"The need for special education of gifted children is indicated by the large percentage of failures in our colleges and universities due, not to lack of capacity, but to bad habits and undesirable attitudes; by the many graduates of higher institutions of learning who do not feel under the slightest obligation to society which made possible their higher education; and by those gifted children who leave school because of dissatisfaction with traditional education.

"A gifted child is one with exceptionally good intelligence who deviates from the average to such an extent that he requires special education to make the most of his possibilities. The problem is to determine the nature and extent of the special education required to enable him to attain his maximum development."

Sub-committee on Gifted
Committee on Special Classes
White House Conference on Child Health and Protection
As with many other aspects of education, the approach to gifted children goes through cycles. There is a push, currently, toward seeing giftedness only in the product of ones labors rather than in the individual that is reminiscent of the early days of Joseph Renzulli's Three Ring Conception of Giftedness, which posited the three components of gifted behavior to be "above average ability, above average creativity, and above average task commitment."

In "Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science," Rena Subotnik and her co-authors have proposed a definition of giftedness that remarkably has absolutely nothing to do with a person:

Giftedness is the manifestation of performance that is clearly at the upper end of the distribution in a talent domain even relative to other high-functioning individuals in that domain.

No longer are we, the educators, seeking to nurture individuals. We are purely and simply seeking to turn out displays and products, albeit of the highest quality.

Let me set aside the broader issue of whether we wish to return our view of education to the factory model, and the pure linguistic issue of defining a person's attributes in terms of external valuation of their production.

Instead, I would like to focus on the implications for late bloomers and underachievers.

In a view that focuses on the child and the child's potential, there is purpose in looking at what blocks it, at what prevents that child from fulfillment. The child who is stuck is as worth our effort as the child who achieves. Giftedness is the high potential.

In a view that focuses on the fruits of a child's labors, there is no purpose in looking beyond whether the child produces or not. The child's fulfillment has no relevance to schooling or, dare I say it, upbringing. Giftedness is, somehow, in the product and not the child.

I do not come at this from a detached point of view. My perspective is that of a classic underachiever whose parents, teachers, and counselors were quite frustrated; that of an adult who works with others who have been so labeled.

I have reason to believe that my efforts have made a difference in the lives of dozens of other underachievers, helping them to find their feet. Pardon me if I cannot see how declaring these children a waste of time and effort would make this a better world.



February 2017



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