Gifted: Who You Are or What You Do? Part 2

Nature Vs NurtureIn part 1, I outlined the two broad models of giftedness; gifted as child development and gifted as achievement/talent development. Now to air my views!

I can’t help feeling that the move to talent development is partially politically motivated. The term “gifted” comes with a perception of elitism and all sorts of negative baggage. It is very difficult to describe the child development concept to people who have already decided that you think your child is somehow better than theirs and everyone else’s. It can come across a bit woolly and vague.  How much easier and more palatable to sell it as a concept whereby anyone can be gifted, if only they have the right environment? Not only that, but look: we can clearly demonstrate the giftedness and, we will produce the future saviours of the world to boot. That might not only make the educational powers-that-be sit up and take notice, it might even attract funding.

As a parent, I have several issues with this.

1. Where, in this talent development model, is there any recognition for the asynchronous development of my child? Of their inescapable feeling of not fitting in, of being somehow out-of-sync? No matter how you try, you cannot escape this issue. It is one of the first topics that parents will bring up at support groups meetings. And, no harm to all the academics, but we live with these kids. We know how they feel.

2. I absolutely, 100%, believe that each and every child should be encouraged and supported to develop their talent to the full. That, to my mind, is not a gifted thing at all. I would love this approach to be taken in school as a whole and I’m sure my children would have benefited. However, it would not have addressed their different social and emotional needs and it is the lack of awareness and understanding of those which caused most of my kids’ difficulties.

3. I take issue with the idea that it is only the gifted who will be the future leaders and cancer-curers of the world. No doubt, some of them will. But you don’t need to be gifted to do that. You need a certain level of intelligence coupled with drive, motivation and hard work. Many gifted kids don’t have that and may never achieve as highly as we might hope. And, why should they be obliged to save the world anyway? Why can’t they just be perfectly happy, productive and non-eminent members of society? What’s wrong with being a great teacher, paramedic, stay-at-home mother? Why is eminence the be-all-and-end-all of everything?

4. Is the talent development model not, paradoxically, more elitist? In a system where we are cutting funding to education right, left and centre, how much funding will be available for talent development programmes? Will it not be the children of pushy parents with money, who will be most likely to be identified because their parents can afford the extra classes and the best equipment and will do whatever it takes to have their children noticed? Where does it leave the less financially and socially advantaged?

5. Where do the twice exceptional children fit in? Gifted children with a learning difficulty may not be able to perform to the standards required for inclusion in talent development programmes. That’s not to say that they are particularly well provided for as it is, of course.  Just as I finished writing this, the NAGC released a new position statement on recognising 2e children.

Dr James Webb, who is indeed an eminent individual in the field of giftedness, says of the new NAGC shift to talent development, hold on there a minute, you may have missed some of it. It’s not all about talent development. Social and emotional issues are not left out, there just wasn’t room to discuss them in the summary of the paper. Well, to me, the priority was summed up in that statement: “the goal of gifted education is eminence”.

In The Phenomenology of Giftedness , Linda Silverman discusses the child development model of giftedess and outlines its importance and fairness. She warns against “the child being missed completely in [these] performance-driven conceptions”. In this rather scathing article To Be or To Do? Is A Gifted Child Born Or Developed?,  Jim Delisle wonders if, in striving to be politically correct, have we diluted Gifted and Talented education too far.

Most parents of gifted children want nothing more than for their children to grow up happy, fulfilled and independent. Eminence would be nice, I guess (let’s be honest), but it is certainly not our goal. We, like our children, are frustrated by the lack of intellectual challenge offered in school and we believe that it is this lack of challenge which often leads to behavioural difficulties. However, we also recognise that, within the current system, it is extremely difficult for a teacher to meet these needs. I personally feel that, if there was more widespread understanding of the child development theory of giftedness, our children might be less likely to be damaged by being forced to conform to a system that treats all children alike. There is definitely interplay between the two and both aspects are needed,  but I would prefer the emphasis to be on my child’s psychological well being with talent development coming second. 

In Ireland we have no official recognition for gifted children in our education system. We have not adopted any model of giftedness. In other words, we have a clean canvas. In the absence of any central organisation or association, this may be a challenge, but we really do need to get our heads together, assess what has been done elsewhere, decide what would work best here and come up with a plan. If we sit about for long enough, we run the risk of someone else’s model being foisted upon us by some committee on a box-ticking mission. We need input and perspectives from parents, teachers, students and psychologists. Any volunteers?

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