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.