Monday, September 24, 2012

Taking our Place at the Table

This past weekend, I attended my first board retreat as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association for Gifted Children. The meeting was filled with planning, proposed initiatives and future directions of the NAGC. I listened, observed and contributed.
As I was engaging with the group, I thought about the phrase ‘A PLACE AT THE TABLE’. This phrase was popularized by the publication of a book of the same name, published in 2000 by Teaching Tolerance, which tells the story of unsung heroes, men and women who crossed who crossed ethnic, racial, religious, and other divides to help further the cause of justice.  

At the NAGC convention in 2011, our President, Dr. Paula Olszweski-Kubilius used the phrase as she was discussing a new vision for the NAGC. This new vision has been a source of controversy, but, it has at least ‘stirred’ much-needed discussions about the purpose of NAGC and ‘what we do’ and ‘who we serve’. Not everyone has agreed with the new ‘vision’, but as with any change…we don’t expect everyone to agree! But ‘stirring’ the conversation is necessary if we are going to move in a broader, more inclusive direction. (See this quarter’s special issue of Gifted Child Quarterly for responsive articles- pay special attention to Dr. T.C. Grantham’s article).

So, back to my experience this weekend and how I felt about it- I’ve recently begun using the term ‘take-away’ with my undergrad students as I present research and materials on some of the complex and provocative topics in Diversity Education. I ask them: what do you ‘take-away’ from this information that will help you in the classroom in the future? Applying this to my experience, I’d have to say that my ‘take-aways’ from this weekend can be captured under the header - TAKING OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE’.  As such, I share these six compelling recommendations:

1-      As a group of diversity advocates, whether educators, parents, or community leaders, we must TAKE OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE OF ALL CONVERSATIONS REGARDING HIGH ABILITY, GIFTED LEARNERS from this point forward and be aware of all resources being made available to help teachers and parents.

2-    To TAKE OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE, means we will need to be assertive and seek out information from all sources that will help us gain entry into a field that has been largely the venue of a small, select group of scholars, affluent parents, and practitioners concerned about investing in research and developing programs for gifted students. [Paying attention to gifted education websites, articles, newsletters, conferences are highly recommended, see a few recommendations below].

3-     To TAKE OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE, we must be diligent about seeking out gifted students and advocating for them, not just our own children but anyone’s child who has exceptional abilities and is in need of an alternative education with appropriate supports to enable them to reach their potential. To do this we have to be unselfish and as outspoken for others as we would be for our own.

4-     To TAKE OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE, we must be well informed, and not ‘shy away’ from materials, web postings, educational conferences, articles, organizations which cater to the needs of the ‘gifted population’ just because we don’t necessarily believe in the use of the term ‘gifted’ or the interchangeable use of ‘talent’. [The jury is still out on which term will serve us all best in the future].

5-     To TAKE OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE, we will have to sit side-by-side with some individuals who heretofore may have been ‘the others’, and in some views ‘the enemy’ . Why? Because they have access to services that our children need. In the public school setting, these services are paid for by public funding (as limited as it may be in some settings). So, the phrase ‘strange bedfellows’ comes to mind. We must get over who’s sitting beside us at the dinner table and learn that to be heard and considered we’ve got to BE AT THE TABLE, too. [For more information about state services and funding, see the link below].

6-     To TAKE OUR PLACE AT THE TABLE, we must Advocate, Agitate, and Acknowledge that there are are still many at the table who don’t believe in our children like we do. Some of these folks will always be among us. Our job is to speak louder, more frequently, and with a unified voice so that we will be heard and draw empathizers to us until we eradicate underrepresentation and under-service to diverse gifted learners! Eventually, our EMPATHIZERS will OUTNUMBER THE NAYSAYERS. I believe that! I hope you do, as well.



And related website

Excellent website for parents by the mother of a young, African American male prodigy who attended Morehouse College at 13

Gifted in the States Report , includes a national interactive map, click on your state for more details .

Hoagies Gifted Page: site with up-to-date resources, articles, books, programs, ‘everything gifted’

Multicultural Gifted Education, 2nd Edition: Dr. Donna Ford

National Association for Gifted Children

Parenting for High Potential NAGC publication for families

Special Populations in Gifted Education: Drs. Jaime Castellano and Andrea Dawn Frazier

Teaching for High Potential NAGC publication for educators

Monday, September 17, 2012

Obtaining 'Optimal Effectiveness' for ALL

I'm stirred up and anxious about the state of American education today. I'm particularly concerned about how little attention is paid to the very unique and exceptional needs of gifted learners. {Gifted learners are those for whom the 'regular' classroom setting is simply not enough to engage their cognitive abilities, be sensitive to their emotional development, and enable them to reach their highest potential}

Like many of you, among my concerns are: Teacher strikes, increasing tuition in our nation's colleges & universities, low ranking of American students as compared to their international neighbors, continuing discussions about the importance of high level 'standards', decreased educational funding ---all with students' lives hanging in the balance.

In the midst of all of these challenges and so many more are students who have been and until we change focus, may continue to be:
  • AND SOME EVEN MISIDENTIFIED as everything but high ability/gifted (that's another post-- for another night). These students are those for whom I am most concerned, for these are the students whose learning potential we seem not to regard as important. Or at least not important enough for any consistent special attention...

In a 1959 speech, Dr. Martin D. Jenkins noted that...

'a society that does not give special attention to its most able youngsters will find itself unable to attain its optimal effectiveness'

And so here we are today - without the special attention needed across all groups- unable to obtain our optimal effectiveness...

How did we arrive at this point? I won't dare venture into that 'land' in this limited space~ but, what I will once again note is that there are able youngsters and teens in classrooms who originate from all communities- living in apartment complexes, single family homes, barrios, section 8 housing, on reservations, and in rural communities across this great land we call America.. waiting for us to develop a substantive, long-term plan for obtain OPTIMAL EFFECTIVENESS through an Equitable and Excellent Educational system that provides for the full development of talent among from all communities. As a nation, we not afford to 'pick and choose' who we will identify as 'able' and whose gifts we will 'not' identify and nurture.

Any plan for special attention as Dr. Jenkins called for in 1959 demands that we do better, serve more broadly and share exemplary practices across states and regions.

While there are a number of exemplary programs nationwide that address these needs, there are still TOO MANY HOLES in services and resources, TOO MANY GAPS in funding, TOO MANY able youngsters whose needs are going unmet.

What does special attention provide for?

  • Teachers who are able to use culturally responsive strategies for identifying and nurturing giftedness across ethnic groups, regardless of students' income levels

  • Classrooms that allow for investigative learning, problem-solving, where student-centered learning (not regurgitation of information) is the norm, not the exception

  • High quality books in EVERY school, EVERY public library that represents work by and for readers from all cultural groups, all genders and family types,

  • Saturday morning, evening and Summer programming that will give these learners the 'extra boost' in the Arts & Sciences they crave and need,

  • Access to college readiness experiences and test preparation that is equitable, economical and within reach of all children with the inclination and interest to attend ANY institution of higher education in America and (NOT just for those whose parents can afford  $500-1,000+ test prep workshops),

  • Educators who recognize the challenges inherent in being culturally diverse and gifted in our schools today, including recognition of the greatest challenge of all-- Systemic Discrimination in the form of Low Expectations for children of color and behaviors that continue to perpetuate this challenge, and

  • Families who are equipped to ADVOCATE tirelessly for their children AND schools who invite these families TO THE TABLE in an open and respectful manner day-to-day...

I could go on and on, but I'll stop here for now. Our children and communities depend on more of us taking on this task and becoming advocates for Excellent, Equitable Educational programming for high ability students across all cultures and within all communities. Our children and futures depend on it, anything less would be - in the words of Dr. Jenkins, a 'moral loss' for all..

Many thanks to those of you who understand my concerns and share interests and who are working so hard to reach the optimal effectiveness mark.

In the next few weeks, I will feature exemplary programs on this site. If you are aware of programs as an educator, parent, or supporters,  please share via email and I'll include them here.

Towards Optimal Effectiveness~

Monday, September 10, 2012


Recently in preparation for a new project, I re-read ‘The Case of ‘B’: A gifted negro girl’ published by Paul Witty & Martin D. Jenkins in 1935. I was so moved by the details of their study of this young girl’s brilliance. ‘B’ was one of a number of gifted students that Jenkins located in a predominately black neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1930s. Their interaction with ‘B’ set a precedent for the field of psychological assessment and gifted education. B’s story was the first to be published of a Black student with superior intellectual ability, her measured IQ was 200. In today’s language, B would be categorized as ‘highly or profoundly’ gifted. This was in the early 20th century. The researchers concluded that the ‘B’ was not necessarily alone in her high intellectual capacity and that other Black children could likely be found with similar abilities. I take that to mean, that if we seek them out, they can be found.

That was almost one hundred years ago and today, we are still grappling with the idea and work of finding and nurturing highly intelligent Black gifted children. Something is awry. Like with all cultural groups, from all communities, gifted children do exist, they actually exist everywhere!! If ‘B’ and her other gifted peers could be found in the early 1930s (Jenkins went to assess and write about a number of Black gifted children from similar communities in Chicago and other urban areas), then, certainly these children are among us today!! Below are just a few profiles of such students all across the nation in REAL TIME!!

Sophia & Rebecca: the authors of ‘A world without Chores’:

Sophia & Rebecca are two very bold, courageous & gifted sisters whose parents require them to participate in household chores (like all good parents should do). One day,  they came up with an ingenious idea which led to the writing and publication of an award winning children’s book. These two young authors are homeschooled and getting a great deal of national attention now for this unique and clever look at ‘A world without Chores’. See more about this exceptional book and these two young authors:

Chess Masters before 13!!

Three young men in New York City were featured in the national news for having earning the title of Chess Master before the age of 13! At 12, one of the champions, Justus Williams was the highest rated player of his age and gender group by the U.S. Chess Federation. They are now members of a very elite group of international chess masters having won tournaments and earned this distinction as young adolescents! Nationwide, chess teams enable millions of young people to sharpen their critical thinking skills, their visual spatial abilities and provide outlets for their intellectual abilities.

Amaya’s Dance bus:
A few years ago as a young girl, Amaya had a dream of providing the same type of dance lessons that she has access to for her classmates and neighborhood friends who could not afford private dance lessons. She asked her mother for a school bus that could travel around the community to bring the dance lessons to her friends’ front door…thus, the birth of Amaya’s Dance Bus.  Today, Amaya is a CEO of her own company! She has been interviewed on national talk shows, gained a great deal of respect and attention as an entrepreneur with exceptional compassion. See her extraordinary story here!

Steven Stafford, III
At 13 years old, Stephen Stafford had a choice for his schooling..he opted to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta with a triple major in the sciences. As the youngest student on campus during his freshman year, Stephen was recognizable, but well respected by his college classmates. Stephen is a prodigy. Today, Stephen has been in college for two years and is doing very well. See his story here:

"It is imperative that a child's 'gifted' mind is reflected consistently in his/her environment for optimal developmentFamily/life discussions; emotional bonding; entertainment; talent pursuits  and academics...when in accord makes for an inspired, brilliant student!"
 – M. Brown-Stafford, mother of Stephen Stafford III

Today, I implore you to do your part to advocate for children and youth like this in neighborhoods everywhere. WE CAN ERADICATE UNDER-ACHIEVEMENT OF BLACK STUDENTS AND OTHERS OF DIVERSE GROUPS AND WE CAN ERADICATE UNDER-REPRESENTATION IN GIFTED PROGRAMS ACROSS THIS NATION AND AROUND THE WORLD!! Students just like the ones here are in 'real time' classrooms, households, neighborhoods, waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate their brilliance! They are counting on us!!

Witty, P.A. & Jenkins, M.D. (1935)The Case of “B”—A
Gifted Negro Girl, The Journal of Social Psychology, 6:1, 117-124.