Tuesday, September 21, 2004


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.


11238 said...

I have to say that as a former 'Gifted & Talented' student, I never looked down my nose at the kids who were in the 'normal' class. Frankly, I would have preferred not to have been differentiated as such. It was difficult enough to be different from my classmates in terms of race; the G/T separation only served to widen this chasm.

That said, had I not had my academic needs met, my life would have likely taken a markedly different path. I don't think it would be a stretch to say I would have been more depressed and even more likely to have run-ins with the law.

Congratulations on the home-schooling choice; when I have children it too is an option I will strongly consider.

Marjorie said...

Certainly a good argument for gifted classes -- meeting the very real need for enrichment for some.
Thanks for commenting!

Anne Zelenka said...

I don't think it's bad to note that children are different and then adjust the environment to them. People have different talents. Some people are athletic. Some are physically beautiful. Some are good at making friends. Some are academically strong.

Why should the very most advanced students suffer (and suffer they do) because other people are made uncomfortable? To me, the statement "all children are gifted" reflects not an uncompetitive stance but rather a hypercompetitive stance that wishes to erase all differences so as to remove any possibility that someone might be "better." I put "better" in quotes because being weirdly smart is as much curse as blessing.

Can you blame parents who want their kids to be intellectually engaged, if lack of intellectual engagement leads to depression and anxiety and antisocial behavior? Do we really need to sacrifice the needs of freakishly smart people because it makes other people feel bad to note that their needs differ?

Marjorie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marjorie said...

With permission, I am posting this comment from one of the yahoo groups I read:

Hi Group,

I've been thinking about this issue of giftedness for the last few months. I am firmly opposed to encouraging children to think of themselves as different from others. Every human being has the
experience of feeling different, of feeling not a part of. It has been my experience that when I search for similarities and commonalities between myself and others that my life is invariably enriched.

My personal experience with schooling based on opportunities offered or denied based on intelligence is twofold. I was kept out of some situations based on test scores and ended up labeled "paralel honors"
which I knew meant "not really smart" It made me much less likely to take risks and expose myself to making mistakes and thus proving that I was stupid. Getting good grades gave me some solace but were an end in themselves.

A good friend of mine was "really smart" and his entire childhood was based on it. He read at 3 and schools, teachers and his parents lavished him with attention about his intelligence to the detriment
of his growth in other aspects of his life. His life has not been easy for him. He was taught to think of other people as being his inferiors and he has a difficult time in his personal relationships.

I think that balance is the key. I think that there are hundreds of gifts and talents that we are all given and putting too much emphasis on any one will eventually lead to difficulty.


There continues to be a lot of discussion on this issue on the group.

Anonymous said...

Giftedness--one of my favorite topics.
Putting aside for a moment the issues of labelling and isolating and all of the possible stigmas for those "gifted" and those who aren't...I am amused--but not surprised to find that the Unclimber is "gifted." It seems that those with whom I find myself having most interesting conversations and closest friendships--in my adult life--ultimately end up having been marked gifted in some manner and I usually find this out well into the relationship. When I went through school "gifted" meant you scored in the top 3% of the "gifted test". One of my friends--another "gifted" student had a theory that no matter what you did you couldn't escape that 3% ring that despite efforts to diversify we would ultimately find each other--this theory formed after she met someone on a train in India who went to college and was friends with a friend of ours from our elementary gifted classes, of course as it turned out this person had been "gifted" as well. Perhaps "gifted" is just what we call what we cannot escape. --Julie

Marjorie said...

Since Julie signs in as anonymous, there is no link to her blog, so I'll put it here. Check out her September 1 post, the Question of Education.
You make a good point, but I can't help wondering about the caste system argument that maybe many of those who were not labelled gifted were tracked down and disenfranchised and their lives took a different turn because of this tracking.
I wonder about it, but I still feel for the gifted kids who find a haven in the gifted classes -- I saw many kids who were really picked on outside of these classes. It was nice that there was a place where they could be themselves and learn in peace.

clanlally said...

I want you to know that you are helping me in a number of ways. We have an almost 4-year old. Karen (my wife) and I have been wrestling with questions of faith and religion (should we introduce erin to a "church" since we currently don't go to church? how do we introduce her to "faith" and our belief that all things are interconnected? etc.) The other subject is one of schooling. So...I am absolutely loving this blog. Back to the matter being discussed...

I believe in balance. This post and this comment-thread has clarified things for me. I was an "honors" student. AP classes. Honors level classes, etc. I never excelled at them. I had other interests. I enjoyed sports. I played football. I had a job which financed other interests. I went to college. I dropped out. I don't regret. I want to finish college at this point but only because I think an MBA will benefit me in the future. So I need to check that box as they say. But balance is important. I like the approach the ancient Greeks used. School, Music, Sports. I regret not having a musical background/grounding. But I balanced the other to out pretty well. My wife really didnt do sports and she balanced the other two out.

I think I was very fortunate to have some of the teachers I had. They were in one HS I attended (ah...thats a post for another time). AP level English and American History. Two classes, same teacher, and she stretched us. She made us think. Made us question. Made us come to our own conclusions.

I am exploring the concepts of homeschooling/unschooling as a result of reading your blog. I've actually arrived at the point of understanding that schools are crushing the creativity and innovation from another direction. From Tom Peters, the business guru. Let me know if you want more about him. I dont think homeschooling is something either of us could do. And I need to understand more about unschooling. But I like the sound of it.

I feel like I am rambling. My apologies if I am. I hope I contributed.

Marjorie said...

Wow, Mike -- thank you so much for your encouraging comment. As a blogger, I'm sure you know how wonderful it is to hear someone say your blog is helping them.