Monday, July 9, 2012

Dazzled by "giftedness" Or desparate for learning?

Some school systems seem to have reconciled their distaste for ability-based grouping with pressure to offer something in the way of gifted programming by limiting advanced academics to a tiny select group (often chosen based in part on subjective teacher recommendations and questionable definitions of giftedness). For everyone else, one size fits all.

Under these circumstances, parents of the many under-challenged kids often have no recourse other than to seek out the gifted label. Given the scarce spots for gifted kids, this often ends up pitting parent against parent. The dividing and conquering powers that be, meanwhile, start accusing parents of hypercompetitiveness and of being "dazzled by the label"--in other words, of seeking gifted labeling simply for the sake of having their kids called "gifted." Our society as a whole, convinced as it is that parental competition is at an all-time high, is all too ready to believe this.

But for the parents in question, desperate as they are to help kids who come home bored and disengaged, sometimes to the point of tears or of dropping out of school, this is nothing but an extremely red herring  that only adds insult to injury.


Barry Garelick said...

Absolutely agree. From Protecting Students from Learning:

"Critics of the traditional model of education–particularly math–argue that traditional methods worked only for the gifted kids (for whom it is assumed they will learn what they need to know no matter how it is taught). And the corollary to such thinking is that students not gifted are not good enough for the traditional method. The move to homogenize skill levels in the classrooms has been entrenched now for several decades. It has come to the point now that students who have been forced through circumstances into non-honors tracks, and judged to not be able to handle the “traditional mode” of education are thus “protected” from it. And in being protected from learning they are therefore not presented with the choice to work hard—and many happily comply in a system that caters to it.

"Students who have been put on the protection-from-learning track fulfill the low expectations that have been conferred upon them. The education establishment’s view of this situation is a shrug, and—despite their justifications for the inquiry-based and student-centered approach that brings out all children’s’ “innate” knowledge of math—respond with “Maybe your child just isn’t good in math”. The admonition carries to subjects beyond math and is extended to “Maybe your child isn’t college material.” And while it is true that a “college for all” goal is unrealistic, the view that so many students somehow are lacking in cognitive ability raises serious questions. Simply put, you no longer have to be a minority to be told you may not have cognitive ability.

"There is now an in-bred resistance against ability grouping using explicit instruction. That such approaches may result in higher achievement, with more students qualifying for gifted and honors programs, is something that the education establishment has come to deny by default. What they have chosen instead is an inherent and insidious tracking system that leaves many students behind. They have eliminated the achievement gap by eliminating achievement."

TerriW said...

I'm reminded of the derisive jokes you used to hear when the Hooked On Phonics infomercials used to run 10-20 years ago, that they were for "pushy" parents trying to force giftedness on their kids, letting them get a leg up on their peers before they were taught it in school.

Now I realize that it was increasingly no longer being taught that way in school and it was filling a legitimate hole in the market.

C T said...

My mother, who had been an elementary school teacher, taught us all how to read at home using phonics before we could be confused by the schools' problematic methods. Thirty years ago, as a result of my being a good reader in first grade, they sent me to the second grade classroom for the reading part of the day. They also put me in the gifted pull-out program, where I remember doing projects (erosion study, making my own filmstrip by drawing pictures on a filmstrip with colored pencils, etc.) but not more challenging academics.
I read a lot on gifted education now to make sure that I'm addressing my children's varied needs, and looking back I don't think I was actually "gifted". I was certainly no creative genius. Rather, I was a bright child who'd been educated well and early, which gave me a leg up over others throughout my whole school career. My mother focused far more on finding appropriately-challenging, seriously academic environments for us children than on getting us into GATE programs; I think she perceived such programs as time wasters. (Besides, she had my IQ test results and knew I likely wasn't a genius. I found them in her dresser drawer in high school and wasn't surprised to see that MENSA wouldn't be recruiting me anytime soon.)
Given the bell-curve nature of IQ scores, there must be a large population of kids out there like those in my family--bright and in need of challenging educations to meet their potential, but not the creative geniuses that GATE pull-outs nominally cater to. What are good parents supposed to do? How do we get something beyond "proficiency-level" academics for advanced students without a gifted label?
My personal solution is to teach my children academics at home in the morning and send them to school for projects, PE, and friend-time in the afternoon, but parents should not have to homeschool. Schools should meet the need for advanced academics when it arises instead of boring children and wasting their time.

Anonymous said...

Here in LA children can be tested by a school psychologist for entry into the gifted program as early as second grade. Really, any kid from a family with educated, English-speaking parents can pass this test, and these are generally the only parents who ask that their kids be tested, so the system works to segregate these kids from the rest of the school population, and these kids are often white and Asian.