Conflicted over Gifted: A response “First do no harm”

Response to the article “ Conflicted Over Gifted” which appeared in The Wall Street Journal

I am going to be controversial here and really don’t want to be marginalised so I apologise upfront.  I agree that much of this article is outrageous and unfortunately a sign of our times.

I am tired of the way all things gifted appear to be ‘demonised’ by the media. This article does not make distinction between the value that different cultures place on education and attempts to brand all parents of gifted 4-year-old children with the same branding iron. So once again the media portrayal of giftedness and parenting a gifted child is being highlighted as atypical of society. Socially academic giftedness is being constructed once more as being “abnormal or atypical”, in other words, out what society considers being “normal”. Would this article have been written if all 4-year-olds were being assessed for some athletic or musical ability and further would the prepping be taking place by parents? Perhaps some would engage in it and others would not.

While purposely stereotyping the “gifted” group this article has, however, inadvertently highlighted some real issues for education in general and specifically for the education of our gifted and talented students.

The casting of a wide net to identify children with high potential is a good or a bad thing? The issue here seems to be that test taking is now being “prepped” and that is seems ridiculous. It is also an indication of the lack of faith parents have in the traditional school system as such, that they are using desperate measures to try and access the best possible education for their children that they can. This article therefore highlights the level of concern parents have, their level of care  about their children’s education and recognition that public schooling is not good enough.

Inadequate resources within the school system is clearly one factor that contributes to sub-optimal educational opportunities. This is demonstrated in the statement, “thousands of kids could score at the highest levels and then be shut out of the city’s best schools,” and shows a system at odds with itself. One the one hand all 4-year-old children are being tested and on the other hand there are not enough places to accommodate all those who “qualify” to attend the schools. One might well ask why is NYC bothering to test at all. Surely taxpayers’ money could be put to better use.

I found the author’s comments about the use of standardised testing somewhat confusing. If they are using standardised testing and ensuring that there is “a common measurement of giftedness” I am not sure how the “tests can’t be a fair assessment of a 4½-year-old or a 4-year-old.” Do parents have the right to refuse that their child is tested? I don’t know whether the testing is mandatory, but if it is not surely parents can opt out. The statement “Natural ability surely plays a factor in how quickly a 4-year-old picks up on how to take a test. But, really, at this age, it’s all about the test prep” seems to me to be the crux of the matter- that parents feel the need to engage their children in “test-prep” is inherently a choice they are making. Surely not every child should, would or could be expected to succeed in schools/classes for the gifted. If parents are contriving to gain access to these schools for their children through test-prep they are helping to feed an inherently misguided system and helping to entrench it further.

And then we have “Test preparation really does help, and wealthier families are able to provide that for their kids whereas poor ones aren’t,” said James Borland, an education professor at Teachers College at Columbia University.” James is an authority in this field, and far be it from me to argue his point, however he has now added a further dimension to the debate- that of wealth being the factor that makes the difference. One could extrapolate from his comment that these schools are then not gifted schools but schools for the wealthy- the myth of elitism that we have fought so hard to deny.  This takes me back to my point about coaching and test preparation utilised widely by some cultures, this “practice”is used within some cultures by rich and poor alike, it is part and parcel of their approach to education.

The author of this article then states that “And so, the school system starting with 4-year-olds begins weeding out the more privileged from the less privileged—the kids whose parents have the resources and time to master such lifelong crucial skills of sorting shapes and colors and “Can you find me?” riddles from those who don’t.” This really annoys me because of the assumption that wealth is equated with being privileged. I dispute this, perhaps because I understand privilege differently to the author. To me privilege has everything to do with an attitude of entitlement and this is found among rich and poor alike. I have seen many people who are independently wealthy using their wealth in purely altruistic ways and making a difference. Many of these people have applied sustained effort to reach a position where they are able to be of benefit to society and the willingly do so. I think it is time to stop equating privilege purely with wealth.

This statement too would indicate that the writer does not in essence have sufficient knowledge about giftedness “At NYC Gifted, the 90-minute class consists of 10 students and one teacher. That’s 90 minutes with no breaks. (Show me a 4-year-old boy who can sit still for 90 minutes.), because there are clearly some gifted 4-year-old-children who can do this. They are few and far between in the population which is statistically to be expected.

I don’t agree with coaching and teaching to the test-never have and never will and deplore this aspect of what is happening. Parents can stop it by not buying into it and putting their children through the stress of this situation.

It would seem that the current situation has arisen from dysfunction in the school system and this is what must be attended to if all children are to have access to appropriate schooling and challenge commensurate with their potential. We do not live in a homogenous world, not all of us could, would or should be in the gifted class, if you need to train up and coach your child to be in that class, just perhaps they should not be there.

And so it seems to me that both the system and the parents are equally embroiled in practices that should not be happening in education. It would appear that both the education system and the parents need adopt a new motto, one from the Hippocratic Corpus “First Do No Harm”.



By giftedsue

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