A recent Globe article on gifted education unwittingly articulates a number of problems with today's versions of gifted education:
It's becoming clear that not every bright child needs a specially enriched program, especially as the educational mainstream shifts toward student-centred learning, which tries to take account of every child's particular needs and ways of thinking.Actually, student-centered learning is largely responsible for increasing the academic enrichment needs of gifted children. In math, for example, student-centered discovery learning--as opposed to teacher and textbook centered presentations of age-old mathematical concepts and algorithms--is a highly inefficient way to progress through mathematics, leaving mathematically gifted children bored and disengaged.
Instead, the kids who need help are those at risk of dropping out or failing because they are facing emotional and social problems.Why doesn't it occur to people that at least some of the emotional problems of gifted kids stem from boredom and disengagement in today's academically watered-down, group-centered, No Child Left Behind classrooms? Or that the social problems--bullying, isolation--might be ameliorated by allowing these children to work independently and/or to be accelerated into classrooms with intellectual peers?
Over the past few decades the definition of a gifted student worthy of special attention has been evolving away from the IQ-centred ethos that dominated the 20th century.The more heterogeneous needs are lumped together, the less likely for those with academic enrichment/acceleration needs to see those needs met.
“The cognitive assessment is only one part of the package,” says Deborah Lewis, a superintendent of learning support for the Calgary Board of Education. “There has to be a need. It's not just high grades.”
After her son began to withdraw from his Grade 3 class, Vancouver mother Erin Dyer pulled him out of school and sought a private assessment (his second – he had tested gifted in kindergarten). It got so bad, she says, his physical heath had begun to fail.The article seems to think the underlying problems are entirely emotional and largely a result of the pressures that come with heightened expectations, quoting one giftedness expert as saying:
“He seemed sick at the very thought of school,” she recalls. “He stopped reading and refused to respond to the teachers. He was shutting down, retreating into himself. He refused to participate in so many things that had once excited him. His enthusiasm for life and learning had vanished. He was skinny, pale and anxious. I felt desperate.”
“Gifted kids will often experience their giftedness as a big bag full of expectations. So there's some anxiety about being able to live up to those expectations.”
To help deal with such non-academic problems, Westmount teachers are now launching a pilot version of an “affective” (emotional) curriculum in their middle school.
For instance, teachers will lead kids into “supported failure” by asking them open-ended questions – such as whether euthanasia is ever justified – so that they can experience the frightening truth that there's not always a correct answer.
Some "gifted educators" go further, arguing that it's no longer necessary to target the academic needs of gifted children in particular because, or so they think, today's classrooms are increasingly imparting the best of gifted education to everyone:
At the Atlanta conference on Saturday, gifted-education expert Joe Renzulli's talk will lob out this challenge: Now that general education has appropriated techniques such as creative problem-solving, thinking skills and problem-based learning, what's left?
“We used to think these were the province of gifted education, but now all kids should develop them,” says Dr. Renzulli, the director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talent at the University of Connecticut.