Talented and Gifted Controversy

Sep 16, 2019 by

There is needless strife surrounding the proposed abolition of traditional “gifted and talented” programs in our schools. In my experience, they have been sometimes been created mostly to pander to pushy parents who fantasize their kids having a leg-up in the race to bourgeois prosperity.

Although the exceptions were innumerable, they were also anecdotal. Most of the kids in the “Special Progress” classes that I taught ( and in which I was briefly placed in middle school as a student) were not particularly happy in their studies and felt exploited and occasionally embarrassed by their parents.

Not uncommonly they crashed and burned in subsequent years.

It is ridiculous that a single test determines placement in a talented and gifted class ( or perhaps any other as well).  To some degree it’s true that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck,–it’s a duck”. Talent is unmistakable in its natural state. But although there still must be criteria for placement of kids, the problem is that subjectivity is essential and yet is the enemy at the same time.

Placement shouldn’t be based solely on interviews and teacher recommendations, because that invites dishonesty, even if driven by the best of intentions.

Why do we need those special designations anyway?  We don’t need “Talented and Gifted” classes.  We just need classes that do the best work on the highest level possible.

Titles like “talented and gifted” are largely arbitrary.

Evey class should be grouped homogeneously but with some flexibility, not too stringently defined, to allow for some members who didn’t quite meet the criteria for placement. Teaching should be on the highest level and students should be pushed to their limits while strengthening their morale with encouragement.

When I was in high school, I failed all academic subjects and barely scraped through my senior year with the lowest passing grade, achieved largely by quasi-authorized means. Still, because of other factors that recommended me, I got called “gifted” ( informally and in hushed tones, of course) I almost squeaked through the admissions process at Bard College, which has Harvard-like standards but held some spots open for “non-achievers” like me.

I was too extreme a case, but it was close. I was denied by a small margin on appeal. 

In New York City, once again political issues have been defined in educational terms, or is it vice-versa?  There is an uproar over the suggested moratorium on new “talented and gifted” classes. It is generated by  a perception that they are in effect segregated by race and socioeconomic status.

All classes should be color-blind. That means in the selection process and finally on roster.  Their designation is irrelevant.  We need inspired, ingenious, diligent teachers and disciplined, driven, confident kids and everything will fall into place, provided the parents are engaged also.

If it’s done right, everything will fall into place and there will be greater racial equity in the distribution of students. The tests that have been used simply aren’t attuned to their purpose.

Curriculum should should include representation from across the board of cultures.

If there were the right kind of pressure ( not the sort that thrust standardized tests on schools and sought to link them to teacher and student evaluations) , the pressure that produces the intoxicating effect of victory over challenges, (such as world-class athletes understand), then nobody would be able to tell the difference between “talented and gifted” classes and classes where everyone was simply doing the very best they could.

The teachers union wants every class to be run as though each kid is talented and gifted, to the greatest realistic extent possible. They want all kids to experience the ecstasy of moving the goalposts of their potential every upward.

Let’s stop with the labeling and just act as though all kids are gifted and talented.  That action plan is a “self-fulfilling prophecy” waiting to happen.

“Talented and Gifted” is hardly more than education jargon. Just another example of the DOE’s sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors. A political football using language.

Every classroom is alive with talent. We just need to animate it. We do not know from which students will leaders and geniuses in any sphere, despite early promise or lack of it. 
So let’s hedge our bets, cover all bases, and assume that every classroom in all our 1800 schools is nurturing the next genius of the world.

We couldn’t go wrong.

Ron Isaac

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