This is a tardy entry to the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop because the topic is gifted underachievement and how could I possibly not have procrastinated on it?!

Hoagies Blog Hope - Gifted Underachievement

Things I know about gifted underachievers:
  1. The parents do not know their kids best, the bulk of the time.
  2. The schools do not know the students best, the bulk of the time.
  3. The kids do not know themselves best, the bulk of the time.
We mostly do not know these kids and neither do they usually know themselves. Sometimes the profile is familiar to a parent, because it fit them or one of their relatives, but that doesn’t mean that anybody figured out how to help that other person and it also doesn’t mean that what the parent thinks they needed is what the child or teen needs.

The schools have been failing underachievers of all stripes for as long as we’ve had schools. See below for more on that.

And if the youngster knew what was going on for them, their lives would be so much easier! Often they can identify a piece of it or maybe two, but it isn’t as simple as just getting more challenging work – or certainly not by the time that the dreaded underachiever label has been plastered on their forehead.

Things I know about not helping gifted underachievers:

A. Following the teachers’ advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
B. Following the guidance counselor’s advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
C. Following a psychologist’s or therapist’s advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
D. Following a book’s advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.

Why not? Because teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, and psychologists have somewhere between zero and very little training in giftedness and their training in underachievement is weaker than that. They mostly are relying on word-of-mouth and instinct, and neither of those will cut it for either population, let alone the combination.

And stupidly enough, even when confronted with a gifted underachiever, they don’t go out and do the research that might inform them! They don’t.
What research tells us about the causes of underachievement among gifted students:

Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, and several other sources will tell you that “underachiever” came into the language in 1951 – 1953. They’re wrong. It was first used in 1939, as far as I can tell, in E.G. Williamson’s How to counsel students; a manual of techniques for clinical counselors. In it, he wrote:
There are so many factors which affect the correlation between test scores and marks that a prediction of individual scholastic success on the basis of test scores alone is far from perfect. The tendencies of able students to form habits of idleness and "getting by" are familiar phenomena. Other factors influencing this correlation are differences in efficiency in the use of mental ability, amount of remunerative work carried parallel to the academic load, amount of home duties, extent of indulgence in social activities, earnestness and perseverance, health disturbances, worries and emotional disturbances, early school training, degree of interest in academic work, and varying standards of scholarship in different schools.1

That’s pretty comprehensive, especially for 1939. Add to it racial and ethnic complications, poverty issues, and undiagnosed/misdiagnosed disabilities/differences of one sort of another, and you’ve just about got them all, though probably not quite.
What research tells us about helping gifted underachievers:

Everything and nothing.

If you’ve read my work before, there is a good chance you have tripped across my complaints about the lack of clear definition of underachievement and this other quote from Williamson:
Since the correlation between aptitude and achievement is less than unity, we may expect to find individuals with a discrepancy between their ranks in these two variables. Just how great the discrepancy must be before it is indicative of a "problem" is a matter of conjecture at the present time. Statistics will identify students with such discrepancies but will not indicate the point at which maladjustment begins to operate. We need many more clinical observations before we can distinguish a "normal" from an "abnormal" or "problem" discrepancy.2

Eighty years later, we are no closer to an answer to that conjecture.

That means that whether you learn that there are 3, 4, of 5 types of gifted underachievers or what the six steps you must take to meet the needs of your underachiever will be, you are still almost certainly going to be behind the 8-ball, playing catch-up to a problem you wish you had seen coming.

Research tells us that sometimes it is a fit between the child and the teacher. But we also have learned that sometimes it isn’t – and we don’t know the percentages of which is which! Research tells us that sometimes a parenting style is a contributing factor. But we don’t then know why it was a problem for child X, but not Y or Z in the same family! This suggests that it is not simply the parenting style or, possibly, the parenting style at all!

There is very little replication of research with regard to gifted underachievers or underachievers at all, for that matter. This has been a constant complaint since at least 1965, but it isn’t as if Williamson wasn’t aware of the problem: “Additional studies must be made for each school and college to determine the amount of discrepancy for each school.” You and I both know that was never going to happen, but he couldn’t see how an individual school would otherwise know what kind of gap was indicative of a problem.

Thanks a bunch, Josh. Now what should be do?
  1. Don’t blame your kid. There is a pretty good chance that if succeeding academically were a matter of volition, you would have a child who was succeeding academically.
  2. Don’t blame the school or yourselves at this point, either. You lack data – and when you get the data, if you get the data, still don’t blame them or yourselves! Blame will not help make things better.
  3. Talk to your child and the teacher(s) to see what kind of gap you are discussing. See what the teacher’s perception of the problem is. See what your child’s perception of the problem is. Listen.
  4. Look at what else is going on in your child’s life. Is it full or overfull? Is your child still doing the stuff they love? Have the dropped anything else that is/was important to them? Is there a new thing (or person or activity) that is absorbing all the time and energy? Is there enough sleep happening and how are eating habits? Was there a building change? (yes, that is a documented disruption for some kids’ educations and lives!) Were they coasting and suddenly hit a topic they could not learn intuitively, but had no skills for learning something that required actual effort? (No, do not talk to me about Growth Mindset!)
  5. Ask questions. Don’t assume you know any of the answers. Don’t assume that finding the answers will be quick, either. Be patient! Nothing happening around this at this point in time is going to ruin your child’s life. (I know. This is a nonstandard response, but you’re talking to somebody who had to go through his own life to learn that lesson, several times over. Feel free to ask me about it.)
  6. There are books that have half a clue on the topic, depending on whether there is a learning disability (or some such) or not. The last books I liked a lot on gifted underachievers (sans LD issues) are from 1980 (Rand Whitmore) and 1991 (Supplee). The last book I liked (okay, the only book so far) on physically disabled gifted was 1983 (Maker and Rand Whitmore), though I am working on one almost as we speak. Other than that, I wouldn’t bother. They talk about the importance of having teachers whom the underachieving students feel respect them, among other things. Dr. Donna Ford has some books out for you to consider if it seems to be related to racial, ethnic, or multi-cultural issues in or out of the school.
  7. Don’t just put the kid in harder courses unless you are ready for floundering. If they have not learned to work, then things that are challenging are almost certain to just make for frustration and an even greater disbelief in self.
  8. Don’t conclude that because your child has a disability that therefore your child is not underachieving. That may be true, but one can also underachieve while also struggling with disability or health issues. (This is one of the things that is especially misunderstood by the vast bulk of therapy providers.)
Beyond that, I am not going to give you advice. Because of that long list of potential causes, you are going to need to figure it out or get help to figure it out – but pick your help carefully, please!

Below are some links to other pieces I have written (or gathered) on the topic: - from The High School Failures (1919). - A quote from H.H. Goddard in 1924. - from The Need for Special Education of Gifted Children in White House Conference on Child Health and Protection (1930). - 1940 research showing that “The fewer American (born) grandparents a pupil has, the higher his achievement ratio is likely to be." - A Note on the Definition of Underachievement, Milton Kornrich, in Underachievement by Milton Kornrich (ed), 1965. - Underachievement from the Inside Out, Josh Shaine (1999). - Patterns for Charlie, Frances Shaine (1999). (My mother, written at my behest.) - From Overt Behavior to Developing Potential: The Gifted Underachiever, Josh Shaine (1999). - Josh Shaine (2010). This is an academic paper, for all that it is written in a narrative format.

1. Williamson, E. G. 1900-1979. (1939). How to counsel students: a manual of techniques for clinical counselors. New York: McGraw-Hill book company, inc..
2. Ibid

This is a tardy entry to the Hoagies Gifted Pages Blog Hop!
Hoagies Blog Hope - Gifted Underachievement
"A fourteen-year-old boy was recently examined. He had been expelled from one school and was in great danger of having the same experience at another. When examined it was found that his intelligence was three years ahead of his age; and during all his school life he had been in grades and had been given work that was far too easy for him, so that he developed a contempt for the work assigned and incidentally for the teachers and school authorities who assigned it. This is likely to be the effect of failing to care for these children in accordance with their needs."
~H. H. Goddard, 1924 (in The Child, His Nature and His Needs)
(Sorry about the long delay between these two entries!)

The following is from the Annual Report (#18) of the Board of Education, Saint Louis Missouri, in 1872 - including the Superintendent's discussion of their high school's system of promotion.

This is the second of two excerpts from the Annual Report. This is focused on how to avoid the evils of the standard promotion system! With no further delay, the words of Dr. W. T. Harris:

"In our St. Louis schools the classification is so arranged in the lower grades of the District Schools that classes follow each other at intervals of about six weeks. Should it be necessary to put back a pupil to a lower class, he finds it at just that stage of progress which will enable him to review and strengthen those portions of his course that need it. But this system allows of another advantage. As the highest class loses numbers by promotion, graduation or otherwise, its ranks are filled with the best pupils from the next lower class. The latter is again recruited by promotion of the best from the next one below it. This process is continued to the lowest class in school. After such a promotion bas been made the account stands thus: each class has sent forward perhaps one-third of its pupils (the best ones) to the next one above it, and has received the best third of the pupils from the class below. There has been no degradation of pupils.

What can be said is that two-thirds of each class (including all the fair and middling scholars) were left, and a few of the foremost in rank of those below them admitted with them. Within less than a half year's work the studious and brilliant pupils will work up to the top of the class. There will always be differences of native power as well as of previous acquirement. Before a half year has elapsed the two-thirds of a given class who pass for " fair and middling" scholars will be overtaken and, in some instances, surpassed by the brilliant pupils admitted from the lower class. A change of the kind I have mentioned, amounting to a readjustment of all the classes, is desirable as often as four times a year. If made, it will entirely prevent the collection, in any one class, of the dull and incapable scholars. These, for the most part, are pupils who have not become thoroughly aroused, or, more frequently, such as have become discouraged by degradation in rank. Their -defect is not primarily intellectual, but moral; they have feeble wills. It is very rare that a pupil has so dull an intellect that he cannot, if he possess a resolute will, accomplish any intellectual feat whatever by the aid of industry alone. Those who fail, do so through lack of courage or of perseverance. This furnishes the strongest ground of all against manipulating the system of classification in such a manner as to make those who are not promoted feel that they are degraded. By the method here described, I think the minimum of discouragement isreached. Two-thirds or more of the class—enough to preserve the identity of the class—remain after any re-classification, and, as this embraces many fair scholars, none feel that they have been slighted. The change made has elevated the fair in rank to the highest rank in class, and those who were poor to the rank of fair—at least for a time. Stimulated by this, they frequently increase in self-respect and develop powers that had hitherto lain dormant.
The following is from the Annual Report (#18) of the Board of Education, Saint Louis Missouri, in 1872 - including the Superintendent's discussion of their high school's system of promotion.

This is the first of two excerpts from the Annual Report. This is focused on the evils of the standard promotion system - which was not yet standard in most of the country, but which was becoming increasingly so. With no further delay, the words of Dr. W. T. Harris:

"The High School course is divided into four classes, the work laid down for each occupying one year in its accomplishment. (See Appendix, p. xcv.) The fact that each High School class is expected to begin its work in September and complete it in June, indicates at once the condition of things that I have already alluded to in this report. Such a course of study is "nailed to the calendar," and its progress is rigid and determined by the lapse of time, and not by the progress of the pupil. If a pupil is sick and unable to attend school for ten weeks, he finds, on his return, that there is no class just ready to admit him. The class which he left is now ten weeks in advance of him, and to make up this work and at the same time to do the regular work of the class is too difficult. If it were possible, it would prove a superiority of individual work over work in a class.

"The pupil is probably obliged to enter the next class below, but this class is thirty weeks behind his present acquirements, and his ten weeks' sickness has thus cost him a year's progress. On entering the lower class, however, he finds himself going over familiar ground, and gets careless in his work. By the time his present class arrive at the work from which he was broken off by sickness the previous year, he has acquired a loose habit of study, and is likely to fail on the first difficult study that he encounters. Two failures are pretty sure to complete his discouragement and cause him to leave school. Another case: A pupil, for some reason, is not quite able at the close of the year to pass the standard for admission to the next class, and is accordingly obliged to join the class below. He is set back just one year at once. He might have lacked five weeks' study or ten weeks' study—scarcely more than this—of completing the work of his class. But for this he is obliged to lose nearly a year more than was really necessary. It must be remembered that these are not isolated instances, but that the number of each class who ought to be separated, for one reason or other, from the part of the class that does the work of the grade thoroughly, is about one-third of the entire number. In order to avoid this evil of putting back pupils, there is a strong temptation to let them pass on at a low standard. The consequence of such a course is that each class is impeded in its work by the presence of a number who are not «qual to the performance of their tasks.

"These evils are not confined to the classes of the High School; they extend to the higher classes of the District Schools. Inasmuch as the examination for admission to the High School is to occur in June, the first grade's work of the District School must be completed at that time, and hence must be commenced in September of each year. This fact in turn influences the time of beginning and completing the work of the second grade. The tendency of all this is to produce a system of classification throughout the entire course of the District Schools similar to that in the High School. In this case classes would follow each other at intervals of a year, and the difficulty of properly assigning those who should be classified in grades between those established exists throughout the entire system. In many sections of the country—in Ohio and New York, for example—this very practice prevails. A promotion takes place once or twice a year, on occasion of a general written examination by the superintendent. Those who "pass" go on; those who fail fall back to the lower class or leave school altogether."
IX. Resolved, That we approve of encouraging gifted students to complete the preparatory course in less time than is required by most students.

In this resolution the committee desires to approve a principle, rather, than to recommend a definite plan for the application of that principle. Gifted students should be allowed special opportunities quite as much in grades below the secondary school as in the secondary school itself, and it seems probable, indeed, that the saving of time may be expected most advantageously in the lower grades. The subject of the grading of pupils below the secondary school is, however, not in the province of this committee.

In laying out a course of study the average student must be the basis of reckoning, but in the schematization of educational work there is constant danger that the interest of the individual student may not be sufficiently considered. There are students who must take more than the allotted time in which to complete the preparatory course, while there are others who can easily finish the course in less than the schedule time. This can be done, too, without overpressure and consequent injury to health. It is a truism that some students acquire much more readily and easily than others. Modern educators do not accept the doctrine of Helvetius, that all men are by birth endowed with the same natural capacities. Instead of cramping and confining the more gifted students, it is the duty of the secondary school to discover them and to furnish them every opportunity for progress in their work. There are difficulties of administration, caused chiefly by the time schedule, which sometimes cannot be overcome; but it seems to the committee that students have a right to expect that the school officers will use their best efforts to overcome these obstacles, and, so far as is consistent with good administration, offer to the students full opportunity for progress according to their individual capacities.

Below are a pair of entries from the Report of the Committee on College Entrance Requirements of the Secondary School Committee of the National Education Association. While this was released in the summer of 1899, as noted above, it was developed during meetings held over 4 years by the joint committee (Secondary and College) which was appointed at the 1895 NEA annual meeting. The report, itself, starts on page 625 of the book.

Advanced Placement credit long before Advanced Placement tests were created.

VII. Resolved, That the colleges will aid the secondary schools by allowing credit toward a degree for work done in secondary schools, beyond the amount required for entrance, when equal in amount and thoroness to work done in the same subjects in college.

In many, and perhaps most, colleges the plan suggested in the above resolution is already in effect. Such recognition of school work by the colleges will tend to raise the estimation in which the school is held by the community. It will also directly assist the school in its natural effort to induce students to continue their studies in college, for if a student has, on finishing the school course, already one-third or a half year or more of work to his credit that may be counted toward a college degree, this fact constitutes a great incentive for going on with college work. Furthermore, it frequently happens that a student at the end of the last school year has one or two subjects to complete in order to finish the school course. This may happen for a variety of reasons, among which change of school and ill-health are most common. Should the student wish to go to college, two courses are open — either to enter college with conditions, or to remain an additional year in school so as to complete the course. But if the second alternative is adopted, the student, while making up deficiencies, can and should carry one or two additional studies, in order that the year's work may be complete. If these studies cannot be counted for college credit, there is temptation on the part of the student to do light work, and to take only the subjects required, with a tendency to acquire indolent habits of study. If the additional subjects above those required for completing the school course are accepted by the college toward a degree, a strong incentive is offered the student to do the best work possible, and the danger of falling into indolent habits is avoided. This college credit, furthermore, puts into the hands of the school principal one of his strongest arguments for inducing the pupil to remain an additional year at school, so that he may not enter college with conditions. It seems to the committee that there can be no question that the mutual interests of both school and college will be best subserved by making the class of conditioned students as small as possible.

Differential placement in college courses based on preparation:
VIII. Resolved, That for students who have met a definite requirement in any science, and who continue the subject in college, it seems to us desirable that there be provided a suitable sequel to the school course in continuation of the study; such students being in no case placed in the same class with beginners.

It seems to be a somewhat common practice among colleges to accept a subject for entrance, but not to give it credit after the student has been admitted. This is illustrated specifically by the case in which physics is accepted as an entrance requirement, but not required of all students. Student A comes to college and presents a year's good work in physics, done in a high school or academy, as one of his*entrance subjects. Student B has no physics, but presents something else, which is accepted as an entrance equivalent. In college, however, both A and B take precisely the same course in physics, one having had a year's work, with laboratory experiments, the other not having studied the subject at all. This practice is justified by the colleges on two grounds: (r) that the year's work in the high school really, after all, amounts to nothing, and (2) that it is impossible to make two different classes. The latter argument may be disregarded. In some cases it doubtless is true that the teaching force of the college does not permit the organization of two separate classes, and there is no argument with necessity. But the other argument, that the year's work in the high school is not of any value to the college, is refuted by the college itself, in two ways: (1) by accepting this year's work as of full value for entrance to the university, and (2) by allowing university credit for exactly the same sort of work in other subjects, as, for example, in Latin, French, or German. The student who offers French or German for admission to college is not put into the same college classes in either of those subjects with students who have not presented them for entrance, but is always put in an advanced class, and remains there until he has shown his unfitness. The practice of combining in the same college class students who have had previous high-school instruction and those who have not is most common in the sciences, and while physics has been specified above, all of the sciences that are accepted as entrance requirements share equally in this practice. The effect cannot be otherwise than disastrous upon science teaching in the high school, for if a student goes to college with a year's course in science and finds that work totally disregarded by the college authorities, he can but infer that the school work is without value. He is likely to send the report back to the school, and other students will be deterred from taking the course in science, knowing that they will have to do the work over again when they go to college later. The effect on the student himself who, having had a year's work in science, is required to go again over the same ground, to a large extent, alongside of students who have no previous knowledge of the subject, is most unfortunate. Experience totally disproves the argument that such work is in the nature of a thoro review and is, therefore, beneficial to the student. On the contrary, it is distasteful and tiresome. The student is likely to rely upon his previous knowledge and slight the work as much as possible. It frequently happens, therefore, that the student with the entrance-equipment attains no better rank in his class than his fellow who entered without previous knowledge. This does not show, as has been supposed, that the high school is of no value, but it conclusively proves that such repetition is destructive of interest and calculated to foster careless habits of work. The adjustment of college work to a wide range of elective entrance requirements certainly presents many difficulties, but it seems to the committee that, when the colleges have taken the step of offering this wide range of electives, they cannot well stop there, but are bound, so far as possible, to adjust the college work so that the students may not have to repeat in any branch work that has already been done, and presumably, by the college's own recognition of it, well done, in secondary schools.
Earlier today, Paula Prober posted on her fascinating blog, Your Rainforest Mind, an entry entitled Too Sensitive, Too Dramatic, Too Intense –What Is Emotional Intelligence? . With the Facebook (FB) entry, she included the question "What does emotional intelligence look like in the gifted?"

James Duncan replied to her FB post:
This is very difficult to manage, and there's often insufficient or non-existent guidance. The person must develop insight into this trait and figure out a strategy to manage it. The trait is truly one of the best possible blessings when it can be managed. There can be many instances such as this one: I had a long career in broadcasting. One night I went to a special premier of "A Clockwork Orange" with colleagues. The station was doing a promotion for the movie. I went for free as an employee, and we had the best seats in the classy theater. When I got home, I felt depressed for hours as a reaction to the film. Fortunately, I later got insight into this issue and could better control it. It is after all a most powerful and precious instinct when it works for you.

Emotional sensitivity, emotional awareness, and "emotional intelligence" strike me as three different axes, with a degree of overlap if they were done as a Venn diagram, but only a small region where all three meet, while having many degrees of independence for each beyond that area.

I would likely recast Paul Prober's question to "What does emotional giftedness look like?"

This has been a question bandied about for decades, at least! There was a pre-conference exploration before a Roeper Symposium talking about assessment of emotional capability and what exactly 'we' were looking for. About 20 folks met in Chicago to bang on the topic. Lots of fascinating discussion, a few conclusions, but I have no idea if it went anywhere from there. (I suspect that it did for individuals, but that there was no further substantial group effort in that realm.)

James is absolutely right about the lack of guidance for at least the first two sets. The third there are beginnings of, increasingly. There are some pretty good resources for the people who have some of the first two, but no clue on the third. This is far easier to accomplish than the second and it is unclear to me that the first is teachable in the slightest - but that does not mean that those who have it do not need or cannot receive training in how to nurture it and how to be less overwhelmed by it!

Over the next few posts, let's explore these three areas of potential emotional giftedness - what each is, what the differences are, where they overlap, and what to do with them if you have them (or if you don't).
"There is one department in this university which already sets unqualified excellence as its standard and which regularly produces conspicuous examples of the performance which a persistent effort to excel oneself can reach. We refer, of course, to our athletic department. Our athletic coaches offer us an example of Honors methods of teaching in action which we would do well to ponder. Is it too much to ask that we try to do as well by our best students as we do now by our best athletes? Is the maximum challenge of maximum ability an acceptable goal only in physical education, not in mental? We do not think so."

~Cornell (University) Honors Committee
as quoted in The Superior Student
Volume 3, Issue 2 - Page 15

This was presented in response to the question, "Does an Honors program create a second-class status for the rest of the students?"

"No properly conceived Honors program should have the effect of short-changing the general run of students. No either-or is involved here, but precisely the contrary; we are urging that we do our best for all students. We stress special attention to the superior student simply because his are the needs we are now farthest from meeting."

`ibid, page 16.
A number of years ago, I attended a lecture given by the late Dr. Ted Sizer. For those of you who don't recognize the name, he was the founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, one of the more established educational reform movements. At that point, he was Dean of Brown University's School of Education, but previously he'd held the same title at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and still earlier he'd been headmaster of Phillipss Academy Andover.

Sizer enjoyed startling his audiences and this speech was no exception.

"I believe in tracking," he declared. Then he paused to let his words sink in.

" long as there is one track for every student." The other shoe had dropped and the audience felt much better!

In a subsequent conversation, I hearkened back to that speech, which he recalled with a chuckle. "But Ted, doesn't that imply that fully individualized education is the way to go?"

While he did not initially get my point, after a bit he conceded that perhaps that was the logical extension of his comment, but he did not concede that it was necessarily what was actually best.

But what does that have to do with acceleration or physics? Bear with me briefly. We'll get there.

In educationese, for more than 100 years, acceleration has usually meant skipping a grade (1). Radical acceleration has been defined by Miraca Gross for at least a decade as resulting in high school graduation 3 or more years (2). More recently, acceleration has included a variety of techniques including subject-only acceleration - techniques that are almost as old as grade skipping.

Physics, on the other hand, says Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity. Acceleration is inherently a vector quantity, and an object will have non-zero acceleration if its speed and/or direction is changing (3). (Velocity = speed and direction, both.)

To my mind, grade skipping barely deserves the label of acceleration at all. Imagine, if you will, a car going 60 miles per hour along a straight highway. No acceleration, right? Now, a beam of light appears around the car; the car disappears; then the beam places the car two miles ahead on the same highway going in the same direction.

The car has only been displaced - everything else remains the same: speed and direction.

This is almost a perfect metaphor for grade skipping. The student finishes a particular grade or even a particular day of a particular grade and then is a year removed forward from there without a change in the pace of the school or the direction of the student.

The thing that makes this not a perfect metaphor is that the first month or two in the accelerated school often involves some scrambling on the part of the student to acquire the full academic year of material that has been skipped past - it is often the most exciting time in the student's academic life! And it is sufficient for many if not most skippers. But for some of them (hg? pg? who knows!), the return to the regular pace after that burst of excitement is just as stultifying as the original grade was and all the student's reasons for being skipped return in spades, often to the thorough frustration of the school and/or parents, who thought they had dealt with the student's needs.

This is why we have radical acceleration.

From the physics perspective, though, there is more than a bit of irony in the resistance that so many teachers, principals, schools and districts give to acceleration.

It is not just that as educational interventions go that acceleration is among the most studied and best proven, though those are true and I am sure other bloggers have written about it and linked to A Nation Deceived among other documents that support this position.

It is that acceleration is an active standard tool actively used in almost every public school in America. I can imagine a few raised eyebrows, but remember that change in velocity is the definition of acceleration I am using, which means a change in speed and/or direction.

Our slower students and our SPED students get the benefit of acceleration regularly. (Or not the benefit in the case of grade retention!) Change in curriculum, extra time, adjusted curriculum or assignments or testing. Change in room for part of the time to get more support.

All of this is acceleration. And all of it would and does benefit the gifted student who gets it, too. Change the pace. Change the type of delivery. More or less time on a topic. adjusted curriculum or assignments or assessment.

I don't know that this is astonishing news. I don't claim that it is a new perspective. It's just the only thing I thought I had to say on the topic of acceleration. Hmmm... not quite.

In those times 100 years ago, they were conscious of having as much as 5 levels of knowledge (current year minus 2 through current year plus 2) in their cities' 4th grades, for example. They were conscious that as many as 25% of the students were one or more years accelerated in their knowledge, even when they were not accelerated by grade, let alone those who were accelerated by grade.

(1) For example, Annual report of the School Committee and of the superintendent of schools of the City of Chicopee for the year ending November 30th, 1914 (<>)

This link is to the story of Nadia Lopez, the principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. She shared with her school, in the aftermath of the great good fortune that befell her and her school, that she had been ready to give up, to surrender, because she had lost faith in her kids and her program.

As you may well know by now, Vidal, who is one of her students, had his brief story (and face) was captured by Humans of New York and put out on the internet where anybody and everybody could read it --> and his life, her life, and the school's life have been irrevocably changed - more than $1,000,000 has come in, her faith in them is restored by his story, and all is well or, at least, looking pretty good right now.

So, why then is this labeled a tragedy?

There are so many more Mott Halls out there. So many more Nadia Lopez stories - people with a dream who pour their hearts and souls and blood and sweat and tears and whatever metaphor for lives you care to use, but whose student was not Vidal, was not on Humans of New York, and whose dreams are dying or have died.

We are not a meritocracy. We are not a place in which a dream and hard work is enough to ensure success. We are a place of crap shoots and luck. We are a giant lottery with people investing their beings in the belief that that will give them a good chance of winning when it gives them, at best, a poor chance.

It is worse than that, unfortunately. The dreams of our private educators who have made their way up from the bottom are smashed into pieces, but that is not the worst of it, by any means.

Our public schools are filled with teachers, almost all of whom mean well. Among them, our most passionate, most caring faculty are burning out just as Nadia has burned out. They, too, think "I felt like typing my resignation. 'I don’t think I can do it anymore. Because I don’t think my scholars care. And I don’t think they believe in themselves enough to care. I’m afraid they don’t think they’re good enough.'

And they think their administrations don't care enough. And they think their school boards do not care enough. And they think their state and federal legislators do not care enough. And it is hard to tell them they are wrong in the face of what we are doing to our teachers, our schools, and our students.

Some of you, reading this, may wonder what this has to do with gifted education, which is most often the theme of these posts.

We see the same things in gifted education that we see in the rest of the field of education, folks. We see tired, burned out people. We see institutions that have died because the people behind them grew too tired to move forward, while being also unable to find young firebrands to pick up the cause.

This state organization. That regional conference. This other unique group's newsletter and conference.

Some of them are thriving because they got lucky. No, not because they are good, but because they got lucky. Their founder did not get sick or lose all their money in a scam. Or a benefactor joined them and brought them back to life, like Mott Hall. Or any number of other pieces.

Yes, yes, you need to be able to take advantage of luck when it happens, but when it doesn't or when it is bad, then what? What is resilience to an institution that ran on a shoe string, when the shoe string breaks?

We are losing precious gifted institutions. College programs with both research and courses, as well as community outreach are going away either from defunding at the state (or province) level or because the leader died or moved along. City wide programs have gone away for much the same reason. It's not everywhere nor all at once. But in an area that ran annual events for decades, two out of three years there is no event and what used to be sponsorship from the state departments of education is gone, not just some of the sponsoring groups.

Please understand - what happened for Nadia Gomez is a wonderful thing for her school, her students, and her. Celebrate what has happened. But do not think it is a more deserving program than some of those that fall by the wayside, unnoticed in their passing. It is both deserving and lucky.

Do you have luck that you can lend to something you believe in?
"This quality of genius is, sometimes, difficult to be distinguished from talent, because high genius includes talent. It is talent, and something more. The usual distinction between genius and talent is, that one represents creative thought, the other practical skill ; one invents, the other applies. But the truth is, that high genius applies its own inventions better than talent alone can do. A man who has mastered the higher mathematics, does not, on that account, lose his knowledge of arithmetic. Hannibal, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Newton, Scott, Burke, Arkwright, were they not men of talent as well as men of genius’! Because a great man does not, always, do what many smaller men can often do as well, smaller men must not, therefore, affect to pity him as a visionary, and pretend to lick into shape his formless theories.

But, still, there doubtless is a marked distinction between men of genius and men simply of talent. Talent repeats ; genius creates. Talent is a cistern ; genius a fountain. Talent deals with the actual, with discovered and realized truths, analyzing, arranging, combining, applying positive knowledge,and,in action, looking to precedents. Genius deals with the possible, creates new combinations, discovers new laws, and acts from an insight into new principles. Talent jogs to conclusions to which genius takes giant leaps. Talent accumulates knowledge, and has it packed up in the memory ; genius assimilates it with its own substance, grows with every new accession, and converts knowledge into power. Talent gives out what it has taken in ; genius, what has risen from its unsounded wells of living thought. Talent, in difficult situations, strives to untie knots, which genius instantly cuts with one swift decision. Talent is full of thoughts ; genius, of thought. One has definite acquisitions; the other, indefinite power.

But the most important distinction between the two qualities is this : one, in conception, follows mechanical processes ; the other, vital. Talent feebly conceives objects with the senses and understanding; genius, fusing all its powers together in the alembic of an impassioned imagination, clutches every thing in the concrete, conceives objects as living realities, gives body to spiritual abstractions, and spirit to bodily appearances..."

~Edwin Percy Whipple, excerpted from an 1850 speech:;+Genius,+a+fountain%22&source=bl&ots=2jCQzpf7vE&sig=_g0dnqfzqj2I8S9j28Dlrsu0h_Y&hl=en&sa=X&ei=T1sWVLH-KJGcyASQ4IHACQ&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=%22Talent%20is%20a%20cistern%3B%20Genius%2C%20a%20fountain%22&f=false

(For the curious, Edwin Percy Whipple and Guy Montrose Whipple (researcher in the field of IQ testing and giftedness) were 6th cousins, once removed, and though they lived comparatively near each other, it is unlikely that they knew each other. Edwin died when Guy was 10 years old.)
I have touched upon the label war off and on for many years, here and elsewhere. I strongly favor keeping the word we have for children of high potential: gifted.

I do not say this because I like the word - I don't. Nor do I say it because I like labeling children - I don't. I say it because labeling seems to be the only way to get services and losing the label gifted seems likely to make getting those services no easier and likely harder.

This is what I wrote in 2007:
One of the most commonly mentioned drawbacks concerns what would happen if your child is labeled gifted by the school. Depending on the speaker at the time, you may end up with a conceited and unpleasant child, one who thinks that s/he is better than the others in class, a child who gets picked on and bullied for the label, or even a child who is doomed to failure due to the excessive pressure placed on the child’s shoulders.

I have to admit, your child may be conceited. Your child may think s/he is better than the others in class. Your child may get picked on or be bullied. And your child may suffer from the feeling of excessive pressure on his or her shoulders.

None of this is particularly connected to the use of the term gifted by the schools.

Conceit: If you consistently know more than others around you, can answer questions they cannot, read books that they find too difficult, or use words that they do not understand, then there is a distinct chance that you may become conceited.

Better: When the teacher shows your work off, telling everybody to follow your example, when you are chosen for competitions, when you are the only student designated to tutor others during class, then you may well find yourself believing that you are the best student in the class.

Bullied: Should other kids notice that you talk funny, dress funny, act funny, look funny, or anything else different from them, then there is a clear possibility that you will be bullied. If you are used by other kids’ parents as an example, they may well resent you and bullying may follow.

Pressured: How you see the world and its troubles, and what you perceive as a response to those problems can cause some pressure. The belief that you need to do something about it will put pressure on your shoulders every time.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the gifted label causes none of that. Children have been conceited since before the word gifted came into the language. Similarly, they have been singled out for their accomplishments when compared to classmates, been bullied for being different, and have felt huge pressure to change the world – all without ever being called gifted by the schools, their parents, or anybody else.

As is my wont, I wish to harken back to history - to the period in which Guy Montrose Whipple led our field from one term to another:
First,what number of children in an ordinary school system can be termed supernormal children? Evidently the answer to this question must be: it depends on what you mean by "supernormal." I prefer not to use the term "supernormal" at all.In the minds of many persons the term "supernormal" carries a vague implication also of the abnormal. To be supernormal means that you are somehow outside the realm of the normal (outside of the healthy or desirable). A supernormal child is a freak, a child prodigy, an unwholesome hydrocephalic creature, an anemic, hothouse product whose youthful precocity is no whit more striking than his subsequent decline into mediocrity, if not into eccentricity or downright insanity. But the "gifted children"(which appears to be a better designation) of whom we are speaking are wholesome, competent children with sound bodies, lively ambitions -- whose future, when properly trained, only fulfills the promise of early years. (9/11/1920)

The modern Chinese still use "supernormal," with some claims that it does not touch on the nature vs. nurture debate. We clearly don't use that term, or at least not when it comes to children.

What other words might we use, if not "gifted" or "supernormal?"

"Exceptional" and "Special" are in use already. "Genius" is both wrong and worse than gifted. "Superior" doesn't seem to cut it. "Highly intelligent" might work for some purposes, but in a world of Multiple Intelligences or even Marland's 1972 definition of gifted, there would seem to be far more to the term "gifted" than intelligence of any height includes.

"Academically advanced" suffers from that problem and also precludes the inclusion of underachievers - while "academically advanced underachiever" makes sense to me, I suspect I am in the minority.

What do you think of "precocious?" If kids hate the gifted label (and some do), how do you suppose they will like "precocious?" Clever, smart, brilliant... none of those would be any more accepted, yet none of them covers the ground fully.

Superman!? Maybe not.

High potential.

I could live with that - it is wordier, but in some ways clearer.

But... imagine the reception the "High Potential Students" program would get from parents - "Are you saying my child does not have high potential?!"

This, then, is the crux of the matter.

We need a term that is not domain specific, but which can be applied to individual domains.

We need a term that is inclusive of non-academic realms.

We need a non-contentious term. (Not happening!)

I suggest we try the word "gifted."

This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at
 photo Hoagies_Blog_Hop-G-word.jpg

Some links to my prior entries somewhat on the topic:
When we walk in darkness, those of us fortunate enough to have vision are conscious of the lack. We are tentative in our steps, feeling our way along with whatever glimmers and memories we have. If we are outside in the snow, we are careful of the path, the depth, and potential tripping hazards.

When we walk in the beginnings of false dawn, it feels so much lighter and easier to see that we tend to slough off a lot of that timidity and walk as if we can actually see where we are going. And we can, to an extent. We can see short distance destinations fairly well, but we really don't have a good sense of our footing. There is a flatness to light at twilight, whether pre-dawn or dusk, that denies us effective depth perception. Skiers know this sort of condition well, and remember in their muscles as well as their minds the feeling of unanticipated moguls and dips on the slopes and trails, as we wend our way down them on the last runs of the day.

Shadows are absent, as are other visual clues about the edges where one height blends into another, most often discovered by... accident.

What we tend to miss is how much of our lives is actually spent in metaphorical twilight - areas in which we have just enough light to think we can see, while the nuances, the shadows, the edges that mark important differences are missing - missing to the point that we don't even know there is something there to see, as we might if we were totally ignorant. This is the essence of the phrase "knows just enough to be dangerous."

What is it like to be black, gay, Jewish, blind, brilliant, OCD, immigrant, impoverished, care-taking, abused, without spoons, or a thousand other conditions - positive, negative, neutral, other?!

We don't know, but we are quick to decide what *we* would do in those situations and how /that/ person or /those/ people are mishandling it.

This does not make us wrong - but it increases the chance of our being wrong to a huge extent. And the bigger problem that goes with that is that our belief that we have enough light to see makes us resistant to input from those who are living or have lived the circumstances or for whom there has been far more light than the dimness we are inhabiting.

I don't have a fix for the lack of vision from which you suffer, from which I suffer, with regard to lives that are too distinct from our own. I cannot automatically shed light on these for you/us.

I can tell you:

LISTEN to the voices of the folks in those places.

*START* with the assumption that you are in twilight and cannot see clearly.

Just knowing you are in twilight may make it easier to avoid unnecessary stumbling.
"Vast sums are yearly squandered to no purpose. If the books selected consist of extracts and compilations, wholly unsuited to the capacity of children - if the house is cold or crowded, inconvenient and uncomfortable - and especially if given over to the management of an incompetent teacher, the school becomes a scene of anarchy and confusion, and all is waste-the young mind becomes disgusted with books and schools and teachers, and hates learning forever after.


"The entire premises... should be an enchanting spot, sheltered alike from the cold blasts of winder, and the summer's scorching sun; a place of love, of kindness and good will; and not a place of whips, consternation, despotism and terror."

J. D. Pierce, Sup't of Schools, Michigan, December, 1836 (Senate Document 7)
Journal of the Senate of the State of Michigan, January, 1837.

(also from System of Public Instruction and Primary School Law of Michigan (Document No. 6)
Prepared by Francis W. Sherman, Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1852)
The full title is The High School Failures: A Study of the School Records of Pupils Failing in Academic or Commercial High School Subjects.

“The recognition of individual differences urged in section 1 necessitates a differentiation and a flexibility of the high school curriculum that is limited only by the social and individual needs to be served, the size of the school, and the availability of means. The rigid inflexibility of the inherited course of study has contributed perhaps more than its full share to the waste product of the educational machinery. … ‘Specialization of instruction for different pupils within one class is needed as well as specialization of the curriculum for different classes.’ There must be less of the assumption that the pupils are made for the schools, whose regime they must fit or else fail repeatedly where they do not fit.”

From the dissertation of Francis P. O'Brien

The subquote is from Edward L. Thorndike, from his book Individuality (1911). The next line of that quote is "Since human nature does not all into sharply defined groups, we can generally never be sure of having a dozen pupols who need to be treated exactly alike."
More from the 1968 report to President Johnson on "Gifted Persons."

"These twin requirements of increasing instructional speed and quantity without decreasing quality have generated new administrative arrangements and stimulated an educational technology that can aid the development of programs for gifted students. The newer administrative arrangements -- better methods for apportioning students, teachers, and the talents of both -- include:

1. Nongraded classes: This term does not imply that students receive no grades for performance. Rather, it recognizes that a student might be capable of performing at the sixth grade level in mathematics and science, at the fifth-grade level in social sciences, and at the eighth-grade in English. Nongraded classes permit students to move among the grade levels for each area of study, rather than taking all classes at one level. Some schools -- those in the Pittsburgh area, for example -- have experimented with cooperative arrangements involving schools at different levels (for example, junior and senior high schools), and a number of colleges permit outstanding high school students to enroll in college courses while completing high school requirements.*

2. Team teaching: ... Team teaching, in short, enables each teacher to do what he or she is best at, and gives all students the best instruction that the staff can provide in each subject.

3. Individually prescribed instruction: ... IPI, in essence, allows students to choose their own assignments each day in consultation with the teachers, permits each to work alone on that assignment, and then checks the student's performance to diagnose any learning problems he may have and gauge his readiness to undertake more difficult work. Each student moves at his own pace in each subject, working as fast as he can, as far as he can. Carefully planned curricular materials, including film-slides and recordings as well as printed matter, perform much of the routine instructional work, freeing teachers to provide help to those students who need it, and freeing students from the necessity of listening to group lectures they do not need.

4. Flexible scheduling: There is no intrinsic reason why each class period should last 50 minutes, but -- with the exception of occasional two-hour laboratory periods -- most classes do, whether in English or algebra or playing the oboe. By recognizing that some units of learning can profitably be taught in less time than others, and by structuring the class day in varying multiples of 20 minutes, say, flexible scheduling permits the student to spend more or less time on each subject as appropriate.

5. Self-directed learning or independent study: Long used by good teachers as a means of relieving exceptional students from unnecessary repetition, this approach is particularly appropriate in small schools where special programs for the talented are not feasible. It can also be used in larger schools where a relatively few students have such unusual abilities or talents that they do not fit anywhere in the regular or special programs. Some of the more innovative schools -- Nova High School in Fort Lauderdale, for example -- have built their whole program around some combination of independent study and nongradedness.

6. Resource centers: These provide facilities and equipment for enabling gifted students, individually or in groups, to carry on activities appropriate for their talent development. Such a center may serve students from a single school or from a whole group of schools.

Each of these methods recognizes that (1) students differ in their rates of learning, even though they may be the same age and share the same classroom; (2) a uniform rate of class progression based on the learning ability of the majority can bore fast learners and frustrate slow learners; and (3) children -- even young ones -- have a genuine appetite for learning which can be stimulated by offering each the precise kind and amount of knowledge he is ready to consume. Continuing this chef's analogy,we might say that administrative arrangements such as those outlined above permit a school to offer a daily smorgasbord of learning in place of the same menu for everybody.

*Meeting the Needs of the Able Student Through Provisions for Flexible Progressions, C.M. Lindvall with the collaboration of J. Steele Gow,Jr., and Francis J. Rifugiato. A report of the Regional Commission on Educational Coordination and the Coordinated Education Center. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962.
"...developing special opportunities for the gifted does not require large sums of money or a great enrollment. It does require both political support and educational leadership. The first makes educational change possible; the second gives it form and direction. Of the two, leadership from professionals in the school system seems the more important component, since by calling attention to the need for a differentiated curriculum the educator can begin rousing community support and focus that support by offering special program suggestions.


"For the purposes to which this report addresses itself, educational leadership comprises two components: First, recognition that compulsory adherence to standard curriculum can actually damage the exceptionally talented youngster,and a determination to build into the school as much administrative flexibility as possible; and second, ingenuity in working with such students and their teachers to fashion a pedagogically sound substitute for the standard program.

Administrative Flexibility

"Both the expansion of knowledge and the proliferation of professional specialization have forced the schools to convey more information and to convey it more efficiently. Schools have more to teach; they must do it faster, and hence better. They have been forced to investigate ways of enabling students to learn on their own, rather than requiring them to sit in classrooms for fixed periods of time while the teacher dispenses knowledge. Furthermore, knowledge is increasing at such a rate that teachers cannot be retrained fast enough to keep up with the old method of "teaching by telling." Hence they have to concentrate on helping the children develop the skills they will need to keep renewing their learning in the years ahead."

The year was 1968.

The quote is from a report to President Johnson on "Gifted Persons," probably the least cited of this field's national reports! Roughly 16 appearances in a casual Google search, mostly providing one sentence from the report (and mostly the same sentence). It shows up in zero libraries in WorldCat.

Four years later, under Nixon, the Marland Report was produced. It's available free online, and sits in more than 400 libraries.

The Marland Report's definition of gifted had a huge impact - and still retains some impact. The Task Force's report mostly has faded into obscurity, if it was ever out of obscurity. The next entry picks up the Report where this one left off.

White House Task Force on the Education of Gifted Persons (1968). Talent development: An investment in the nation's future. (A report to the President). Available through the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.
"No greater foe to the genuine equality of opportunity which our educational, as our political system, implies, can be found than the belief that equality can be attained by ignoring or denying diversity of gifts or by submerging all elevations in the vast ocean of the commonplace.
"The supreme test of a teacher's efficiency is not how well he has awakened sluggish minds, or how far he has led the capable, or what excellencies he has discovered, but how few he has "failed." Reward for, or even recognition of, high achievement in any line save athletics is singularly lacking.
"Soon we shall hear that college itself has been appropriated by the aspiring crowd and the inspiring dictum shall go forth that human society owes every child a college education.
"It is undoubtedly true, as we are continually being reminded, that the public schools as they stand, do not produce the citizenship needed for the work ahead of the country.' But in all fairness, how can they be expected to when the whole tendency of teaching and of administration is toward the minimizing of distinctions by virtue of which alone special efficiency of any sort is possible?"

~ Frank P. Whitney,
Equality and the Schools in Education, Vol. 33, No. 2 (October, 1912)
"During the middle part of the last century individual teaching fell into disgrace and... the emphasis was placed on class teaching and class organization. Indeed, a careful perusal of [journals] would almost lead one to believe that individual children scarcely existed in the schools..., so little is said of their needs.

"Matters in America, however, began to change for the better in the seventies... The importance of the individual child has since then been brought to the front slowly but surely, until now the principle is rather firmly established that the school should be organized to meet the varying needs of the individuals who comprise it."

School organization and the individual child: a book for school executives and teachers, being an exposition of plans that have been evolved to adapt school organization to the needs of individual children, normal, supernormal and subnormal. By William H. Holmes (1912)
From Raymond Harris' American Education: Facts, Fancies, and Folklore (1961)

Before you read this, it might be useful to know that Raymond Harris also disputed the notion of anti-intellectualism.

"Ability merely gives a child the potential for serious achievement. To realize the potential, ability must be combined with sufficient industry to complete difficult and extended learning tasks. Brightness alone, though noticed in the classroom, has little value unless it is accompanied by seriousness of purpose. The child with the high IQ, who will not work, is known to every teacher. Probably the number, if not the ability, of such children is somewhat exaggerated because they are mentioned so frequently, but they are present in every school. Industrious, but less bright, children, are also identified. They are welcomed in every classroom, because teachers admire their diligent attitudes, but they seldom become the top-ranking students. They perform reasonably well on most assignments, but only dimly glimpse the more abstract points of the subject materials. Ability and industriousness occur in every conceivable combination, and so contribute to the great range of achievement among individual children. No one can remain near the top of the range unless he possesses a high degree of both. It is quite probable, moreover, that ability unaccompanied by industry eventually deteriorates into mediocrity.

Many educators have learned to avoid the use of the word "gifted" when referring to the specially talented children. For one thing, it is an emotional term making objectivity difficult. Individuals have many different kinds of gifts, some of which have no relation to school work, though they may be of great value to the person and to his society. Hence the tendency to avoid the term and use more descriptive phrases such as "students with ability and industry." A number of such phrases are in use among educators, all of them improvements upon the single word "gifted."



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