had noticed some things early on and discussed testing with a doubtful but kind teacher. This is an interesting facet of the gifted issue: teachers do not do well statistically at picking out gifted kids. You can't tell by looking at kids whether they're gifted. Sometimes they are bored and disengaged. Sometimes a learning disability is masking the giftedness, in what is referred to in the biz as a dual exceptionality.

He was placed in a highly gifted class in Grade One.

There is a misconception about gifted kids' parents; some of them, anyway. When I first noticed my kid doing unusual things (two and a half yrs old) - like, when out for walks he'd point to vehicles and tell me, 'Mazda; Civic; Ford...'. I was scared: Of boredom. Dropping out. Arrogance...few things are worse than thinking you are smarter than everybody else with little to no evidence to the contrary in one's day to day.

Identification is one thing; which teachers migrate to gifted classes is another. A few gifted classroom teachers, in this parent's experience, are seemingly there for all the wrong, resume-fattening reasons. They cannot relate to their mentally fleet young charges. Some teachers become overtly hostile - to polite, inquisitive young children who love to learn - go figure.

Anyone who believes that a gifted kid can wait until he is older before being tested and appropriately placed, anyone who thinks that the gifted kid in kindergarten is merely learning to tie his shoes and learn his letters and numbers like everyone else - is going to cause a lot of damage if they have any authority.

LIke the kid who, in kindergarten, wanted to know all about wars. He devoured books on the topic - adult books. The kindergarten teacher, his mother lamented to me when we met a few years hence, plunked her little boy in a corner with a stack of books and left him there. 'What am I supposed to do?', the resentful teacher asked the broken-hearted mother, whose son came off the school bus every day crying because the other kids shunned him and called him a freak - '...the other kids don't even know their letters. I have to get them ready for Grade One.'

To delay gifted testing is to say that it is ok to allow receptive minds to rot - for years. We value the gifted sprinter; the star quarterback; but the lightning-quick mind?

'Don't worry Dad; I'm sure I'll learn something next year' - gifted boy to his worried father, first day of Grade Four.

The most perverse experience, beyond leaving union-protected hostile teachers in the gifted class, is that, at least where I live, gifted kids are placed in their own classrooms (if they are lucky enough to win the lottery and get one of few limited spaces) but the school board refuses to alter the curricula - they are still expected to drag their intellects at the regular pace.

Sometimes you'll get good teachers who will explore subjects more deeply. Bonus!

Sometimes report cards come home and you've got B's and C's or whatever on them, when tests and assignments were A's. Not good. A teacher thinks, wrongly, she must mark harder. Get a teacher like that in the latter grades of high school when your kid is trying to apply to university admissions, and you have an interesting fight on your hands. Thus, for the last grade or two many parents in my district will encourage their gifted kids to migrate back to the regular program so their marks are not screwed up.

A third of high school drop-outs have averages of A or B. That's my understanding. Can we afford to lose them? From everything we see? I fear not.
My Comment No. 3, to NYT Room for Debate blog post, 'The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child'; July 4, 2010

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