My son just finished his first year in a "selective
enrollment school." It is also known as
a "regional gifted center," one of about two dozen public schools in our city that
children need to test into before being accepted.
It sounds crazy, right? Believe me when I say it is. The competition for these slots is fierce and
parents, well, tend to feed into that frenzy. There are many hoops to jump through in the process of getting your
child accepted into one of these coveted schools (forms, deadlines, tests), and
the anxiety runs high.
the kids that are accepted also runs high. Sky high.
If you spend any amount of time online in social media
circles, it is easy to find some of the bias against, and prejudicial thinking towards, children that
fall into the category of "exceptionally smart," not to mention their
parents. "Gifted" is often said in a
sneering tone and is used as code for "having crazy-ass parents who spend way
too much time pressuring their children and who, in the process, rob them of a
childhood." There is a clear stigma
attached to gifted education and, as the parent of a child receiving a gifted
education, it's hard to know what to do with it.
One of the main offenses I've come across is the free
flowing parent-bashing. There are people
who are very vocal about not believing children have the capacity for advanced
learning without an overbearing parent in the background, usually a mom,
demanding and prodding and pressuring their child to perform and improve. "Perform
and improve, dammit!"
in stark contract with some of the other classroom parents I have met this year
who all describe the same thing—raising a child they thought was smart, but that
they never considered to be "gifted." Early readers, early thinkers, insatiable consumers of information from
the first days of toddlerhood. There was
no pushing or prodding involved with that, these are just our kiddos.
One year into my son's K-8 school, I am more grateful than ever to have him receive a gifted education, even with the stigma that goes along with it.
I think it starts with the language we use. "Gifted" has a whole lot of negative
connotations attached to it. It sounds
pretentious and conceited and high strung. There's no disputing that. But
there is also no adequate substitute that has entered the mainstream to
describe these kids or their unique needs. My guess is that the same can be said for children on the other end of
the spectrum. "Remedial" has fallen out
of favor, no doubt because of its own stigma. "Special needs" seems to have become universally accepted language used
to describe children with unique learning challenges.
It is this concept of special needs that might provide a
rationale for gifted education that we as a culture can more fully embrace and
support. If you think about any large
institution or group of people, there are the vast majority in the middle that
are generally well served with services universally provided. And then there
are the outliers—those that do not easily fit into the middle and are not
well served by the universal. From my
point of view, that would involve both ends of the spectrum—those kids that
are overly challenged by a universal approach or those kids who are not
challenged enough by a universal approach.
When you think about gifted education as simply being the
other end of the special needs spectrum, perhaps it becomes less objectionable
to acknowledge that some kids' needs are not always easily met by the universal
approach taken in most classrooms. It
seems to be understood and accepted that children with learning challenges require
a different level of assistance from teachers and should not be denied that
assistance because of their challenges. Why,
then, is it socially acceptable to deny children on the other end of the
spectrum that same specialized assistance and then mock them or their parents on
top of it?
One year into my son's K-8 school, I am more grateful than
ever to have him receive a gifted education, even with the stigma that goes
along with it. The curriculum is
tailored to his needs, the children he is surrounded by mirror his pace and
the idea that the learning expectations are robbing him of a childhood is
absurd. Like most every other
kindergarten kid, special needs or not, when those doors open at the end of the
day, you've got a room full of 5- and 6-year-olds climbing around the
playground like monkeys, happy to run and jump and scream and tussle. They know nothing of what being labeled "gifted"