Does Eliminating the Gifted Label Actually Help Anyone

by Terry 12/18/2008 3:54:00 PM

In a recent article in the Washington Post, the Montgomery County school system has decided to drop the use of the ‘gifted’ label for kids who show exemplary scholastic skills. See, Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label.

Apparently, it seems, many schools see calling gifted students gifted is unfair to the less gifted, but the ‘gifted’ classes remain open to all students. There is a belief that all students will somehow benefit from advanced placement. Many of our public educators believe the fallacy that pouring advanced education on the less-bright will make the dim brighter. The fallacy of this belief has been well argued by Charles Murray.

From the Washington Post article, “School system leaders say losing the label won't change gifted instruction, because it is open to all students.”

The point, in my opinion, of special, more advanced training is to give the brighter kids enough challenge to keep them interested in school with the goal to ready these kids for being future leaders in our society. I would hope we would want the brighter kids to become our leaders. By simple definition, not all children are above average. Again, from the Washington Post article.

“The gifted label is a hot potato in public education. A school that tells some students they have gifts risks dashing the academic dreams of everyone else. Any formula for identifying gifted children, no matter how sophisticated, can be condemned for those it leaves out.”

And

"'It can set up a kind of have and have-not atmosphere at your school, and we don't have that here,' said Aara Davis, principal of Georgian Forest Elementary School in Silver Spring."

Eh? So, why do we have tests? Would not tests for aptitude in a subject create a have and have-not atmosphere? I guess because grades must be kept private from other kids (and presumably parents) it would prevent any of the kids from feeling bad about themselves.

Sure, some kids will feel left out. Some kids can't run fast, jump high, swim well, play chess or do well any of an infinite number of other difficult or merely functional tasks.

Frankly, offering the carrot of advanced education to our brighter kids, particularly the top 10% - 25%, depending on the particular goals, is equally or more important than providing a remedial education for the below average. Our nation seems bent on lowering the bar so that every child appears above average. Lowering the educational bar serves only to bore our bright kids into trouble.

I can site myself as a partial example. In grade school I was often pegged by my teachers as a 'special needs' child and sent to remedial classes. My mother balked at this, convincing the school to instead to leave me in the regular classes. What my mother understood, and the teachers did not recognize, was that I was simply bored in class.

I recall clearly in third grade sitting in class calculating the answers to all the math questions the teacher wrote on the chalk board for a simple quiz. I had gotten past memorizing the answers of basic multiplication, instead started using algorithms to figure the answers. That was an epiphany for me, knowing the patterns of math rather than the rote answers. I then memorized the answers to each question on the board as I processed each in my head. When the teacher finished writing the questions and asked us to turn over our paper to start the quiz, I simply wrote the answer to each question (there were about 15 questions). I then had plenty of time to kill while the rest of the class finished their tests. I became bored and quickly a bit of a nuisance to the rest of the class while I sat fidgeting in my chair. My teacher, now standing by my desk to settle me down, was a little miffed I had not shown any of my work and believed I was somehow cheating.

This is when my epiphany came full circle. In defending my answers I explained to my teacher that I knew how each answer was derived by a simple algorithm. This took a few minutes to explain as a third grader, but by the end of my explanation I was standing in the front of the class teaching the entire class how I was both deriving my answers and checking my work. (For example, numbers multiplied by 5 always end in 5 or 0, or a number is evenly divisible by 3 if the sum of the digits is also divisible by 3, and so on.) When my teacher understood that I understood the math beyond what was being taught was I no longer suspected of cheating. This event was one of the few times I actually showed interest in my classes almost until college.

Oddly, I never thought I was particularly bright (having been told for years I was not) until I went to college and excelled in calculus, physics and computer science. I could pick classes that were actually a challenge and I was interested in class and my grades had never been better.

My hope is our teachers find ways to encourage and stimulate our brighter kids.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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