The sixth post on 21st Century gifted education comes from Brandi Jordan, a former elementary classroom teacher who now homeschools her three children. She is the Managing Director of The Teachers’ Lounge, a Really Good Stuff blog that is dedicated to providing teachers with practical information and resources. She also posts on Twitter as @ReallyGoodStuff.
Although it has been over 20 years, I distinctly remember being given the choice to stay in my current elementary school or transfer to the new magnet gifted program at another school for my fourth grade year. I was one of only three students who were labeled as “gifted” at my current school and, while I enjoyed the once a week special lessons, I was excited about the opportunity to spend a whole day being challenged. So, the next September I found myself in an unfamiliar school with no one I knew and a homeroom that I was pulled out of everyday to go to my gifted class.
We read The Little Prince and did science experiments outside. I remember writing poetry and creating a bound book. However, the thing that I remember most about that year was the transition back into the regular classroom at the end of the gifted program’s day. It was a strange sensation, going back into a room where a community of learners was being built without me, yet where I was expected to fit in. I often wonder what those students thought about those of us who left the classroom at 9am every morning and returned just before lunch.
Although I now homeschool my own children, I taught for almost a decade in the classroom. I got to see how gifted education has changed and how many times, being labeled as gifted was as damaging to a child as any other label. Now some may argue that a gifted label is a blessing or a boon, because it propels a child forward on a path of so called challenging education. I disagree. I think labeling and pulling a child to a gifted class hurts not only them, but the rest of the students in the classroom.
Imagine for a moment that you are ten years old. You are sitting in your fourth grade classroom and suddenly, the child at the desk next to you stands up and leaves the room to go to a special class. A class that you cannot go to. Why? Because you are not smart enough. Now, pretend that you are the child leaving. Everyone knows where you are going and why. Is it an awkward, uncomfortable feeling? Of course it is.
Instead of raising the expectations for all students, gifted education has suggested that the expectations should be lower for some students than they are for others. What does that say to the child who does not go to the gifted class about his potential? Should that influence how the gifted child is educated? I think it should.
Now, understand that I am not suggesting that a gifted child should not be challenged simply because his peers might feel bad. I am suggesting that gifted education move toward a place where all students are given the opportunity to excel within the regular classroom. I am suggesting that we raise the bar for everyone, not just those who have “gifted” stamped on their IEPs.
In Jerry Blumengarten’s article in this series on The Future of Gifted Education, he suggests that real life experiences are more valuable to the field of gifted education than traditional lessons. While I would agree with his statement, I also disagree that this is a method that should be used solely for gifted students. If an internship or a web project challenges and enhances the learning of a gifted student, will it not also do the same for a student without that label?
What would happen if we labeled all of our students as gifted? What would happen if we challenged them all in the same way as we do our gifted students now? While I cannot see the future of gifted education taking this path, I cannot help but feel that we are doing a disservice to all of our students when we do not challenge them in the same way and give them the opportunities that we now reserve only for gifted students.