Saturday, March 23, 2013

WALKING 'THROUGH THE DOORS' OF GIFTED EDUCATION


'There comes a day in your life when you must act for others...and you must be ready. You must be bold, have courage and walk through a door that leads to opportunity for others' 

-Vivian Malone, class of 1965, first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama


Last week, I had the distinct and humbling pleasure of visiting Tuscaloosa, Alabama to share the James P. Curtis Lecture to commemorate the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Desegregation of the University of Alabama. The event and others that will follow began as a recognition of the day in 1963 when the former Governor George Wallace ‘stood at the door’ on the campus of the university to keep Black students from attending the university. His ‘gumption’ on that day has became a part of history and was also momentum to give courage to two students- Vivian Malone and James Hood to enter the University and be role models for generations of Alabama students and others across the nation and around the world. Malone & Hood stood up for themselves in 1963 and entered the University, risking their lives in doing so (it is also important to note that another student, Autherine Lucy was admitted to the University in 1956, however because of fear for her  life, she only remained there three days. All three students' stories are included in the timeline, see the  link below).

I was deeply touched to walk the campus of the University of Alabama, think about the experiences of the early African American graduates and faculty and stand in front of 'the door' last week on campus. The experience touched a chord in my spirit and encouraged me to keep this advocacy effort going. We all have so much to learn from this historical event.  The courage demonstrated by Malone, Hood and so many others after them was remarkable. Those students knew they were just as capable as any student currently attending the university and that they deserved an opportunity to be admitted and pursue their dreams.

Today we are having same fight with different players with potential for a different outcome. Today the players are gifted children from culturally diverse groups around the nation fighting to be recognized and provided access to gifted education and advanced learner programs and classrooms where they are equally capable of succeeding in, yet not as likely to have access to. (One caveat~nationwide, we are hearing more and more about efforts districts, parents, and educators are making to improve gifted education services for ALL students- these efforts are encouraging, but the battle is not yet over).

Gifted education advocates, this is a clarion call for  all of us to learn a lesson from history. Learn that just as Vivian Malone & James Hood determined it was their time to ‘come through the doors’ of the University of Alabama. It is now time for ALL high ability/gifted children & youth, regardless of their ethnic group, family income, or background to also ‘come through the doors’ of gifted education.

We must learn to use what our ancestors demonstrated- the same guts, bravery, gumption, courage and wisdom to get what they knew they deserved. No one has the right to stand in front of doors to stop our children from entering classrooms where the instruction is delivered in a more challenging, creative manner, where they can have access to resources and materials so they can reach their full potential.

Just as it was a moral imperative to force Gov Wallace to move from in front of those doors in Alabama fifty years ago, it is as imperative that we WORK TO OPEN DOORS IN GIFTED EDUCATION TODAY!  If we want equitable access to gifted programs, those of us who have the skills and information, must be generous in sharing information to ensure that all children have equitable access to gifted education classrooms and schools across the nation.  

A few tips to help open the doors:

Ø Form coalitions of community organizers, educators, and families to address this issue locally. Place equity in gifted education as your primary goal. Develop  a plan of action with goals, objectives and activities to accomplish your goals.

Ø Share resources, tips, brochures and other informational sources to help parents/families know the ‘rules of the game’. Use different venues to share materials to reach all of your audiences (don’t assume that everyone has easy access to technology).

Ø When you hear information about enrichment programs, take the information to community gathering places like houses of worship, barber shops, beauty salons, community centers, athletic events to share. There are  many, many other highly able children in our communities whose families NEVER  hear information about special programs.

Ø Almost every state in the nation has a state organization for gifted children whose members are professionals and nonprofessionals with interest in gifted education.  Find out the NAME OF YOUR STATE’S ORGANIZATION, GET DATES FOR REGIONAL OR STATEWIDE CONFERENCES, attend the conference, pay membership dues, actively participate on committees.

We have a great history of civil rights movements in our nation. Together, we can conquer this problem using civil rights actions as an example of how to defeat a major problem in our society. Under-representation in gifted education is a major problem in our society today just as desegregating the University was fifty years ago in Alabama! The role models are before us.

Today, a magnificent tower stands on the campus of the University of Alabama to mark the place where protesters stood to keep Black students off campus. The tower is just across from the doors where Gov Wallace stood to block their passage into educational buildings. The tower is there today to demonstrate their courage and recognize the success of the action on the part of the students who believed they had a right to attend the University of Alabama. The doors are open now and students of every ethnic group move around freely on campus.

Join advocates of full equity and access in gifted education in ‘opening the doors’ so that ALL children who are capable and in need of gifted education services can walk right in!!!!

For more information about the University of Alabama’s 50th anniversary and to see an outstanding photo-timeline of the University’s historical desegregation activities, go to: http://www.throughthedoors.ua.edu/

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. JOY LAWSON DAVIS, Ed.D. 

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