I was in the Gifted Program in school, I was lucky. My mother was a teacher and advocated for me. What this meant was that I was able to receive extra instruction. In elementary school this might mean an art, Spanish or guitar class during a time that my class was reviewing things I already knew. In third grade I spent one hour a week in a sixth grade class while they did science. I was also permitted to get ahead of the other kids in my class. I remember in first grade practicing counting money on my own (including dollars) while the class was still learning what each coin stood for. In fourth, fifth, and sixth grade I was in a pair of classes that worked together. One teacher taught language arts, while the other taught math. This allowed the students to divide up by ability level instead of grade level. But by sixth grade I had covered the main math information that they taught to the rest of the classes, so I spent the year doing more self-directed studies.
I am very thankful that I was able to do things like this. It allowed me to not be super bored in my classes and move at my own pace to a certain extent. However there are many problems with this system.
First and foremost: Not every child has access to it. This type of program is not set up in every state, those that do have it vary widely in implementation, even between districts. Within a district some schools support it, some do not, just like any special education program. The middle school that I went to did not have a gifted program, but I went there because that is where my mother taught. Because she knew the teachers, she was able to get me in the best classes for me, even though I had to go outside the established ‘team’ structure the school used at the time.
Even if a child is lucky enough to live in the right place to be able to take advantage of the system, their parents might not know to get them involved, and their teachers might not advise them to do so.
Secondly: Tailored education for all. I do not write this post to tell you how smart I am. I used to think that I was better than other, normal, people and I apologize for that. I now know that everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses. Because my family was full of teachers, and traditional education was such a focus of my upbringing, I thought that it was the most important thing, and that since I was good at that, I was some kind of super-genius.
I now do not support the use of the IQ test. I do not support a system that puts a single set of abilities over another. I believe that it is very damaging. The first thing you may think of when I say that is the people who are told that they are not smart by such a system, and that is a huge part of what I mean. But because that is so obvious, I am not going to go into it. I will tell you why it is not good for the above average kids as well.
As I grew up and I saw the strengths of my friends, I thought that because I was ‘Gifted’ that I should be better at everything than people who did not receive the same label. This is probably part of why I have dabbled in so many different things. It’s not just that I get bored with it, or that I like to be a Jack-of-all-Trades, but that I felt the requirement to beat others at their own strengths. Obviously this is an unrealistic expectation. Through a long and arduous journey I have discovered a long list of things that I am not very good at. And every time that I try these things again, I find the realization again. And every time I have to get over the disappointment again. I have to fail over and over again, and waste my time repeatedly just to re-learn the same lesson I did not learn when I was young. No-one is good at everything.
For a long time I assumed that the people that I made friends with were also in the Gifted Program, because they were smart. I would later find out that most were not. Some were actually in the lower levels of Special Education. Some had failed grades in school. This surprised me. Yes, if a child has dyslexia, that needs to be addressed, but they should also be addressing the things they are good at.
I believe everyone should be allowed to pursue the things that they excel at. This does not mean they should ignore the things they struggle in. Everyone needs to understand trying to learn something outside of their strength. I do believe that there are some skills that should be universal, but these are extremely basic compared to the requirements for school today. (I also understand that these concepts are outside the realm of possibility for some people.) People do not all think in the same way, and as a society we should use each-other’s strengths to grow, rather than requiring everyone to maintain roughly the same experience from which to grow.
Third: Labels. The Gifted Program is part of the Special Education program. As we all know, there is a stigma that goes along with being a Special Ed kid. (When I first got into the program, I did not know that and bragged about being special ed. I was very confused as to why people were not in awe of my awesomeness.)
Referring to my previous point, everyone should be able to get the tailored education that the gifted program is supposed to provide. There should not be a need to label someone as unusual in any way in order to give them what they need. We all are different, we cannot expect everyone to be good at the same things or to learn at the same pace.
In my time in school, the Gifted program offered me the opportunity to explore many things. But unfortunately I found that the extra classes that I was able to take did not make sense for me. These were the first classes I ever struggled in. Because school was so easy for me I expected everything to come just as easily. I know that these classes were supposed to challenge me. I understand that intention now, but at the time, it just seemed too hard. During my time as a substitute teacher, I saw students struggling with the core concepts of math so much they cried. This gave me an insight as to how much strength and weakness really affect our learning. (As well as the problems with expecting too much of students too soon.) I gave up many of these extra classes before trying very hard. This means that from my experience in school I have no way of knowing if I could have been good at them if I gave them a chance. Having tried again later more doggedly I have come to the conclusion that these were not my strengths. It seems odd that because I was good at one thing, I should be given the opportunity to pursue things that I was not good at, while other students were denied the opportunity to pursue something that they might have excelled at because they struggled with something completely unrelated.