Aug. 11th, 2012

Amidst the (interminable) discussion about the word "gifted" and whether it should be retired in favor of some other word or phrase, there has been a reemergence of a different phrase: giftedness is a social construct. This has various assumptions embedded in it or conclusions derived from it:

a) "the idea of giftedness changes over time and across cultures" (Australia Gifted Ed Module), and ""what one culture values as intelligence of giftedness may not be valued in another culture," (Borland)
b) children selected for studies of giftedness are those who are demonstrating socially accepted forms of giftedness (Freeman),
c) the advancement of the idea of gifted children "reflects specific forces that served sociopolitical interests" (Borland),
d) "subjectivity guides definitions, assessments, and perceptions of giftedness" (Pfeiffer), which leads to discrimination (Sapon-Shevon),
e) the social construct is "resulting from social expectations and individual abilities" (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson),

We also have observations suggesting that not all of giftedness is wrapped up in social construct: "certain forms of giftedness appear to be universal while others depend on the nature of culture" (Stone), and "There are some youngsters who are born with the capability to learn faster than others those ideas or concepts that modern societies value in children and adults." (Gallagher)

So long as we look at who is seen as gifted, at which talents are valued, we will be led to think of giftedness as a social construct.

But what that approach fails to see is that in those cultures in which X talent is valued, but Y talent is not, that both X and Y talents exist! That an ability is unappreciated does not mean the ability was not present.

Note the second clause in the Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson phrase: individual abilities. The abilities exist independent of the social expectations. The caveman's strength may have been more valued then than now, but the strength exists separately from culture's appreciation of it.



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