A couple of homeschooling discussion groups I'm on through yahoo have recently had long threads about gifted children. I haven't really read these threads other than a cursory skim. I have mixed emotions about the gifted label.
I feel that all children are gifted in different ways. I do think that all children are smart and that some get bored, discouraged, or lose self-esteem as a result of the ways school must teach given the number of students they process.
I used to feel strongly in favor of separate classes for gifted children. I was in the gifted and talented ("GT") program from about fourth grade through senior high. Lest you think I'm bragging, I'll be honest about the GT program in my county. The GT program is two-tiered and I was in the 'lower' tier. The higher tier was a class with only GT kids in it -- five days a week, same class of kids. The lower tier was a once a week, pull-out enrichment class (note, this is the same kind of GT program that Washingtonienne was in, but I'll get to that another time).
I view the GT class, especially the higher tier, like a haven for gifted kids, especially those kids who might be called names and made miserable in other classrooms. This is the aspect of the program I wholly support. Why should these kids be ridiculed, bullied, and harrassed? Let them learn in freedom, and at a faster pace or more in-depth, or whatever the GT class does for them.
The reasons I don't like GT is that, from personal experience, I think it encourages an intellectual haughtiness and arrogance. I viewed the kids who weren't in GT as not as smart as myself. Maybe this wasn't the worst thing in the world; in schools, kids are always ranking themselves based on something -- popularity, looks, sports ability, smarts. Well, I don't think this is a very healthy thing to be doing. As an adult, I do not try to measure up another person's intelligence or compete with them. However, I remember high school with the same eyes I had while I was there, still feeling a little better than those who weren't in GT. I need to work on this issue, but since I don't encounter anyone from high school these days, its only a latent problem. Plus, who doesn't have some kind of issues left over from high school?
Now with my interest in homeschooling, the GT program is largely irrelevent to me. Whether or not my child has been labelled gifted, I'm still going to approach her the same -- try to follow her interests, stimulate her curiousity, answer her questions, teach her skills, or find someone who can.
An interesting argument raised by John Taylor Gatto about gifted classes is that it brings the English class system into American schools. An outrageous argument, perhaps, but an interesting one to consider.