Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gifted Education = Segregation?

In his essay in today's Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, writer Pierre Tristam argues that:

To hear the proponents of gifted education as primarily a separate but superior enterprise for the chosen suggests that the gifted somehow stand apart not only intellectually but socially. The presumption is that standing apart economically eventually will be their due. Mixing with their lessers, even if they're high achievers, would spoil them. It's segregation by other means, and toward ends not nearly as honorable as DuBois' for his Talented Tenth.

My response in an email to Mr. Tristam:

"Dear Mr. Tristam,

Separating gifted children from a heterogeneous classroom is an advantage, not only for the gifted
children but for children of all ability levels. A 1985 study by James and Chen-Lin Kulik found that "students in an ability group setting--*regardless of track*--were substantially more motivated toward subject areas than were students who were not grouped." (Quoted in Rogers, Karen, _Re-Forming Gifted Education_, p.214.)

This makes sense empirically as well. Imagine yourself in a heterogeneous, or "desegregated," classroom. There's always that one child with his hand up in the air everytime the teacher asks a question. No one else gets a chance to puzzle through the answer and actually learn something because he tells them the answer. He's first, best and brightest with all the
answers. The kids all know it, call him "teacher's pet" and "egghead" and shun him or outright bully him for it. Children segregate themselves socially and the more children who are different, the easier it is for them to do that, perpetuating the cycle.

He has two choices: he can reject his classmates and assume he's just naturally first, best and brightest at everything, or he can sit on his answering hand and laugh at bathroom humor on the playground just like everyone else, even while he knows he'll always be different, and alone.

Now imagine he's in a segregated, gifted classroom. There are a couple kids in that class who are smarter than he is. Suddenly he has to work to keep up with a much faster curriculum. His motivation to learn increases and at the same time, he has an opportunity to find a friend his age who also really like dissecting worms or reading Oliver Twist. He's not alone, and his previous classmates, also now in a class of homogeneous ability, finally have the chance to answer questions and participate in discussions that aren't esoteric to the point of boredom. They're also not under pressure to ostracize the child who is different, so don't continue the cycle of bullying behavior.

Gifted education has nothing to do with "deserving the best education" more than others or a "presumption [of] standing apart economically." What the parents of gifted students want is the same thing that parents of special education students get: instruction at their child's level of ability and a chance for them to find friends with similar interests; kids who get their jokes. Every child deserves that, not matter what their ability.


1 comment:

Kim Moldofsky said...

Well said!