Oct. 8th, 2012

The following comments concern the special issue (October,2012) of Gifted Child Quarterly, which contains a set of responses to an article, Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science, by Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius & Worrell (Psychological Science in the Public Interest January 2011 vol. 12 no. 1 3-54). The full paper can be found at the following link, but a shortened (14 page) version is included in the Special Issue.


This entry is in response to the first article in the October GCQ issue.

This commentary addresses Subotnik et al.’s target article from the perspective of researchers active in the field of giftedness. First, we self-critically examine the current standing of giftedness research within the scientific community. Second, the authors’ critique of gifted education is sharpened in three respects: (a) gifted identification, (b) effectiveness of gifted education, and (c) credentials of gifted education. Finally, four necessary and productive lines for future research are proposed.

The authors make their opinion of the paper clear in the very first paragraph of their paper, in comparing the work with an early 20th century mathematician who laid out the work ahead for future endeavors in his field. They believe Subotnik, et al, have performed an incredible service that will make it possible for the field of gifted education to finally move forward. A bit later, they compare Subotnik's work to drosophila, suggesting that it can be at the core of future research.

I find this comparison to be more than a little over-the-top, but there are several underlying factors that I think contribute to this exaggerated view. A few of the comments that I believe contribute to this:

1) "Over the course of the past decade or so, there have been growing signs that gifted education and giftedness research has entered a phase of crisis."

2) "the major variables or concepts under investigation have usually been published more than 30 years ago, indicating a long process until the concepts of general education and psychology trickle down into giftedness research."

3) "for a long time, research papers on giftedness have not made it into the top mainstream educational and psychological journals with high impact factors."

4) "our neighboring scientific disciplines do not seem to value the results of giftedness research."

These fall under the category of "self-critically examin(ing) the current standing of giftedness research within the scientific community" It is an odd hodge-podge of over-statements and under-statements. Let's look at them one at a time:

1) The crisis... This statement comes out of nowhere and has no support provided for it. No signs are given or ways to know that it is a decade, a year, or a century. Nor do the next three points provide such signs.

2) "More than 30 years ago..." Try 90 years ago! Yes, I think that part of the tale is true. But... "until concepts of general education... trickle down into giftedness research" is false in a twisted way. The concepts of gifted education are slowly trickling down into general education research! This has been a hot topic for years and underlies much of what is talked about in Borland's paper advocating the elimination of gifted programs (http://www.creativitypost.com/education/problematizing_gifted_education_part_i_why_problematize and parts 2-5 as well). There is even something to it, though less than meets Borland's eye.

My best comment on this conflict is this: "There are certain ones of these recommendations that apply to any schoolroom but that, nevertheless, take on, in our opinion, an added significance when the room is devoted to the instruction of gifted children." (Guy Montrose Whipple, 1919)

There is a half-truth to the idea that it takes a long time for "concepts of... psychology trickle down into giftedness research." Unfortunately, this is true of education as a whole, not just gifted education - much of what we learn about the brain and the body do not make it into research about classroom practice. OTOH, there is giftedness research that reflects advances in neuropsychology, and that is wonderful, if ignored in this paper.

3) The absence of "research papers on giftedness" in "top mainstream educational and psychological journals with high impact factors" for a long time... This is just patently false, even without bothering with a definition of "long time."

I read this one and was a tad surprised, as I have written a couple papers and cited articles from those journals. Looking at the JCR list of Top 50 Psychology Journals, I know of articles within that last decade in at least 16 of them. While I don't know of a similar list in Education, I can say that many of the most cited journals over the last decade have had research on giftedness in them. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Learning and Instruction, and the Economics of Education Review are among the most cited Education Journals that include research about the gifted.

Yes, there are plenty of journals that don't, but I am not sure why the gerontology and schizophrenia journals would be expected to!

4) Neighboring fields don't value gifted research... The two neighboring fields to which they refer are expertise and innovation. Creativity is not, apparently, one of our neighboring fields. And, as mentioned elsewhere, brain science does not seem to be ignoring gifted research - it seems to be adding to it.

With the paper's next section, we get to the crux of the matter:
"Despite more than 100 years of research, we are still far away from being able to reliably identify later eminent individuals."

The authors then go on to argue that "to prove the credentials of gifted education and giftedness research to society, we must also be able to answer questions such as:
• Is it more likely that someone who enrolls in a bachelor’s program at an Ivy-league university or someone who enrolls in a state university of good reputation will attain eminence (e.g., is awarded a Noble Prize)?

• What is the probability that the next winner of a gold medal at the Academic Math Olympics will come from China?

• What is the probability that the 2025 world champion in chess will come from an Arabian country?"

I reject that as a goal for gifted education, let alone a required proof!

I do not perceive the authors as having "self-critically" examined anything, let alone in the scientific community - they looked at a small corner of that community, a corner with which they were already familiar, and saw what they knew they would see.

I concede the points on identification and effectiveness, given that what the authors are seeking has nothing to do with the goals of the overwhelming majority of identification processes nor the goals of the gifted programs.

If you are not seeking potential eminence, and you are not seeking to develop your students into eminent adults, then you are unlikely to satisfy these authors.
Thing 1:

Early in their opinion piece, the authors have a footnote with regard to the linking of giftedness and eminence:

Linking giftedness with eminence by no means implies that
eminence must or should be the ultimate educational goal for
each gifted person. However, it is—by definition of the very
term of giftedness—always an option, and society should provide
for the proper support, that a gifted person is able—provided
she or he so wishes—to attain this goal.

In Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education, Subotnik, et al, state rather bluntly:
outstanding achievement or eminence ought to be the chief goal of gifted education.

If the chief goal of the program is eminence and the students fail to achieve eminence, then the students have failed and so has the program.

In fact, is that not one of the complaints concerning the current programs? They FAILED to predictably produce eminence when that was not even their primary goal!

And it turns out that eminence is not enough... Subotnik's team wants every student to aspire to "fulfill one’s talents and abilities in the form of transcendent creative contributions."

If these are not values shared by Dr. Ziegler and co., should they not have addressed that?

Thing 2:

Dr. Ziegler has been working in this field for more than 15 years.

Given his critique of research on the gifted as relying on "major variables or concepts" that are more than 30 years old, should he not have done something about it?



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