Gifted Students: Who Cares About These Children?
It's a tough time to raise, teach or be a highly gifted child... Schools are to extraordinarily intelligent children what zoos are to cheetahs... Every organism has an internal drive to fulfill its biological design. The same is true for unusually bright children. From time to time the bars need be removed, the enclosures broadened. Zoo Chow, easy and cheap as it is, must give way, at least some of the time, to lively, challenging mental prey. – Stephanie Tolan, Is It A Cheetah?
Within the current education climate in the United States there is no one definition for a gifted child. While the Huffington post published Dr. Barbara Clark’s definition of gifted children as, “children who give evidence of high performance in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership capacity, or specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities”, other definitions of giftedness illustrate that gifted children often face unique challenges. When the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2004 was enacted, many states began providing legislation to allow gifted children access to services or activities not offered in the ordinary classroom, in order to further develop these qualities. But is this enough?
One aspect of giftedness that many people don’t understand is that gifted children are often asynchronous in their development. This means that while they are very advanced in some areas, they are often at different developmental stages emotionally, intellectually, socially, or physically. For example, a student may excel academically, but struggle with social interactions. Or a student may do exceptionally well in math, but have a difficult time with writing. In an educational setting, gifted students need both support in nurturing their talents as well as the ability to understand that they might need assistance in other areas.
The question remains: After exhausting school district budgets on special education, busing and aides, what can be done to care for these gifted and talented children? In spite of the fact that gifted students deserve to receive an education that fits their needs, there are very few school systems that have equitably allocated resources to provide them services to nurture their young minds.
Parents Care About Equality
According to the National Association for Gifted Children, 5-10 percent of the country’s population are gifted. Parenting a child brings with it great privilege and responsibility. Every parent is privileged to provide their child with an environment that nurtures his or her abilities. Parents of a gifted child may have the additional task of ensuring that the child is challenged academically.
This presents a significant challenge in a society which has transitioned to promoting equality rather than individual excellence. In order to level the playing field our current educational settings have begun fostering an exaggerated state of fairness. Nowadays, competitive activities are structured so there are no longer any winners or losers in games. Often, the bar has been lowered so that all attendees receive a “participation award”, despite lackluster or superior performance. The classroom is no exception.
In the best interest of their child, parents of gifted children cannot help but notice that equality in classroom translates into inequity for their children. Students who are struggling with reading are assigned to remediation classes in a smaller classroom so that the child can catch up with the rest of the class. However, if your child is clearly reading above his or her grade level, there are few enrichment classes offered where he or she can develop these reading skills beyond those of his peers. Lacking any real challenge, it is no wonder that gifted students become antsy, bored or easily distracted.
In the world of traditional education, parents of gifted children are often left to their own devices to nurture their child’s educational growth. Often the scarce resources allocated to our education system are funneled only to those who have fallen below the curve. Therefore, the parent must take it upon themselves to hire tutors, pay for enriching cultural activities and acquire materials that the child finds intellectually stimulating.
Gifted Students Care About Fitting In
From the child’s perspective, being a gifted student presents overwhelming challenges to fit in with their peers. It is difficult to find others who relate to their way of thinking. These differences also lead to being teased and bullied by peers. Along with the expectation to always earn an “A”, a gifted student runs the risk of being called a “know-it-all” or being teased for being “teacher’s pet”. Sadly, gifted students just want to fit in; they listen to popular music, watch the same shows and wear the same style of clothing. Yet it can still be difficult to find a point of connection with other students, especially when other areas of their development are not as advanced as their academics.
All children crave friendships with other students who share the same interests. When their environment does not foster this, these children may begin to act out, or withdraw into themselves. To hamper these types of distractions, teachers also try to keep the the gifted student out of trouble by offering them more advanced assignments, extra credit or moving them ahead of the class. To the student, this isolates them further and they may even feel like they are being punished with more busywork. It is unfortunate that the classroom is such a difficult place for gifted students to fit in.
Teachers Care about Nurturing Young Minds
Teachers are called into the field of education because they care about equipping children to be the leaders of tomorrow. Sadly, their ability to deliver this effectively while instructing an entire classroom full of diverse children is very limited. Although most student abilities land somewhere around the mean, every class has a few kids who fall behind as well as some who are more advanced. Most teachers really care about the outcome of all their students, but because there are only so many hours in a school day, the teacher must make difficult decisions regarding which group to provide extra support for.
Although leaving no child behind is important to every teacher, there just isn’t enough time, personnel or funding to offer a specialized program for every student that could potentially benefit from it. In reality, teachers care deeply for their students and they do their best to offer the best education possible while working within constraints that are outside their control.
School Administrators Care About Sharing the Resources
The school administrator's job is to allocate how scarce resources are distributed amongst diverse student populations, each with very unique needs. Desiring to make the decisions as fairly as possible, they often times funnel academic funding to the areas providing the greatest benefit to the most students. Because they cannot fund every initiative, school administrators also get to deal with disgruntled parents who are quick to point out the inequities which are inherent in our current education system. Feeling misunderstood and underappreciated, administrators lose their zeal for preparing youngsters for the future and their drive to support gifted programs waivers.
So what can be done about this situation? Should parents, gifted students, teachers, and school administrators give up? By no means! Having a gifted child is a blessing, and brings with it unique challenges that can be overcome. There are many alternatives that can stimulate his or her mind and nurture unique gifts. Be sure to read part two of our series on gifted students which will delve deeper into these alternative options and help you determine what’s best for your gifted child.