Training the Gifted to Be Good Citizens
In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal
, Charles Murray voices his opinion about intelligence. He postulates that the intellectually gifted can be defined as those with IQs over 120, which is the top 10% of intelligence and that this group of people has a huge influence on our economy, culture, and institutions. In spite of the importance of this group to society, in 2006, the Department of Education spent only one–hundredth of 1% of its budget on gifted education and in 2007, President Bush zeroed it out.
Despite the lack of federal funding for gifted education, most students of this ability find their way to college. What they lack from the absence of gifted education support is training as citizens. Murray feels that because it is considered elitist to talk about inequality of ability, children who know they are smarter tend to think of themselves as superior to others. Instead, he states, children should be taught that their intellectual talent is a gift, that they are not superior beings, and that their gifts bring obligations, including the obligation to be wise.
To be wise, one must have humility, which is attained through recognition of one’s own limits and fallibilities. In an era of education where many high-IQ students go through school never taking a course that they feel they can’t handle, they are not given the opportunity to hit an intellectual wall. Gifted students need to have some classes together so that “their feet can be held to the fire” intellectually. They need to master analytical building blocks and be steeped in the study of ethics. Gifted children need to learn more than to be nice; they need to learn what it means to be good. They also need an advanced knowledge of history. This all adds up to a revival of the classical definition of a liberal arts education to prepare these students to contribute to society in worthwhile ways.
Perfectionism in Parenting the Gifted
My kids used to love to read Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books
. These books were written for the 9-12 ageset and can be finished quickly. The concept is great. You read for a while and then you have to make a choice. Let’s say you’re at the circus and you are given the choice of joining the circus to become a clown (go to page 64) or joining the circus to become a tightrope walker (go to page 72). After making the choice and going to the appointed page, you read some more until you come to another choice. It’s fun because you can read the book over and over, each time making the story different.
I’ve often thought how much this is like life. We face choices all the time—especially with gifted children. Some are more serious than others, but with each choice, our life takes a slightly different turn. As parents, I think we often get caught in the trap of thinking there is only one correct way of “reading the book” of raising our kids. We are afraid that if we don’t move into the “right” neighborhood or choose the “right” school or the “right” teacher for our kids the results will be disastrous. Although there’s a slight chance this may be true, it is much more likely that each result will just be different—not necessarily better or worse. There may even be some consequences that surprise you.
We get caught up in the perfectionism of parenting because we’re afraid we might ruin the lives of our gifted kids. We also don’t want to be considered failures as parents. Instead of becoming so insistent that everything happen “just so,” I recommend relaxing a bit and considering what good might come out of a situation that doesn’t look favorable on the surface. If not in a perfect situation, might your child learn some coping skills? Might he find a way to become more self-reliant? Might she be exposed to some ideas that might lead her down an exciting path that you would not have been able to provide?
It’s often one’s attitude toward different choices that can be more important than the choice itself. Can you help your gifted child discover what he might learn from a particular decision? Can you help him find the good in it and ways to make it better?
One child I knew always had a difficult time in school. She couldn’t handle any type of authority. Her coping mechanism was to create cartoons of school situations. Her teachers never would have approved of the cartoons, but she became very good at it and eventually drew political cartoons for a newspaper.
As kids get older and more independent, you may find that they make choices that are not of your liking. I know so many very bright students who chose not to go to school or not to get a traditional job when it was expected. The parents wrung their hands and felt like failures. In almost all cases, these kids were just taking nontraditional paths. As one parent put it, “My son decided to retire at the age of 22.” For years he wandered, seeming to do nothing with his life. Now, at 27, he’s in a Ph.D. program. Another fellow I knew would get menial jobs and sleep on a friend’s couch so he could save all his money to travel. He traveled to the most exotic places, stayed with the native people under primitive conditions and quickly learned the language of each place he visited. (He also managed to contract malaria along the way.) Somewhere along the line, he became interested in photography and then macro photography. He wound up going back to school and becoming an entomologist. Now he is also working on a Ph.D., but it has taken him until the age of 32 to get there. Think of the life experiences he had that the rest of us missed.
So, don’t lose faith if parenting your gifted student has its ups and downs and if you aren’t always able to make things “work” for your child. Your family many be taking an unexpected path, but that doesn’t mean it will have undesirable results in the end.
Gifted and Talented--Doesn't It Mean Something?
Two weeks ago, I received the January 2007 issue of Teaching Pre K–8 (one of the largest circulation magazines for teachers). The cover of the magazine read, "Highland Park? Really? At the Barber School of the Gifted and Talented, children thrive while a city struggles." I quickly opened the magazine to read the article, titled "School Story."
The article profiled the Barbar School for the Gifted and Talented and offered a positive look at a school that is succeeding in a difficult environment. The school's staff and students are to be commended. However, The Barber School is a neighborhood school that services a broad range of students—not just those who are gifted and talented. Adding "Gifted and Talented" to the name of the school was a decision by the principal because she feels that all students should be labeled gifted and talented.
Gifted and talented is a label used for children with specific learning needs. There are methods for identifying such children, national guidelines for servicing such children, and methods for supporting the unique social and emotional needs of such children.
I've seen kids fester in classrooms because they are years above their age-peers in knowledge, skills, and ability. I've seen what can happen to kids who spend years in classrooms "learning" material they already know. Being able to identify such children is the first step to getting them relevant and appropriate services.
The label gifted and talented has specific meaning and invokes a set of services and counseling approaches that have a research base to support their use with these types of children.
When Everyone Is Gifted, No One Is
I often see school administrators attempt to eliminate programs for gifted children by saying something like, "we don't need a special gifted education program because all children are gifted." Well, they are not—not any more than all children are autistic or dyslexic. Every time I hear someone pronounce that all children are gifted, I can bet money they are going to start talking about eliminating programs for gifted children in a sentence or two. If they can relegate the term gifted and talented to a phrase that applies to everyone, then special services for gifted children are provided to no one.
Gifted Kids Are Not Born With All Knowledge
About 15 years ago, the exterior of my house needed to be painted. My neighbor couldn’t understand why I didn’t save some money and have my two teenage boys do the job. For some reason, my neighbor assumed that, because they were boys, they were born with the necessary skills to paint a house. I certainly hadn’t taught them how to paint and I knew they weren’t born with the ability. Yes, my neighbor made a rather sexist statement when he expected my boys to be able to paint just because they were born male, but it also made me think about other things we expect our bright kids to automatically be able to do.
We expect gifted kids to be organized, responsible, interested in school, and good at most academic subjects. We also expect them to be self-motivated, well behaved, and to value the same things that we value. Realistically, do we really expect them to automatically know how to take notes, write papers, and prepare for exams? Our students may be smart, but they are not born with these skills. They need to develop certain skills, including the ones just mentioned, to prove to others that they are capable.
be examples to their children,
talk about responsible acts,
illustrate irresponsible behavior by letting children know about the mistakes that you make, and
use literature to teach important lessons by reading about characters who act responsibly or irresponsibly.
Although kids may be born with native intelligence, they are not necessarily born with the skills that enable them to effectively use their giftedness.
IB for Gifted Students, Ages 3-19
The International Baccalaureate or IB Programme
has long been recognized as a rigorous high school curriculum for students who are academically talented. Many gifted students search out high schools that offer this program because they know it is a feather in their cap for admittance to a selective college.
What many people do not realize is that there are also programs available for middle school and elementary school students.
The Primary Years Programme (ages 3-12) is now in 72 U.S. schools, up from 6 schools in 2000. There are currently 171 U.S. schools that offer the Middle Years Programme (ages 11-16), and 520 U.S. schools that offer the Diploma Programme (ages 16-19). The organization was founded in 1968 and currently works with 1,921 schools in 124 countries. It provides a truly international curriculum.
To become an IB school, teachers and administrators go through special training. Curriculum is taught through a transdisciplinary approach. An emphasis is placed on students:
learning to ask challenging questions,
learning how to learn,
developing a strong sense of their own identity and culture, and
developing the ability to communicate with and understand people from other countries and cultures.
Schools can only offer the IB curriculum if they are approved by the organization. Approval takes time and is explained at IB's Web site. Once accepted, schools are reevaluated on a set schedule.
There is a search device on the IB Web site that will allow you to find schools at each level in your area. If you are able to locate a school in your area, you may want to schedule a visit. I highly recommend educating yourself about specific schools and programs years before your child enters that particular level. That way you have time to adequately research and make appropriate decisions.