Educating the Gifted and Talented

“People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have.” -John Holt-

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gifted students left behind by structure

Do you have or know a child who is gifted? Is school a good fit for his or her needs, or do lessons seem too easy and repetitious? Material merely based on the acquisition of facts cheats them out of practicing problem-solving and critical and analytical thinking, important skills college professors say are missing in most high school graduates. If schools do not adapt for higher-level thinking needs, many gifted students may never be able to show what they are really capable of.

In the Sept. 15, 1999, Education Week article "Confusing Harder with Better," educator Alfie Kohn mentions that parents often are unhappy about the ease with which their children can finish worksheets, but Kohn writes, "They ought to be complaining about the fact that the teacher is relying on worksheets at all." Author Stephanie S. Tolan, who advocates for highly gifted children, would agree and wrote: "Giving these children simple bits of information is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at a time -- he will starve before he even realizes that anyone is trying to feed him."

Gifted individuals who are creative, can think logically and understand ethics can make valuable contributions to society that could benefit us all. However, such skills and talents and the capacity to care deeply must be nurtured. This is especially important for gifted youths from minority and low socio-economic backgrounds who lack access to enrichment activities that help develop their talents.

Education can and should make a difference, but experts estimate that up to half of all gifted students are intellectually "starved" in school each year. Between 20 percent and 25 percent leave high school without a diploma --and worse, often without their self-esteem and academic self-confidence intact.

More frustration may now come their way in the form of Colorado Senate Bill 73. If passed, it will extend compulsory schooling by two years, from age six to 17! What about capable students who fail high school but could do well in college? Without a diploma they are not eligible for financial aid and have to wait until they can pass the GED exam. Currently that is possible at age 17, but the bill will change it to 18. Much knowledge could be forgotten in a year!

High school students will also be mandated to attend school for 1,056 hours per year. Fully scheduled days without free hours will negatively impact independent study options as well as working or attending college after school. There will be less time for homework and personal interests. In an excellent article about struggling students who fail to complete homework ("If they'd only do their work!" Educational Leadership, Feb. 15, 2006) Sanda Balaban, coordinator of a homework audit, mentioned, "One of the key findings was that many of our students had after-school jobs that impeded their ability to complete work outside of the school day."

Academic excellence should be about quality not quantity, and not be confused with rigor, such as long school days and lots of drill homework just to keep students busy. In reality many intellectually gifted students, especially the highly gifted ones, actually need less of what school mandates. Instead, they need greater freedom and flexibility to explore what is more meaningful and useful to them.

Currently, half-time enrollment is still a possibility in individual cases, which can be a lifesaver for gifted students for whom schooling remains a poor or harmful fit. SB 73 can change all that which is all the more reason for parents to become knowledgeable about how schools can and should meet their gifted students' needs.


  • At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks much for sending your column on g/t in Colorado, as well as the danger inherent in the pending
    legislation to extend the "learning" of high school students. Shortsighted solutions from misinformed noneducators.

    Gotta love politics!

    Thanks again!

    Jim Delisle

    Professor of education at Kent State University in Ohio and a part-time teacher of gifted children in Twinsburg City Schools. He has written When Gifted Kids Don't Have All the Answers (with Judy Galbraith) and Barefoot Irreverence: A Guide to Critical Issues in Gifted Child Education He may be reached at Kent State University, College of Education, Dean's Office, P.O. Box 5190, Kent, OH 44242.


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