Friday, July 3, 2015

Our Gifted Youth


I recently read an article entitled America Hates Its Gifted Kids, and I have to say, I was surprised. The original article can be found here. The author makes the argument that "it is no secret that when it comes to education, America gets a D minus." While I could see that statement being true, I do not necessarily agree. And no, it's not just because I'm a teacher.

The article does not simply argue that the American education system is a failure, but also that America is shorting its gifted students of their full potential. This is supposedly caused by all the focus on remedial students as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. According to the article, the gifted students in our education system receive little/no attention because teachers' focus is guided toward the remedial students in hopes of boosting them to average levels, causing the United States as a nation to fall short in international comparison.

In the most recent global test — scored on a 1,000 point scale — the U.S. scored a 481 in math, 497 in science, and 498 in reading comprehension. That’s under 50% on that particular grading scale, so we don’t actually get a D minus. We get an F. According to that test. 

Tests are an incredibly inaccurate assessment of student knowledge, but that’s an argument for another day. The international averages for the same test were 491, 501, and 496. So chill out, because we really aren’t that far behind the average. No, we aren’t China, Japan, or even the Netherlands, who scored within the highest percentiles in each category. But why do we care so much about international comparison? Do we really care about the education of our children, or do we care more about the way we, as a nation, look in comparison to other nations?

I know, everyone wants to be the best, and the benefits of education are huge, even crucial in some cases. But America is known for its national pride, which radiates in everything from its economy to its schooling system. And right now, that education system is shorting the nation of looking good in comparison to other nations, and we will not have it.

Yes, I understand that a strong education is crucial to a nation’s survival. I’m a teacher, for God’s sake. America would not be able to function without the input of great leaders and advanced minds. But let’s take a step back for a moment and look at more immediate results. Our children.

Are they really gifted? Of course they are. All of them are. American educators have struggled for more than 40 years to define giftedness and even now, there is no universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be gifted. That’s because there isn’t one. No, we aren’t all engineers. No, we aren’t all researchers or physicists or on the way to a PhD. But we all have gifts. For some people, it’s art. I know I’m no National Merit Scholar, but if there was one talent I wish I had, I would draw. I’d pick being crafty and artsy over having a brilliant mathematician’s mind any day. For others, it’s people. This is not a stereotype; studies have shown that at least 70% of “gifted” employees do not have the communication skills to hold a job working with the general public. That’s why so many of these “great minds” work alone in their offices. So, are those people really gifted?

The answer is yes. But so are the people who have amazing people skills and didn’t score over a 30 on the ACT. There are lots of problems with the American education system, not just one. With so much focus on the remedial students, yes, the gifted children suffer. But if we start to focus on the gifted to carry our nation, we will leave the remedial alone to discover their gifts and develop their skills because we made them feel hopeless at school and inadequate as students. And most of them will never find these gifts without patient help. But let me present a new question. What’s wrong with being in the average range?

Nothing.

It has always blown my mind that so much focus is given to the gifted and the remedial, and no one even acknowledges the 87% average. Yes. 87%. Remember when they used to call kids out of class in elementary to participate in a gifted and talented program? And the room would clear out at least four or five people? Well, whether you were one of those kids or not, four or five people per classroom is a lot of people! Certainly more than the 8% that classify as “gifted” in high school. By the time these young students reach high school, very few of them have survived in their gifted programs. Is every child gifted by the definition of state standards? Heck no. I sure wasn’t. But does that mean that I (and the other 86.999% of people like me) have nothing to offer this world? Because if that were the case, then why are we even here?

Because the world needs us, too. It needs the artists, the writers, the musicians, the historians, and the kind-hearted. It needs the scientists, mathematicians, and engineers too, but it would not function without us.

On another note... Any mother would be proud of her children, regardless of what they do. But if they get a bumper sticker that says their kid is an honor student, hey, it never hurts! Right?

David Lubinski, a professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, said in a recent news release, “Gifted children are a precious human-capital resource.”

So mothers, how does that sound? How does it make you feel? Not any less proud of your kids, of course; not any less loving, but completely outraged! I love my students like my own children, and if I have learned anything in my studies and experiences, it is that children are not a resource. They are not a mind. They are not a test score.

Children are children. 

Full of imagination, creativity, and an overwhelming desire to learn and understand. And somewhere along the line, education became more about proving yourself on a scantron for the state and nation than the enjoyment of learning. And whose fault is that?

Ours! As teachers, as parents, as administrators and legislators; it is our fault. That we have created such a standard. Not a standard that is unattainable, but a standard that is so feared by students all over the nation that their desire to learn is destroyed. They hate going to school. They look forward to days off because they can either use it to relax to calm themselves of that test they just took, or use it as extra time to study for the next one. They look forward to summers, not because they’re lazy, but because we have destroyed their environment to actively, effectively, and enjoyably learn.

So no, we should not ignore our gifted children. We should teach them, challenge them, and love them the same way we do our other children. And no, we should not ignore our remedial children. We should be patient with them, devote extra time to them, and allow them to excel to the best of their abilities; however far that may be. And no, we should not ignore the average children. We should instruct them, guide them, and let them know they are not alone. With all the attention devoted to the remedial and the gifted, the majority of kids are left to fend for themselves. So maybe the problem is not the attention or neglect of the gifted and remedial, but the fact that not all students are being allowed to flourish.

The standardized system sucks. There’s no other way to put it. It’s too challenging for the remedial, too basic for the gifted, and too boring for the average. Why? Because it’s standardized! Parents, how would you feel if your child’s teacher walked up to you and said that your kid was nothing special? Students, how would you feel if teachers said you had to be just like everybody else? 

That’s what the standardized system calls for. Uniformity. But if no child is the same, how can we expect them to act the same, perform the same, and test the same? We can’t. There is no effective system for accurately measuring students’ knowledge because no student is the same. Each student would have to take a different test, and then the question would become how to compare students to each other.

But maybe we should just take the time to pay attention to them. Maybe a test score is not needed for us to see the areas they excel and the areas in which they need a little push. How can a creative mind who scored a 10 on the ACT be compared to an engineer who scored a 36 when the ACT only tests math, reading comprehension, grammar, and science? So to fix this issue, the ideal solution becomes adding sections to the test to make the exam more well-rounded. But if we made the ACT any longer to include business, strategy, music, art, etc., students would be outraged at the length of the test. The ACT is not an accurate measurement of the student. Neither is the SAT, the Benchmark, the ACTAAP, the IOWA, or any other test for that matter.

So before we go around blaming teachers for neglecting certain students, maybe we should take into consideration the education system that teachers are required to operate under. But whatever your view is of how to fix the American education system, before you shoot your mouth off about it, make sure you’re actively working to make a difference. Instead of gossiping to your friends about how it’s killing your child’s potential or writing articles about what teachers should do when you have no experience with education aside from the fact that you were labeled as a gifted child yourself years ago, why don’t you get off your butt and do something about it? Take action! No, you don’t have to be a teacher who alters all of her lesson plans to save the education of our nation’s youth. But educate yourself on the way the system functions. Find the flaws. Vote for necessary legislation. Elect officers that vow to do everything they can to somehow improve education and remove those that do not. If this problem is really as big as everyone says it is (and believe me, it is), then we should actively be doing something about it.

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