Coincidentally, my Tablet magazine piece this week, about Jewish camps for special-needs kids, ran the same day as this NYT piece about Madison, WI’s fab inclusion efforts in public schools. The story by Michael Winerip warmed the cockles of my icy little heart, until it got to the quote from the parent of the “gifted” child who said, “I am not convinced that even the most masterful teacher — and we have many of them here in Madison — can teach effectively to the full range of ability and need we currently have in our public schools. Not at the same time in the same classroom.” And just like that, my buzz was killed.
My Tablet piece mentioned the research on how inclusion classes can be terrific for “normal” kids. They learn tolerance for difference; the special-needs kids learn social skills and gain a sense of belonging. Winerip did a great job showing how the presence of Garner Moss, a kid with autism, helped his classmates and teammates step up and be menschy.
I realize that I’m blessed to have kids in a progressive, truly diverse, mixed-age public school in Manhattan’s East Village, where the teachers are supported in teaching to kids with different ages and different levels of accomplishment. It’s crystal clear to me that this set-up has been a blessing for my driven, perfectionistic, hyper-competitive high-achiever. (As I’ve written a gazillion times, she got into a gifted program and I opted to send her to this school instead, and I haven’t regretted it for a nanosecond.)
People who squawk endlessly about their kids being gifted…guess what? You’re middle class or upper-middle-class, and mazel tov to you. You read to your kid when he or she was little and talked to them a lot. I’d wager that very few “gifted” kids are actually, y’know, GIFTED. They’re ADVANTAGED. I don’t deny that there are genuinely gifted kids out there, but sorry…I’ll wager that YOURS ISN’T. And as a society we would do a lot better trying to raise kids who aren’t entitled little weenies whose parents defenestrate life’s challenges for them than to insist that our kids are SPEEESHAL. Make schools better for ALL kids; create a community that doesn’t tolerate bullying and doesn’t make being #1 only about test scores. Give teachers the skills and tools to engage kids at many different intellectual and emotional levels. I wish the NYC Department of Education would take a lesson from my kids’ school, which genuinely celebrates difference and encourages citizenship…and in the process, all the kids discover that they can be great learners AND teachers. (The joy of mixed-age classrooms is that the older and/or more accomplished kids can teach the younger ones, which research shows can help solidify their own learning of concepts.) I have one kid who rocks out on all measures of achievement and one who has challenges (but who I still think is VICKIT SMAHT, as we said in RI) and I see how this mode of pedagogy does right by both of ’em.
Anyway, I wish the MY KID IS GIIIIIIIIIIIFTED people would recognize the very real gifts their kids could receive from kids who are not like their GIIIIIIIFTED little blossom.
Now go donate some money to Chai Lifeline. Theenks.