Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why GIFTED Students STILL need GIFTED Education!!

by Joy Lawson Davis

(with Donna Y. Ford & Josh Shaine)

Yesterday I read with dismay and irritation a commentary published in the Washington Post entitled: ‘Why Geniuses Don’t Need Gifted Education’.  After reading I immediately thought of all the gifted children in schools and communities across the nation who may be placed at an even greater disadvantage simply because of the publication of that brief and poorly justified commentary. I also thought of the thousands of times I have in my thirty year career heard a parent, school administrator or teacher say that gifted services were in jeopardy of being dismantled, cut from the budget or reduced to almost nothing all because new leadership were of the mindset that is perpetrated by articles like the one in the Post – that gifted students or ‘geniuses’ as Mathews specified would make it anyway without specially funded, specially designed, specially set-aside services just for them!

My head was spinning after I read the article and I shared feed back with two colleagues (Donna Y. Ford and Josh Shaine) whom I greatly respect and the three of us decided that together we would share our ‘retort’ to the Post article here on this blog hoping that a wide audience would read and respond sharing their feedback as we will do here. We were especially concerned that this article which was written to speak specifically to one type of genius or gifted child- the one who is born in circumstances where it may be likely that parents or school resources (without special services) would be sufficient to nurture and help them develop their high intellectual capacity. The article made absolutely NO MENTION of the genius child who through no fault of his or her own would be born in a household where parents are working day to day to make ends meet, where resources are limited, where the nearest university campus is an hour away, where they may sit in classrooms idling away their genius because ill-trained teachers don’t recognize or respect the gifts they have. Worse, there are some children & youth in communities whose teachers don’t believe that they can even BE GIFTED or PERFORM AT A GENIUS LEVEL.

What about gifted services for those types of geniuses? Those children still need and will probably always NEED GIFTED SERVICES. I will take my position even further to suggest that ALL GIFTED CHILDREN WILL ALWAYS NEED GIFTED SERVICES. Why?

The gifted education classroom for many will be the first and only place that they actually find a set of peers who think like they do, enjoy and have passions like theirs, where they can find a friend and in doing so – find themselves.

And what about Black geniuses? It was obvious that Post article was not making reference to those students. Black geniuses are being discovered and increasingly spoken about. It was Dr. Martin D. Jenkins in the early 20th century who noted that Black gifted students would continuously have difficulties accessing services that are more freely provided their White peers. In his early work, Jenkins and his mentor, Paul Witty studied a black female genius with an IQ of 200. When Mathews mentioned the Termites studied by Lewis Terman in his article, he was certainly not speaking of Black geniuses or even females for that matter!! It is well known that Terman’s study group were white , middle - upper income males (Davis, 2013).

In my work with Black gifted students over the past three decades, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told personally by someone that the gifted program ‘saved me’ or from a parent – the gifted program or the summer enrichment program ‘saved my child’ turned his/her life around…

The gifted education program, well designed and well implemented is the only place a bright, creative student with high energy, and a voracious mind can have opportunities to experiment with ideas, be challenged to think beyond the norm and  be challenged to create new knowledge.

The gifted program, well implemented and accessible to all geniuses, regardless of their ethnicity, can provide a global think tank for gifted children from other cultures, other neighborhoods, and provide opportunities for them to be compete at a level that cannot be provided for in the regular school environment.

I believe there are thousands of genius children and youth who are Black, Brown, some poor, some rural, urban, who are craving Gifted education programming. These young people need more advocates, more attention, more programming- not LESS. As we compete globally and recognize that our students in the U.S. are not performing to up to par with their foreign neighbors, this is hardly the time to say: GENIUSES DON’T NEED GIFTED EDUCATION!

Josh Shaine provides key pluses and minuses in the Mathews commentary here: https://www.facebook.com/joshshaine/posts/10100181937811968?notif_t=like

While there may be some geniuses who may fare well independently, we believe that for most - special programs in public schools, support programming funded by private entities like the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Oliver Scholars Programs, SEED program, University programming (summer, after school, early college, etc), State and regional Governor’s schools (like those in VA and NC) are GREATLY NEEDED.

From where we sit, gifted children need more!! We are under-serving students of color, poor students, rural students, urban students at astronomical rates (Ford, 2013). We MUST DO BETTER! WE MUST SERVE THESE CHILDREN AND MEET THEIR NEEDS FOR INTELLECTUAL, ACADEMIC, AND CREATIVE CHALLENGE. Less programming, less attention to the geniuses in America’s communities is definitely NOT the answer!!

For more reading:

Davis, J.L. (2013). Martin D. Jenkins: A Voice to be Heard. In A. Robinson & J. Jolly (Eds), Illuminating Lives: A century of contributions to gifted education. New York: Routledge Press.

Ford, D.Y. (2013). Recruiting and retaining culturally different students in gifted education. Waco: Prufrock Press.