Monday, February 27, 2012

To track or not to track.

I am a major advocate of gifted education. 

There.  I said it. 

I think some students are simply smarter than others and those students should be catered to just as any other “special” student population is catered to.  “Gifted” students learn differently, think differently and have different needs than their more mainstream counter-parts and those needs are not met in a heterogeneous classroom with students spanning four and five grade-levels of ability.

Some say that we shouldn’t be pouring resources into students who are going to succeed academically even if left to their own devices.  They claim that “gifted” programs are just more enrichment for already enriched middle- and upper-class, white kids. 

The first claim is patently untrue when between 18 and 25% of gifted students drop-out of school.  This statistic is very similar to the rest of the entire student population.  Can you imagine?  Because of our lack of awareness and differentiated curriculum a quarter of the absolute best and brightest of our society will enter the workforce, or not, without a high school diploma! 

As for the latter claim, I do believe that it is true that middle- and, of course, upper-class students are set up to succeed with standardized tests, which is the most common method of identifying gifted students.  Not only do children from higher socio-economic statuses experience more enriching and healthy environments from in utero onward but most of the contextual questions are geared toward the suburbanite and leave the urban and rural dwelling kids at a loss. 

An elementary teacher who spent nine years teaching in Gambell, Alaska told me that her students, on a state-mandated standardized test, were given pictures of a whale, a cat and a cow and told to circle the one that they eat.  The students in Gambell DO eat one of the three on a regular basis but it AIN’T the cow or the cat. 

Successful spring whale hunt in Gambell

So even if they've changed the names on the tests in the last decade and now Jamaal and Constancia are part of the story, what do Billy Ongtooguk and Anna-May McCoy know from breaking ten dollar bills at the mall after getting off a 15 mile train ride?  Details like that make a huge difference, especially to younger kids who are, possibly, left to wonder why a splitting moll needs so much money.

In a recent class we were being led in a debate over a hypothetical “case study.”  Students from a poor, urban environment were being bussed into an affluent, suburban school in order to raise their test scores.  The principal of that school did not integrate the students into the rest of the student body, however.  He kept them together in isolated classes in an isolated wing in order to, he said, give them time to adjust and to bring their scores up to par before mixing them with the rest of the population.

Controversy over busing has occurred since its inception.

A teacher from the kids’ previous school had transferred with them and the question of the case study was “What obligation, if any, did she have to those students and to her new principal?”

I was struck at how my class worked and weaseled to try to figure out how Ms. Blah-blah could get those kids a fair shot in the school when my thought was WHY are we trying to integrate those hard-working, blue-collar kids into a population of snotty, entitled, shallow, sheltered, materialistic brats?  Why on earth do we believe that their middle and upper class, white culture is desirable?  What is it about that culture that raises those kids’ test scores?  The nice classrooms?  The new jeans?  The grassy playing field?  Isn't this program just another form of the BIA's relocation program?

What makes the difference is that those little suburbanites have probably never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from, if they’re going to make it home safely after school and they've had books in their pudgy, white fingers from the time they could eat their Gerber Strawberry-Apple Puffs.

Plus the entire curriculum of this nation and every test that those suburbanite white kids will ever take has been written glorifying the lifestyle that they lead.   A pathetic, hamster-wheel, lifestyle with agiant carbon footprint which is desiccating the whole rest of the planet….

There is also the argument against tracking which cites the Pygmalion or Rosenthal Effect saying that if a teacher expects a group of students to do better, the group of students will do better.  The self-fulfilling prophecy, a major logical fallacy in the education realm, ensures that students ABSOLUTELY will meet our expectations, no matter how high or how low we set them.

On the OTHER hand, one size DOES NOT fit all!!!  Being careful to teach to the center so that there are no "winners" or "losers" makes EVERYONE a loser.  To paraphrase Bill Gates, in what area of life is it true that there are no winners and losers?  In what human activity should effort not bring pay-off?  And, honestly, does everyone really deserve a high school diploma?  Maybe if Americans in general, Alaskans in specific, were allowed to wrap their minds around the work and lifestyles that NOT having a GED or a diploma brings we could A) stop importing so many low-paid workers from Russia and Central America and B) encourage more students to finish secondary school.

But think about this:  People say "Gosh, our method of evaluating students is classist.  We'd better get rid of it." 

By "it" they, of course, mean the classism, right? 

Isn't that interesting!?!  We would rather focus on changing our methods of education and evaluation than try to address the very real issues that are ACTUALLY causing the problems!  Those problems being that lots of little kids don’t have decent health care, food to eat or education! 

How about that!?!

You see, I knew if I put my big brain on this problem for long enough (my big brain whose most intellectually stimulating thing in her childhood home environment was reruns of Star Trek and who remembers fighting her little sister for scraps of RABBIT), I'd figure out how to get rid of this stupid argument over "tracking" vs. "inclusiveness."  What we ACTUALLY need is Universal Health Care for pregnant women and kids... check.  Good food for growing kids... check.  And universal Pre-K for 3 and 4-year-olds...  ALMOST check.

Now, unless my anti-tracking professors are trying to say that kids from lower socio-economic status are genetically incapable of (according to the Federal Jacob Javitz Act defining the identification of gifted students):

·         Scoring two standard deviations above the mean in an Intelligence test which has been modified to be not culturally specific
·         And/OR performing in the top 97th percentile in a similarly modified standards based assessment test
·         And/OR show excellent academic achievement via grade point average
·         And/OR become precociously skilled at an artistic endeavor
·         And/OR show exceptional leadership skills
·         And/OR be recommended by a teacher or a parent for a gifted program,

I think we may be on to something.

Friday, February 17, 2012


This week’s assignment for The History and Sociology of Education featured the first five chapters of Feinberg and Soltis’ School and Society (Boo!) and the first three chapters of Gladwell’s Outliers (Yay!).  I was immediately reminded of my dislike for sociology and was impressed with the apparent inconsistency and hypocrisy embedded in our “Foundations of Education” curriculum.  (No blame on our lively and well-educated professors.)

To set up a bit of context here, sociology (the study of our society) consists of three basic, usually competing theories.  They are:

·         Functionalism:  The idea that every cultural phenomenon serves a purpose which is to the greater good of the culture.
o   Example:  Public school serves our culture’s need to transition children from dependents into producers and to reaffirm our cultural identity.

·         Conflict Theory:  Every cultural phenomenon serves to reinforce the existing power structure of society.
o   Example:  Public school serves to reinforce cultural bias which privileges, rich, white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant males.

·         Interpretivism (also Symbolic-Interactionism):  All the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players.  They have their entrances and their exits and, in his time, one man may play many parts.  (Or something like that.)
o   Example:  Public school helps us learn to interpret our role in society.

The major problem with all three of these theories (SI to a lesser extent) is that they presuppose 1) the linearity of history, 2) the inevitability of cultural “evolution” & 3) that we, our culture, “modern,” Western Industrial (or are we post-modern, post-industrial?) society is the apex of what a group of people can achieve.  Meaning the best, ultimate, most desirable.

What did Mahatma Gandhi say about "Western Civilization?"  He said it would be a good idea.


Here we are, spending a third of our time in a class called Native Issues in Education which focuses on the trouble Alaska Native students (who make up 25% of Alaska's student population) have in our public school system when the primary trouble they have is the THRUST of the other two classes!  Reconcile that in your noggin!

What is the primary purpose of school? 

Noah Webster, author of The Blue Back Speller and, later, Webster’s Dictionary considered the primary purpose of state funded public education to indoctrinate American students into an American culture.  “America,” as in, “The United States of,” barely existed at that point.  Webster felt strongly that educating the youth via traditional (ie English, as in God Save the King England English) methods would undermine the Revolution that our little colony had just fought and won.  He wanted the first words of babes in the cradle to be “Washington.”

Father, I cannot tell a lie...  This story was fabricated by a journalist promoting Washington for president.

If you’re not already troubled by the picture I paint, fast forward a generation or two.  In the mid-eighteen hundreds there was a massive influx of Irish immigrants into the cities of New England, particularly New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  At that time, our nation was experiencing many reforms which included labor laws to keep children out of factories and compulsory education laws. 

The compulsory education law was troublesome for the Irish-Catholic immigrants as the overtly Protestant public education system sought to undermine children’s faith in Catholicism and purposefully described Ireland and her descendants in the most insulting ways possible.  A Catholic Bishop who came to be known as Dagger John became the advocate for state funding for private catholic schools (the first “charter” school movement).  Because people were so outraged at the idea of the government funding a religious institution, a proposition diametrically opposite to the principles of our founding, the compromise was that the state would not fund any religion in public schools.

Future Archbishop of New York Dagger John Hughes

So…  How do we educate Ireland out of the Irish?  How do we assimilate these immigrant children into a greater American Society?  What does it mean to be an American?

These questions are very real.  They have been and continue to be asked all around the country.  Your children are currently in an institution that has asked those questions, come up with an answer and is indoctrinating its beliefs into your kids!

With these questions we successfully eradicated most of the Indian languages (and, therefore, cultures) native to this continent with three generations of BIA Indian Schools.

These students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania are examples of students who were forcibly taken from their families, shipped hundreds of miles across the country, beaten for speaking their language and trained to be factory workers.

How do you feel about homeschooling now?

Michel Foucault will be remembered as one of the greats in twentieth century philosophy.

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, came up with a very interesting idea called “institutionality.”  That concept is to encompass the way different aspects of our culture reinforces the dominant ideology of the culture.  For instance, the Dick and Jane series of primary school readers, shows Jane in a dress, helping mom, as an audience for the active Dick who is most often engaged in active play and getting in trouble.  This is a prime example of how our school, while in the process of teaching children to read, is also in the process of indoctrinating little boys and girls in proper ways to appear and behave.

Oh, oh, see Jane.  Good little Jane.

Teachers, as products of our culture, are not immune to the effects of institutionality and, by their own actions, perpetuate cultural norms.  Why are girls more likely to experience math anxiety and not do well in science?  There are many theories, one of which is that teachers, believing that boys will do better, encourage boys more in those subjects.  There was a classic study done on teachers, testing whether a teacher’s belief in a student’s ability would effect that students ability to perform. 

As it turns out…  OhYeah.  (It's called the Pygmalion Effect or the Rosenthal Effect.  Look it up.)

So, to get back to the point, on the one hand, we are being taught that the reason why our educational system is failing 25% of our student population (ie Native Alaskans) is that the way our culture learns, teaches and behaves is completely foreign to those students way of being.  On the other hand, we are being taught that the curriculum, the body of information which it is our job to impart to our students, is merely the agar in which our ideology festers.  We are being taught that it doesn’t matter what we teach kids, as long as the way we teach them is imparting the social mores and cultural norms that someone has decided they should learn. 


Add that to the fact that, as it turns out, the Native ways of learning and knowing have been found be scientific research in cognitive and behavioral psychology to be far superior to our classic “Western” methods.  Nice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

P.I.L.Y. People Inside Love You

In the mid-1990’s researchers in the fields of psychology and education began to understand that students who are under emotional duress are not going to be optimal learners.  Whether it is because of difficult home environments, neighborhood violence or conflicts at school, children who have most of their energies focused on day to day survival don’t have a lot left over for algebra and U.S. History.

Psychologists published a work titled Promoting Social and Emotional Learning:Guidelines for Educators which has since inspired a variety of curricula being introduced across the country.  The links provided here are worth the time to look up.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a systematic approach to “prosocial” survival strategies for children in school.  The statistics (according to the stupidly expensive text) show a remarkable improvement in academic performance and a giant drop in behavioral referrals for schools that have implemented these kinds of programs:

·         50% of students show increased test scores
·         38% of students show increased GPA’s
·         28% drop in behavioral referrals
·         A rise in rates of attendance

The three “essential principles” of SEL are:

1.       Learning requires a foundation of caring relationships
2.       Emotions dictate what we learn and how we learn it
3.       Students who can set goals and problem solve will have more success in school and in life.

Within these programs teachers are encouraged to work the following concepts into classroom management and academic activities whenever possible:

·         Communication skills
·         Self-control and appropriate expression of emotion
·         Empathy and perspective-taking
·         Conflict resolution
·         Problem solving
·         Respect for others and appreciation of diversity.

For the last couple of years an irritatingly obscure acronym was posted on the entrances to our local PreK-8 school.  “P.I.L.Y.”

Give yourself a minute to try and figure out what that stands for.  Go ahead.  Wander around a little bit, maybe…  Ready to rip the sign off the door and feed it to the cat?  Yeah.

P.I.L.Y. printed in big black letters on red paper and scotch taped to the inside of all the building’s entrances was to stand for “People Inside Love You.”  While I get a little skeezed out by all that sort of stuff, the principles of prosocial engagement and Social Emotional Learning are carried out by making sure that students understand that school is a safe place for them to learn with peers who accept them and from adults who care about their best interests and their future.

Personally, I try to skip the team-building and pep-rally activities whenever possible.  I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day dissecting my aversion to intimacy and my other random displays of anti-social behavior, however, it seems pretty clear to even me that a kid who feels safe and happy in a classroom environment is going to have an easier time learning.

All that being said...  Raise your hand if you've ever made a student cry....  Ah, yes.  You there, in the back row reading Bukowski....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gems from the Rubbish: Some thoughts on the History of Gifted Education in America

Wordle: Gifted Education

Thomas Jefferson viewed public education as a chance to create an educated democracy.  He felt a basic grammar school system would be educators chance to "rake the gems from the rubbish" in order to create a meritocracy in the U.S.

My Educational History and Sociology homework this week shook out to this.  Enjoy.
(Click on the floaty ballons to read the timeline entries.  Move the sliders to the right and left to zoom into a time period.)

As with most controversies in public education, gifted education has experienced shifts in official policy treatment and public opinion over time.  In nearly 150 years of treatment, gifted education in the United States has alternately languished in the backwaters of public opinion and federal funding and been on the cutting edge of national crisis.  A lack of basic understanding of giftedness and the gifted student and an inordinate cultural bias against the intellectual elite continues to keep gifted education in the periphery of education.  Without advocacy, giftedness will continue to be misunderstood and underserved.

            As with most of our social sciences, education, a branch of psychology, came out of the flowering of rational thought that occurred in the nineteenth century.  Unfortunately, this was also the height of colonialism as the United States and Great Britain dominated the world and exploited the people and resources of it.  Psychology and anthropology were, at the time pseudo-sciences, hardly more than philosophies, which sought to justify the natural, and therefore justified dominance, of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.  It is not surprising, therefore, that much of the early work in intelligence found that males of WASP background were the only gifted worth mentioning. (NAGC, 2008)
            The first empirical method of measuring intelligence came when Lewis Terman published the Stanford-Binet IQ test in 1916.  This test was used to route doughboys, after the onset of World War I in 1917, into “alpha” and “beta” groups. (NAGC, 2008)  The test seemed to measure an individual’s abilities through the lens of cultural bias rather than an individual’s capabilities, however.
            While some effort had been made to establish gifted education in cities such as St. Louis, New York, San Diego and Chicago, the first real national-level interest in gifted education came in 1954 with the formation of the National Association of Gifted Children in Washington D.C (Jolly, 2009, NAGC, 2008).   In their 2010 position paper, the NAGC says:
Policy makers should be aware that the gifted persons described here will comprise a large proportion of the leadership of the next generation in the arts, sciences, letters, politics, etc.  If we provide this group with a mediocre education we doom ourselves to a mediocre society a generation forward.  Educators know how to provide an excellent education for these students, but it will not happen by accident or benign neglect.- (NAGC Gifted Terminology Task Force, 2010)

The NAGC still serves as an advocacy and support group and a clearinghouse of information on the education of gifted and talented children. 
            The 1950’s were a golden age in gifted education as the United States sought to compete with the Soviet Union in the arms and space races.  In her report on the urban gifted programs, VanTassel-Baska says, “the launch of Sputnik translated to a veritable windfall for gifted education.” (VanTassel-Baska, 2010, p. 39)  As America closed the technology gap and the Civil Rights Era and Brown v The Board of Education came to the forefront, the biases of gifted education and intelligence tests put gifted education onto the back burner and it wasn’t until the federally published Marland Report of 1972 that the term “gifted and talented” was even officially defined. (NAGC, 2008)
            The Reagan Revolution of the 1980’s saw the public education system come under fire in the interests of privatization.  A Nation at Risk was published criticizing public schools for their lack of academic rigor and their emphasis of egalitarianism over excellence in education for gifted students.  The funding cuts and promotion of charter schools and voucher systems did nothing to address the lack of options for gifted students in already underrepresented communities of girls, poor and minority students. (Jolly, 2009)
            In 1988 Congress passed the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act is passed to provide special competitive grants to fund gifted programs on a state level.  Two years later, in 1990, an extension of this program opened up the National Research Center for the Gifted and Talented in four college campuses across the nation.  This created a brief flowering of gifted programs across the nation.  No Child Left Behind in 2002 quashed whatever gains gifted education had made, however, when the buzz word became “proficiency” rather than “excellence.”  Ironically, NCLB specifically addresses the special needs of gifted and talented students, expands the Javits act and redefines giftedness as:
Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.- (NAGC, 2008)

However, gifted education remains neglected as state and local school systems struggle to meet the other requirements of NCLB.
Controversy:  Equity vs. Excellence
            Should resources be poured into making sure that all students have an equal chance at the same education or should resources be focused into helping the best and the brightest be all that they can be?  This dilemma plagues the United States and its educational system and seems so deeply entrenched that overcoming its polarity seems unimaginable.  Many education specialists point toward the prosocial effects of egalitarianism and “mixed” classrooms with students of various levels of ability and capability working together.  Carol Ann Tomlinson, an expert on gifted students, says that the use of mixed classroom causes issues due to the “inordinate use of [gifted] learners as ‘junior teachers’” in scaffolding scenarios.  She says that teachers need to “move away from cooperative learning as a ‘savior’ strategy.” (Tomlinson, 1995)
            Many teachers would resent the implication that they take advantage of certain students but only a misunderstanding of what it means to be gifted could account for the continued push toward heterogeneous classrooms despite research which clearly shows that acceleration and pull-out strategies are optimal for gifted students. (Cloud, Badowski, Rubiner, & Scully, 2004)  Only a continued fear of intellectual elitism could account for the ubiquitous lack of service for gifted students in our nation.  As John Cloud writes in Time:
“Americans don’t seem to have any problem with teenagers who show genius in sports (LeBron James) or entertainment (Hilary Duff).  But we have a deeply ambivalent relationship with intellectually gifted kids.”

Educators couch their concerns in terms of worry over the emotional and social well-being of a gifted student who might be stigmatized by their label or skipped ahead into classes beyond their maturity level, statistics, however, show that acceleration does not have lasting negative effects on students. (Jolly, 2009)  Reporting done in Time magazine explores the controversy surrounding acceleration has found that patently untrue according to all research dating back to the 1960’s. (Cloud, Badowski, Rubiner, & Scully, 2004)
            Another aspect of the equity vs. excellence dilemma is the emphasis on the social and emotional learning of middle school kids.  Due to the emphasis on adolescent emotional health in middle school curriculum in light of student assimilation into a “learning community,” educators need to be made aware of the special needs of gifted students, particularly girls and students from diverse cultural backgrounds.  These students are often at risk of being targeted by peer pressure in a different way than other students.  Tomlinson describes the tension between the philosophy of middle school education and the philosophy of gifted education as a difficulty with “fostering development of high-end excellence” at the same time as it provides access to education for all learners.  She proposes that educators can solve this problem by planning “for both personal excellence and equity of access to advancement for all learners who are at risk, including those who are gifted.” (Tomlinson, 1995)
            Tomlinson claims that there is a basic problem about what constitutes appropriate middle school curricula.  She says that the entire thirty year history of middle school has been one placing importance on school environment as a safe area for social and emotional development and that, as a result, the importance of academic achievement has been lessened.  Her suggestions for alleviating this issue can be boiled down to refusing to buy into “theories that present middle school students as incapable of high level thought and complex learning” and using “best practice” curricula and methodology for all students. (Tomlinson, 1995)
            Some educators believe that after a child enters high school the availability of honors and A.P. courses negate the need for pull-out services.  Berger describes this period as a very critical time for gifted students who often need more intensive counseling and career development.  She says that counseling should ensure that “students learn that college planning is part of life career development” and that “it need not be a finite even that begins and ends mysteriously or arbitrarily.” (Berger, College Planning for Gifted and Talented Youth, 1989)  She contends that a gifted student may more keenly feel the import of the transition from high school to college and will continue to need extra emotional and social support in order to make that transition smoothly. 
            Because of its roots in racism, even modern intelligence testing and screening for gifted programs get a bad rap from those vigilant for the equity of today’s public school system.  Frank Yekovich’s 1994 review of the literature discusses the problems with both the definition of intelligence and the application of intelligence tests.  He says that IQ tests assess a student’s abilities but are used to determine a student’s capabilities.  This problem is illustrated in “the fact that minority groups are overrepresented in special education and underrepresented in gifted and talented programs.”  Yekovich uses the cognitive psychology rubric to understand the meaning of intelligence and giftedness.  With the current advances in brain imagery technology, however, we know that the gifted brain is structurally different from brains that test at a standard or average intelligence regardless of cultural background (Sousa, 2009), and the federal government’s broader definition of gifted and talented counteracts any lingering cultural bias that straight IQ testing might perpetuate.
            Another very common misconception is that gifted students will do well in school with or without special services or that heaping them up with “enrichment” materials (ie, extra work) will substitute for acceleration or differentiation.  VanTassel-Baska explains that in a 1950’s era study of gifted students, “researchers found that students with IQ 148+ were the most dissatisfied with their school situations and thus the most in need of special services.” (VanTassel-Baska, 2010, p. 23)  Another study showed that underserved gifted students were just as likely to drop out of school after the 8th grade as their average counterparts. (ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children, 1990)

Future Leaders of America
            The vast majority of high achieving individuals in any culture most likely start as gifted kids.  VanTassel-Baska confidently explains:
“The Greeks and Romans recognized the value of talent, as did the tribes of the Bible, responding to the parables told by Jesus.  The Chinese Dynasties and Confucius as a scholar saw value in educating those from all social strata according to their talents.  Cultures embraced the recognition and development of giftedness as a way to determine potential contributors to a society- as leaders, even philosopher kings in Plato’s imagined world, or guildsmen, or clerics.” (VanTassel-Baska, 2010, p. 19)

Is our nation to be left off the lists off all-time greats because of our refusal to recognize the special needs of gifted students?
Currently the United States Department of Education is attempting to promote STEM education; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  It has become abundantly clear that the U.S. is falling behind our international counterparts in these areas and, just like in the post Sputnik era of the 1950’s, funding is being channeled to promote accelerated and differentiated programs for gifted students. (Jolly, 2009)  Jennifer Jolly, expert on the history of gifted education says, “Gifted and talented students become a national priority when excellence is sought and a critical need is perceived.” (Jolly, 2009, p. 36 & 37)  In this time of national priority how will educators choose to channel funding for gifted students?  What services do those students most need?
            Sandra Berger describes the components of developing an effective Gifted program within a school or school district in her 1991 piece written published in the ERIC Digest.  She describes “program” as “part of the mainstream of education [which] doesn’t rise and fall with public opinions. It is a comprehensive, sequential system for educating students with identifiable needs; it is often designed by a curriculum committee; and it is supported by a district or school budget.”  A program is something that is instituted as opposed to a “provision” which is simply an accommodation which is made for one student or a group of students on an as needed basis.  “Teaching strategies,” she says, “may change, but the question of whether or not [a program] should be part of the curriculum is never raised.” (Berger, Developing Programs for Students of High Ability, 1991)
            The old question of equality vs egalitarianism still persist when school systems have trouble identifying gifted students and question the cultural relevancy of giftedness indicators.  Although the national definition via the Javits Act is clear, school districts still clearly underserve their gifted population.  According to the NAGC, 10%-15% of any given student population should fall under the “gifted and talented” rubric. (NAGC Gifted Terminology Task Force, 2010)  Most school districts fall well below that level.
            The National Association of Gifted Children says that, “exceptionally capable adults are among those most likely to contribute to the advancement of a society and its scientific, humanistic and social goals.”  For public opinion and government policy to fall in line with the needs of gifted students, the public must be made aware of the implications of underserving the gifted population and the real meaning of the term “giftedness.”  For this to happen, classroom teachers, administrators and government policy makers must be made aware of the differences of the gifted child and their special needs.  It falls to those who are aware to become advocates of gifted education or our best and brightest, our nation’s real future, will be lost.

Timeline of Major Events Adapted from (NAGC, 2008)
•           1868- School superintendent William Torrey Harris institutes a gifted education program in St. Louis schools.
•           1869- Francis Galton publishes Hereditary Genius making the case for intelligence being the result of heredity and natural selection.
•           1901- The first school for the gifted opens up in Worcester, Massachusetts.
•           1916- Lewis Terman publishes the Stanford-Binet intelligence test.
•           1917- The U.S. Army institutes IQ testing to place soldiers.
•           1921- Lewis Terman begins a longitudinal study of 1500 gifted students.
•           1922- Leta S. Hollingworth begins the Special Opportunity Class in New York City
•           1925- Lews Terman publishes Genetic Studies of Genius attempting to define identifiable attributes of gifted students.
•           1926- Leta S. Hollingworth publishes first text on gifted education Gifted Child:  Their Nature and Nurture
•           1936- Leta S. Hollingworth establishes the Speyer school for the gifted in New York City
•           1954- The National Association of Gifted Children is founded
•           1957- The Soviet Union launches Sputnik into orbit causing a national scramble to fund into the identification and development of gifted students who would profit from STEM education.
•           1958- National Defense Education Act is the first big federal effort to promote gifted education.
•           1972- The Marland Report is published by the federal government defining what it is to be gifted and talented.
•           1974- The Office of the Gifted and Talented is given official status within the U.S. Office of Education.
•           1983- The federal report A Nation At Risk includes promotion of gifted curriculum
•           1988- Congress passes the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act which provides competitive grant monies for states to promote gifted programs.
•           1990- National Research Centers on the Gifted and Talented are opened in University of Connecticut, University of Virginia, Yale University and Northwestern University for the purposes of studying gifted children, developing gifted curriculum and educating teachers and administrators.
•           1993- National Excellence: The Case for Developing America’s Talent report is published by the federal government saying that the best and brightest are being neglected by America’s public school system.
•           2002- No Child Left Behind is passed and includes an expanded version of the Javits program and the definition of g/t students is modified to: Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
•           2004- A Nation Decieved: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students is published criticizing the failure of public schools to address the needs of the gifted.

Works Cited
Berger, S. L. (1989). College Planning for Gifted and Talented Youth. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Berger, S. L. (1991). Developing Programs for Students of High Ability. Washington DC: National Association for Gifted Children.
Cloud, J., Badowski, C., Rubiner, B., & Scully, S. (2004). Saving the Smart Kids. Time, pp. 56-61.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children. (1990). Giftedness And The Gifted: What's It All About? Eric Digests.
Jolly, J. L. (2009). A Resuscitation of Gifted Education. American Educational History Journal, 37-52.
NAGC. (2008). The History of Gifted and Talented Education. Retrieved from National Association for Gifted Children:
NAGC Gifted Terminology Task Force. (2010, March). Rediefining Giftedness for a New Century: Shifting the Paradigm. Retrieved from National Association for Gifted Children:
Sousa, D. A. (2009). How the Gifted Brain Learns. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1995). Gifted Learners and the Middle School: Problem or Promise. National Association for Gifted Children.
VanTassel-Baska, J. (2010). The History of Urban Gifted Education. Gifted Child Today, 18-27.
Yekovich, F. R. (1994, April). Current Issues in Research on Intelligence. Retrieved from ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Bored of Education

Wordle: Billeen

This is a "Wordle" that was generated by a timeline of the History of American Education that I made.
Click on the floaty balloons to read the entries in the timeline.  Click on the bars to read the entries describing the time periods.  Slide the tabs at the bottom to the left or right to zoom into a particular era.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Being a stay at home mom is bad for your daughter!!!

(I’m so sick and tired of arguing about this.  I’m just going to quote the $300 Master’s program Educational Psychologytextbook designed to help teachers figure out why your kid isn’t achieving up to par and give you links for the pertinent reference material.  Go take it up with them.)

"Parental Employment

In today’s economy, both parents typically, are employed outside the household, making parental workplaces a common element of a student’s exosystem- that is, an indirect influence on development.  Thirty years ago, as more mothers were rejoining the workforce, researchers examined the effects on child and adolescent outcomes and did not find negative results.  Instead, a number of positive outcomes were found, particularly for girls (Hoffman, 1974):

·         Girls with working mothers tended to have higher achievement aspirations or greater desire to excel academically, as well as higher achievement in school, compared to girls with nonworking mothers.
·         Girls with working mothers tended to have higher intelligence schores (IQ scores) compared to girls with nonworking mothers.
·         Children of working mothers were not more likely to be involved in delinquent acts than were children of nonworking mothers.
·         Children of working mothers had ore household responsibilities than did children of nonworking mothers, a situation related to positive, rather than negative, outcomes, such as advanced social development.

More recent research on parental employment suggests that having both parents employed outside the home does not generally affect children in either a negative or a positive manner (Crouter & McHale, 2005).  For example, working mothers spend slightly less time with their children than do nonworking mothers; however, fathers whose wives are employed become more involved in child rearing than do fathers whose wives are not employed outside the home.  In short parental employment appears to have little impact on children and may even be related to positive academic achievement, aspirations, and intelligence among girls."

(The above material is quoted from my Foundations in Educational Psychology textbook.  I do not claim to have written the above material.  I reproduce them here strictly for educational purposes.) 

Links to the research:


Crouter & McHale

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mean Girls Suck Part 2 OR Parents, teachers and administrators have an obligation to DO SOMETHING about covert relational aggression.

                Page 39 of my was three hundred dollar, now on sale for a hundred and twenty dollars Educational Psychology textbook says that “relational aggression appears to play a more important role in peer status than does overt aggression,” and “Because popularity and aggression are related to academic engagement and later disruptive behaviors, teachers need to identify and eliminate aggressive behaviors.”

                This is the part where I tell about a disturbing instance that still causes me to fly into a rage.

                My first big Service Unit event as a Girl Scout Troop Leader was called the “Cans” film festival.  As a collective, Troops in the area host a kid-friendly movie at the local middle school, provide snacks and charge an entry fee of canned food items which are then donated to the local food pantry.  Kung-Fu Panda was the movie.  It was a great success.

                Barring one little incident.

                Our Troop was in charge of collecting and delivering the cans so during the movie the girls just visited and watched the film.  My co-leader and I wandered about keeping an eye on “proximity issues” and keeping the kids out of the hallways.  In my wanderings I happened on a little girl, about 11 or 12, bawling her eyes out behind one of those big yellow trash cans.  I asked her what was wrong and she replied, “Nothing, nothing.” But went on crying like her heart was being crushed into jam.

                Out of the corner of my eye I caught a coterie of girls peering from behind a corner, whispering to one another and I thought, “Ah-hah…  little bitches.”  At that point I gathered up Ms. Niagara Falls, handed her my six-month-old baby and said, “I need your help.” and bustled her over where we were boxing up the donated canned goods.  She sniffled for a bit but then got busy playing with little Morgan.  After she’d calmed down I asked her what had happened, why she was so upset and she still didn’t want to talk about it.  She then asked if she could call her dad to come pick her up so I gave her my cell phone.

                After she’d been picked-up, the pack of ravening hyenas who had most assuredly been responsible for the waterworks edged up to me and asked where so-and-so had gone.  “Did she go home already?  Jeeze.  She never stays to the end of things.”

                At that point I nearly committed several crimes but managed to restrain myself to the following:

                Listen up, girlies!  I know exactly what you did and I heard exactly what you said.  That kind of behavior is disgusting and you all deserve to be expelled!  You should be ashamed of yourselves!   Hurting people with words is just as bad if not WORSE than hitting them with your fists.  I hope you get the exact same treatment from your friends that you gave that girl.  I’ll bet you anything that you will, because people who treat one person like that will treat another person like that just as fast!

                Or something very close to that.

                Immediately another Troop Leader jumped in to tell me a bunch of nonsense about “girls that age” and how they have to “sort things out” themselves and that its “normal,” blah blah blah…  My response was, “So, you’d let a group of boys beat the crap out of another boy under your supervision?  That’s supposed to be normal, too!”

                Then I stormed off in a huff.

                Research on bullying, overt physical or covert relational, clearly shows that victims suffer emotionally, mentally, academically, socially and often end up hurting themselves or others because of their negative experiences.  How can we justify standing by and watching children get treated like dirt and made to feel worthless by their peers because we consider it “normal” or we think they’ll eventually “sort it out.”  Like a pack of social-jockeying hyenas, they will sort it out and the unfortunate underdogs will end up dead or gone. 

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to spot the Mean Girl behavior but we absolutely must have a zero-tolerance policy toward it, just as we do with fighting among children.  The pricey textbook clearly states, “Given the link between relational aggression and negative outcomes, teachers should be on the lookout for instances of relational aggression and react as swiftly to these aggressive behaviors as they do to instances of overt aggression.” 

No ifs, ands or buts about it.

So.  If you are a parent, teacher, administrator or adult who works with children in some other capacity, what are you going to do the next time you hear something like this:

“Oh.  My.  God.  You totally wear the weirdest outfits to school.  Do you like wake up in the morning and take crazy pills or something?  Hahaha…  Just kidding!  Like, omigod!  Don’t be so sensitive!”

Mean Girls Suck Part 1 OR How covert relational aggression among adolescents can happen when we aren’t watching for it.

Page 38 of my three hundred dollar Educational Psychology textbook (which, I see, is now on sale for about $70.00 cheaper than what I paid for my used copy sonofa..!) says this:  “Relational aggression refers to behaviors specifically intended to damage another child’s friendships, social status, or feelings of inclusion in a peer group.  Such behaviors include gossiping, rumor spreading, and excluding someone as a way to control them.” 

We all know this as Mean Girl behavior (although research shows that boys, despite the stereotype, participate in it as well).  We all might NOT know that it is considered bullying and it is more damaging and more pervasive than overt physical aggression.

I think most of us can remember back to middle or high school and having to deal with that girl.  Some of us were, perhaps, lucky enough to belong to the inner coterie of the Queen Bee.  By compromising ourselves only just a little we were able to avoid the worst of her nastiness.  The rest of us, particularly myself, were dead in her crosshairs.

This is the part where I relate a particularly painful episode in my life and hope that I can remain honest while protecting the innocent and guilty alike:

My middle school class consisted of about 19 kids.  Most of us had been together since kindergarten.  We knew each other and our families fairly well.  There was this one girl…  Well behaved, well-dressed, academically and athletically successful.  Her parents were well-respected as were her older and younger siblings.

She was, all told, a raging, fetid nightmare.

And she hated my guts.

I was on the fringes of girl society.  The consummate  Beta.  I wasn’t pretty, trendy or cool.  I was just smart enough, funny enough and creative enough to be a threat to the Queen Bee and because I was also known for bazaar outbursts and emotional intemperance, my legitimate complaints about her meanness were overlooked as jealousy or dramatism and I suffered, suffered, suffered.

Early in my seventh grade year the girl on whom I was most emotionally dependent called my house and said that we had to “break-up” because Queen Bee thought I was a bad influence.  After half an hour of both of us bawling our heads off, me for obvious reasons, her because she is really a very kind and good person and knew she was doing something terrible, I ended up feeling horribly sorry for my friend (who eventually recanted and apologized during the tear drenched phone call) and declared war on Queen Bee.  

Much like the Allied Forces early in World War II when faced with Nazi aggression and expansion, I had previously responded to her hideousness with conciliation and effacement.  No longer!  From then on I resolved to hate, hate, hate Queen Bee and never give her a moment’s rest for being mean to me and for putting my dear friend in such an awful position.

My zero-tolerance, scorched earth campaign predictably led to an escalation of viciousness and sniping from both sides.  Her cold war tactics involved excluding me from “secrets,” snickering, jibing, the occasional nudge in P.E. and many of my belongings ending up mysteriously “misplaced.”  

My response was open, verbal aggression.  I did not sit quietly and let her answer the questions first.  I practiced the heck out of my clarinet and began to threaten her First Chair status.  I played my guts out on the volleyball court and beat her, once or twice, during skills test.  In other words, I no longer sat quietly in my Beta role…  I openly challenged her.  And had her running scared.

Queen Bee was a clever monster.  She normally kept her tactics covert and was considered to be “such a nice girl” among the adults at school who were completely oblivious to the grand campaign occurring under their noses.  But one day…  One bright and shining day when I very nearly landed myself in a mental hospital or, at the very least, suspended…  She slipped.

That momentous day I was, to a rapt audience of our boy population of juvenile delinquents, regaling the latest round of tales featuring my notorious, not-that-much-older-than-us Uncle.   My Uncle was my link to the criminal underworld of our school.  He partied with the older brothers and friends of my classmates.  He and his closest friends (one of them is now regularly featured on a very popular Discovery Channel show involving boats) were like gods to my less-than-likely-to-succeed classmates and the fact that they all hung out at my house was a source of envy and disgust among those who could barely pretend not to be interested as I related their every move, musical choice and conversation.

Queen Bee could no longer take seeing me the center of attention.  Even that attention.  In obvious agitation she blurted, “Well!  Your uncle needs counseling!”

I know now that when time seems to slow down or stop it’s actually the result of an enormous surge of adrenaline which allows your senses, reflexes, muscles and mind to operate in hyper-drive.  At  the time it seemed like magic that I was able to levitate across the room, over desks and collapsing bodies, on a trajectory which would have driven my clawed hands directly into her astonished, fear-filled face.

After that everything went sort of black.  The next thing I remember I was struggling in the grip of the second best social studies teacher and second best music teacher in the whole wide universe, Mr. Woodworth, who was shouting at the sobbing Queen Bee, “Go to the office!  I heard the whole thing!  You can’t go around saying things like that about people’s families!”

It was the best day ever.

Queen Bee is pretty much universally remembered as a “great kid” with lots of smarts, ability and potential.  When I make a remark about how vicious she was people respond sort of half-believingly and say something along the lines of, “Well, you were such an odd child.” 

It’s annoying. 

The lesson to be learned here is that even the kids who seem like the best kids…  Perhaps especially those kids… are not always the nicest people when the grown-ups have their backs turned.  Some 60% of kids in middle school have experienced or have witnessed bullying and it most often takes the form of covert “relational aggression.”  As parents and educators we need to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open for this sort of bullying and victimization.

I will, in Part 2, relate how ignoring these events can create unhealthy patterns of abuse and victimization which can stick with a child for a lifetime.