The Curse of Giftedness

In the minds of most people, including many teachers, being gifted is something to celebrate – being gifted means school will be easier, you’ll excel beyond your peers, and maybe even enjoy remarkable success in the world beyond school.  But to teachers who have spent much time teaching students who are gifted, the reality is not always so charming.  Students who are gifted often stagnate (or worse) in a mainstream classroom, becoming disruptive and surly and not learning very much.  Yet, whenever money or personnel are assigned to teaching gifted students, there is usually a hue and cry from the parents of students who suffer learning disabilities.

Two recent articles bear out this debate.  The Globe and Mail reported on the perils of being gifted, providing some compelling evidence that gifted students need much in the way of support.  Tralee Pearce reports that “a growing group of parents, educators and critics say striving parents should be careful what they wish for. The downsides of both special gifted programs and of childhood giftedness itself are leading some to question the logic behind the label…. In many cases giftedness is not a badge of distinction so much as a life problem that needs solving. And in the struggle over definitions and scarce educational resources, they are the ones who could get left behind.”
“Parents of gifted children are calling the new Primary Gifted program, which is currently being piloted at Charles R. Beaudoin Public School in Burlington and due to roll out to other schools in September 2011, “fabulous”.
But parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural issues or autism spectrum disorder say the board is giving unfair advantage to gifted children at the expense of their kids.
“I think it’s creating a two-tier system,” says former school board trustee Philippa Ellis, who voted against the new program at a November board meeting. “It’s saying that some children’s needs are more important or worthy of more service and attention than other children’s needs.”
If we are to say, as most do, that not all students fit into one mold, that we need to ‘reach every student’ (the Government of Ontario’s new educational slogan), then we need to be serious about helping students of all sorts.  Case in point: every faculty of education in this province has special education certification classes for teachers – tailored for students who suffer learning disabilities.  There is only one that currently has a course on how to teach gifted students.    And Ontario’s largest faculty of education and educational research institution, OISE, has one instructor who specializes in gifted education – and she only teaches one course.  Under such a set of assumptions and educational biases, there is surely something cruel in our (legal) insistence that gifted students go to school and learn exactly like the rest of us.
It shouldn’t be special education just for those who struggle with disabilities – if we want to embrace special education, it should be for all those who are not being served by the system.

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