What is Giftedness?

"Tens of thousands of gifted and talented children and adolescents are sitting in their classrooms-their abilities unrecognized, their needs unmet. Some are bored, patiently waiting for peers to learn skills and concepts that they had mastered one or two years earlier. Some find school intolerable, feigning illness or creation other excuses to avoid the trivia. many develop poor study habits from the slow pace and lack of challenge. Some feel pressured to hide their keen talents and skills from uniterested and unsympethetic peers. Some give up on school entirely, dropping out as soon as they are legally able. Some educators call it a "quiet crisis" (Ross, 1993, 1997).

Other gifted students tolerate school but satisfy their intellectual, creative, and artistic needs outside the formal system. The lucky ones have parents who will sponsor their dance or music lessons, chemistry kits and telescopes, art supplies, frequent trips to the library, and home computers. The less fortunate ones make do as best they can, silently paying a price for a predicament they may not understand and that others choose to ignore. That price is lost academic growth, lost creative potential, and sometimes lost enthusiasm for educational success and eventual professional achievement and substantial contributions to society.

Some educators-and many parents of non-gifted students-are not swayed by the proposition that unrecognized and unsupported talent is wasted talent. A common reaction is, "Those kids will make it on their own," or "Give the extra help to kids who really need it!" The argument is that providing special services for highly able or talented students is "elitist"-giving to the "haves" and ignoring the "have-nots"-and therefore unfair and undemocratic. Other criticisms are the costs of additional teachers and other resources, and the idea that pullout programs or special classes remove good role models from the regular classroom. Many teachers feel that students should adjust to the curriculum, rather than the other way around (Coleman & Cross 2000).
Our "love-hate" relationship with gifted education has been noted by Gallagher (1997, 2003), Colangelo and Davis (2003), and others. We admire and applaud the individual who rises from a humble background to high educational and career success. At the same time, as a nation we are committed to equality.

The educational pendulum swings back and forth between strong concern for excellence and a zeal for equity; that is for helping bright and creative students develop their capabilities and realize their potential contributions to society, or for helping below-average and troubled students reach minimum academic standards.

Of course, America and the world need both equity and excellence. Many students need special help. The rights of slower learners, students with physical or psychological disabilities, and students with language and cultural differences are vehemently defended, and they should be. However, a good argument can be made that gifted students also have rights and that these rights are often ignored. Just as with other exceptional students, students with gifts and talents also deserve an education commensurate with their innate potential.

To those who argue that gifted students will "make it on their own," sensible replies are that (a) they should not be held back and required to succeed in spite of a frustrating educational system, and (b) some do not make it on their own. Rimm (1997), for example, cited research showing that 10 to 20 percent of high school dropouts are in the tested gifted range. Almost invariably, gifted dropouts are underachievers, talented students who are unguided, uncounseled, and unchallenged (Rimm, 1995d, 2003; Whitmore, 1980). The widely cited A Nation at Risk report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) reported that "over half the population of gifted students do not match their tested ability with comparable achievement in school."

It is not only the gifted students themselves who benefit from specific programs that recognize and cultivate their talents. Teachers involved with gifted students learn to stimulate creative, artistic, and scientific thinking, and they learn to help students understand themselves, develop good self-concepts, and value educational and career accomplishments. In short, teachers of the gifted become better teachers, and their skills benefit "regular" students as well. Society also reaps a profit. Realistically, it it only today's gifted and talented students who will become tomorrow's political leaders, medical researchers, artists, writers, innovative engineers, and business entrepreneurs. Indeed, it is difficult to propose that this essential talent be left to fend for itself-if it can-instead of being valued, identified, and cultivated. Tomorrow's promise is in today's schools, and it must not be ignored."

 --Education of the Gifted and Talented by Gary Davis and Sylvia Rimm 

Cody Public Schools
919 Cody Avenue
Cody, Wyoming
587 - 4283