[personal profile] philobiblius
A lot of focus for children is how to make them smarter or more capable in schools. Products abound that promise to enhance their intelligence or broaden their skills. At the same time, there are push-backs against programs for gifted students in our schools and the never-ending debate over the age at which a child “should” enter school – should one ‘red-shirt’ a child to gain the advantage in school that extra maturity might bring?

The Washington Post, Time Magazine, and television news magazine after game show are all caught up in this frenzy. They explore pushy parents and discriminatory programs, and if you are smarter than a 5th grader. Yet, when all is said and done, often the beleaguered mom and dad have no more idea about what to do than they did before reading or listening.

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.

Labels are a way of knowing what you are getting. You would not like shopping in a store that didn’t tell you which clothes were which size and required you to try them all on. Nor would you care for a grocery store in which all the canned food labels were removed. If we provided no labels for books or movies or music, selection would be a much more painstaking process.

The clothing metaphor is, perhaps, the best ‘fit’ for this analogy. When all clothing is created from scratch or even tailored, there is no need for size labels. Similarly, when all children are taught on an individual basis, there is no need for labels based on ability or how they learn.

We do not have such a world. Children are taught en masse. They are taught in large groups with little active differentiation based on content to be learned, let alone pacing or thinking styles! Education is overwhelmingly ‘off the rack.’

(originally written 8/28/2007)
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