apparently i have gone viral

by marjorieingall on August 23, 2010

Sorry, parents of gifted folk! I was out of town for the weekend when you hit my blog in a 3-day tornado of fury. I’m back, and all your “you moron” comments have been approved. (Even if you keep posting in Tablet magazine’s comments section that I’m a big censoring doody, I do promise I wasn’t deliberately silencing you. Long weekend. That’s all. Put the paranoia cupcake down.)

And I had a really nice time in RI, thanks for asking!

Anyway, you’re right: I chose a jokey, inflammatory headline. Totes immachure.

And you’re right: I should have said that I believe there are profoundly gifted kids out there. And that I believe they deserve education that inspires and engages them. Because I do.

But.

I live in NYC, where every white middle- and upper-middle class parent insists his or her child is gifted. And I maintain that the way our current system tracks our kids, in a racially and economically divisive way, is truly tragic. According to NYC, only a miniscule number of gifted kids in this city are black and Latino. You really think that’s true? Gifted programs abound on the Upper West Side; there are swaths of Brooklyn and Queens that don’t have a SINGLE ONE. In my city, some of the greatest resources of our overstretched school system are reserved for these kids who’ve tracked into gifted programs at age 4. To the vast majority of their parents I say: Cry me a river.

I think kids who don’t come from homes filled with books and words and good healthy food and sleep hygiene and privilege (and pushy parents like the ones I watched at our gifted school playdate) deserve good educations too. Their potential may not show up at 4, so they may not test into a tracking-happy system that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: You tested gifted, so you get a better education, and you do better in school.

And I think the privileged do not always realize how privileged they are.

But here, skip to this part: If your child is two standard deviations (or further) from the center of the bell curve of human intelligence, isolated in the sliver-thin supa-mega-brilliance zone, I say 1) YOW, and 2) YOU ARE SO NOT THE PARENT I’M TALKING ABOUT when I title a post “I got your gifted right here.” (Also, I should have said “right heah,” really letting my RI accent fly.)

But if you are the parent of a bright or very bright child, then yup, you may well be the parent I’m talking about. I wish you’d focus as much energy on making your child a community-minded, self-directed, reflective, diversity-respectin’ citizen as you do on trumpeting your child’s brilliance. I DO realize I am privileged in that my kids got into a great public school that values teaching to kids with many different learning styles at many different levels of thinking and reading and math-doing. I am grateful for that every day. And I realize that in many communities, the gifted program is sadly the least chaotic place to learn; I’m sure not gonna criticize any clueful parent who does whatever she can to get her kid into a safe school with adequate resources. But using our privilege to gain a place in a decent program within a broken system doesn’t let us off the hook in a big-picture way. ALL our school systems should emphasize good citizenship, multi-level instructional approaches, appreciation of diversity in all its forms, empathy, collaboration, individualized education and professional development to help teachers teach to different levels in one classroom and handle discipline and classroom management. Because that could help ALL our students, not just the white ones with label-obsessed parents who police the interwebs for imagined disses of their progeny.

Not YOU though. Your kid is TOTALLY in that 5% who is too gifted for even the best inclusion program.

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Oh, But I Don’t Mean YOU « The "More" Child
August 24, 2010 at 6:38 am

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laura k August 23, 2010 at 7:39 pm

You have once again taken my thoughts and put them into words that sound way better than the words in my head. I guess that’s why you are the writer. I am 100% with you in your assessment of education, and really wish parents would do an equal job teaching their kids about the world around them as they do teaching them how smart they are.

The Observers August 24, 2010 at 12:59 am

For backpedaling enough to try to use a little common sense this time, right on. And that you now correct/clarify your prior remarks, to show your (new-found?) understanding of the distinction between plain vanilla gifted and the profoundly gifted, thank you, Snarly, from parents whose children test [well-] beyond two standard deviations above the mean. Apology accepted. Without exception, every child should have access to appropriate instruction, regardless of SES, regardless of parental influence/ambition, and regardless of a child’s “measurable” cognitive ability. You’re right: everyone doesn’t have equal access to appropriate instruction, and that sucks. Same goes for Justice and Healthcare, yes? The problem with “gifted programs” and how they’re so very poorly implemented and too widely abused boils down to the difference between the definitions of the words “elite” and “elitist”. Just as our much revered Olympians and Varsity Jocks are elite athletes performing at the highest levels, the PG child, likewise, is cognitively elite. Parents of less-than-cognitively-elite children using privilege to gain access to programming meant for the cognitively elite are elitist; whereas, parents of the elite seeking access to appropriately elite programs are in fact usually Herculean advocates experiencing often more failure than success in finding appropriate instruction for a child with very uncommon special needs. Some experts’ estimates call the PG child a “1 in 10,000” child. You can well imagine how the lack of critical mass in typical classrooms renders these special students virtually invisible to schools, even within putative “gifted programs”. As their intellectual needs are not met, some of our very brightest kids wind up trying to dumb themselves down and thus suffer anxiety, depression, and underachievement — and you’ll no doubt agree that that is the wrong direction for our nation to be headed. The implementation and abuse problem is not exclusive to NYC, nor is it wholly exclusive to affluent whites. It is, however, emblematic of a certain willfully myopic segment of the population embodying the attitude: “I’ve got mine, screw everybody else.” If you know how to fix that, by all means have at it. Apart from your unfortunate potshot previously [and now not] including the smallest sliver of extremely giiiiiiiiiifted kids, we resoundingly agree with your indictment of the broken system and those elitists who abuse it via privilege. Sneer at that all you want. It’s WORTHY of our scorn. Just take it easy on the kid with ACTUAL UNMET special needs next time, m’kay? S/he may be *your* future neurosurgeon.

Eleanor August 24, 2010 at 1:36 am

“Paranoia cupcake” – I love that so much and intend to use it in conversation as soon as I can. By the way, it is quite astonishing how few gifted ADULTS I have met in my lifetime (and in your commentboxes).

P.S. I’m waiting impatiently for your take on the Chanel photo of Crystal.

Sarah August 24, 2010 at 4:56 am

Thanks for the follow-up regarding the PG kids. As a parent to two of those creatures, I appreciate your clarifications. It’s a bumpy, wild ride, and finding a good educational fit is difficult at best (I gave up. We’re at home. I haven’t eaten my young. Yet.)

Eleanor, I bet you have met gifted adults but don’t know it. The four year old who discussed negative numbers (had that one) and the five year old who notes connections between ancient Rome, ancient Greece, and modern society (had that one, too) look, well, gifted. The older they get, the less they stick out. By adulthood, we expect that other adults know what we don’t. Also, many adults are good at blending. They’ve felt the pain of sticking out in their youth and they also just know how to communicate to the audience at hand. Most. Not all. Can’t speak to the presence of gifted adults writing to the comment boxes prior to last week, but I know a good number posted to the gifted post. 😉

Sarah

Robin Aronson August 24, 2010 at 5:16 am

Exactly, exactly, exactly. If I have to hear one more thing about the damn Hunter test I’ll slit my wrists. And what was so sad about Jennifer Senior’s piece about the ERB’s (http://nymag.com/news/features/63427/) was not what it said but parents’ (predictable) reaction to it — which was “You must not have a kid who tested in the 98th percentile!” What’s gifted anyway? Isn’t it just a code word for “Going to go to Ivy League College and make money as adult.” Don’t “studies show” it’s emotional resilience that predicts “success”? Or is it the ability to resist a marshmallow? Anyway, let’s all go read Mother on Fire (http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Fire-Motherf-Story-Parenting/dp/0307450414/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282651989&sr=8-1) and be done with it.

Btw, I think as adults go, you are, you know, gifted.

Robin Aronson August 24, 2010 at 5:28 am

P.S. I didn’t mean “gifted”.

Grinity August 24, 2010 at 7:41 am

Good Morning Snarly. How was your vacation?

I was really glad to read:

“And I realize that in many communities, the gifted program is sadly the least chaotic place to learn; I’m sure not gonna criticize any clueful parent who does whatever she can to get her kid into a safe school with adequate resources.”

I wasn’t sure how much else was sarcasm and which parts were sincere, but thanks for the apology. I have had the experience of wanting to believe school personel could recognize and met my son’s educational needs, and finding out at my son’s expense that this isn’t always the case. When one’s children are involved the cupcakes of self doubt are always nearby. My guess is that if the people around you are feeling snarled at, that has very little to do with paranoia cupcakes, and more to do with your ‘off the cuff hostility’ which is attention getting, but limits your ability to get your point across.

Peace,
Grinity

Jill August 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I fear you’re missing the point. I propose that many children of these whiny, annoying parents you are targeting do not have their academic needs met in the classroom. This is separate from the inclusion vs. tracking issue. If a kid’s IQ is “average” but he/she can learn 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade math in 6 months, let him/her skip ahead rather than sit there all day with the masses. But guess what? To get this for your kid you have to… WHIIIIINE! And in some states, you have to get the label “Gifted” in order for you to have legal stance to whine for this type of accomodation. *sigh* If we could just go back to the one-room schoolhouse we wouldn’t have these battles.

Theresa August 25, 2010 at 9:14 am

Once, I was a white, upper-middle-class gifted child (still am white…). But I agree with you. Everything good about G&T programs reveals a weakness of regular school, and fixing those weaknesses should be a priority.

“Giftedness” maps uncannily with privilege here in the Bronx too. If “gifted” were a ticket out of a crappy classroom, of course, I would make every effort to get that for my kids. But in my local school, it’s just an accelerated version of regular classwork, and the regular classrooms are good. If a child needed acceleration for behavioral reasons, I could see pushing for it. Otherwise… I dunno. I feel cold about pushing the “top” 10% of kindergartners as fast as possible, while we don’t even develop the “bottom” half into functional citizens. The future neurosurgeons and the children of overachievers will get where they are going — perhaps they could even be taught (perhaps even by their busy busy overachieving parents) to challenge themselves.

So I guess I suck too, plus I hate my kids and want them to fail. Doh.

Jill August 25, 2010 at 10:19 am

Theresa,
You don’t suck. But consider reading up on the research behind acceleration (not talking about one-size-fits-all gifted “accelerated” tracking programs here). Acceleration is a big misnomer. It’s not about pushing, it’s about keeping up with the kid’s readiness level in any subject where they need it. It’s about avoiding de-celeration. What about the bright child in a poor neighborhood who knows most of the year’s material by the second month of school? They don’t likely have the luxury of a parent advocating for them. Especially if they are a quiet child *without* a behavioral problem. Should we force them to sit through material that is way below their capability level? How is s/he going to learn the joys of working hard for successes? How are they going to learn academic work ethic? Do you think their innate smarts puts them at an advantage over the less academically capable improverished kids? Not! (Not without intervention, that is). As it stands, this is the child that is being totally ignored by the school system. This is the child that, by the time they hit puberty, has no study skills and no drive for hard brain work, so their non-gifted status becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Solution? Don’t discriminate by age in the classroom. The social/emotional poppycock about the importance of grouping kids by age all day for all subjects interferes with actually educating children.

Theresa August 25, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Jill,

That’s an excellent point about learning to work and study hard, and I definitely feel that was a deficiency in my own education until quite late along. I think your proposal of mixed-age classrooms is a good one — and crucially, this is an improvement that could help all students, not just the “gifted” ones, because everyone would be challenged the right amount. It’s not so good if it’s just a few kids doing this, because then you really stand out. I attended math classes in the next grade up in elementary school, but being the only one in the room doing this was a bit hard. Going 2 years up would probably have been fine intellectually, but I would have been terrified by the other kids.

Another method, cooperative learning, accommodates classrooms mixed by ability as well as by age. This is just anecdotal, but my mom used it successfully in her junior-high classrooms for years. Again, its success rests on activities that help everyone learn at their own level, instead of shooting for the middle and abandoning the edges of the bell curve.

Jill August 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

Cooperative Learning is great in theory, when you have really skilled teachers invested in challenging all kids. And apparently it’s hard to get right: http://www.nagc.org/index.aspx?id=386
Unfortunately, teachers in public elementary schools have been virtually reduced to technicians, and don’t have a lot of flexibility in the curriculum to go beyond grade level or otherwise veer off the mandatory content for high-stakes tests. They have no assistants or aids in classrooms with 25+ kids. I am not exaggerating when I say that teachers have told me they are forbidden to bring in higher grade level material into their classroom. Luckily many teachers I have encountered really try to have at least some group activities in the inclusion classrooms, though this is above-and-beyond the core curriculum, and it is dependent on the teacher.

There is no question that many, many non-gifted-labelled kids would benefit from being able to accelerate faster through curriculum, at least here in PA with watered-down state standards. As a classroom volunteer for 3rd grade math, the kid that was the most bored to tears was one who didn’t meet the IQ cutoff for the (lame) gifted pull-out program. He was extremely talented in math and totally ready for pre-algebra. There is too much outcome research showing the benefits of accelerating kids through curriculum as they are ready, and it is cheap and easy. It *could* be non-discriminatory if all kids who could benefit do it, not just the labelled ones with, um, vocal parents.

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