Saturday, August 11, 2007

War on the Gifted, Poetry Battlefront

Poetry can inspire. Poetry can seduce. Poetry can depress.

Poetry can also be a real pisser.

I’ve talked about Karen Morrow Durica’s excellent collection of teacher poems before, sharing one that really made me think about how I was relating to one of my boys. Elsewhere in the book she has a poem called My Friend’s G/T:

My friend’s a gifted student;
He’s talented, you know.
He goes to a special classroom
With a sign that tells him so.

The sign hangs by the doorway.
It says: “G/T enter here.”
You don’t go in if you’re not bright;
The sign makes that quite clear.

My friend once took a test in math
And a test in English, too,
That marked him as a gifted kid
Who could do more than I could do.

I asked to take the test to see
If I could join my friend,
But the teacher said my average grades
Foretold the story’s end.

So each day I pass his classroom
And view what smart kids learn,
And wonder if my questions
Are anyone’s concern.

One question that I ponder
And think about a lot…
If that sign tells him he’s gifted,
Is it telling me I’m not?


The poem includes a background piece where Durica shares her belief in multiple intelligences, and wonders at “the impact of just what that label (gifted) does for those who have it, and for those who don’t.”

And there in a nutshell is one of the biggest problems I see with our schools today—the ideas of what giftedness and excellence are have been so watered down as to be meaningless.

You can see it all over. Here in Washington our coalition of teachers of gifted and talented, WAETAG, has had to hustle like mad to get the pittance they do from the legislature. My own district uses the money designated for gifted ed to fund programs that are open to pretty much anyone, gifted or not. The group behind the AP exams has launched a national audit of high school AP classes over concerns that the rigor that was supposed to define those courses has been removed.

In my school we have some extremely gifted math students, kids who are operating three and four years ahead of their grade-level peers. If they were three or four years behind they would get small group support, modified assignments, and the full force of an entire Special Education department would be put into play on their behalf. Their parents would have an IEP in hand with the full force of federal law behind it, and there would be action!

But they’re not behind; they’re advanced. They’re the ones spending most of their days silent reading, because the work can be done so easily. They’re the ones in the hallway earnestly working through thick packets of advanced material, alone, happy to have something, anything that’s a challenge, but still—alone.

That, to my way of thinking, is the real tragedy. My heart goes out to the average learner who aspires to something more, and we should do everything we can for them. My heart, though, weeps for the exceptional learner who deserves an exceptional experience and gets mediocrity in return.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Great post! And I'm in total agreement. I teach at a camp for gifted kids in the summer and the parents are just besides themselves that we give these kids one week of challenges...they need 52 weeks. And they don't get it in school because we seem to strive for mediocrity.

7:24 AM  
Blogger The Science Goddess said...

I got my master's degree in gifted ed, so this is certainly a topic near and dear to my heart. I do believe that every child has strengths and weaknesses---but not every child is gifted.

My main problem with the way Washington state does things is that they don't identify gifted students---just smart ones and/or ones that know how to please teachers in a traditional classroom setting. Our selection process is far too narrow and exclusionary.

Until we use something other than academic test scores to seek out the kids at the farthest reaches of the bell curve, we shouldn't claim to be serving their needs.

8:33 AM  
Blogger DrPezz said...

You're right on with this. In my district the advanced kids are given separate work to sit in the corner and complete while the rest of the kids get direct instruction and the full focus of the instructor. It's sad.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Bell Work Online said...

In my school the gifted go to "Step-up" class, and they are certainly labeled by all students.

Shockingly, many of these Step-up kids did very poorly in my honors language arts class.

Either all of my students are gifted or my honors class is really a low-level class.

Perhaps I'll have to re-assess.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Advo Snob said...

"If they were three or four years behind they would get small group support, modified assignments, and the full force of an entire Special Education department would be put into play on their behalf. Their parents would have an IEP in hand with the full force of federal law behind it, and there would be action!"

What is the point of this paragraph? Cynicism? I assume that it is in reference to the GT kids *suffering* d/t those darn SE kids and the SE budget thwarting $'s that might go to our GT kids!" Blah, blah, blah.

"...the full force of an entire Special Education department would be put into play on their behalf."

Are you kidding me? "On [the students’/parents'] behalf"? The CSE process can be one of the most adversarial confrontations parents can go through on behalf of their child. School districts don't like to pay money where they don't have to, and accepting a child as an IEP student, even when s/he receives a medical diagnosis, is not something districts do without a good fight. Believe it our not, even Special Education Departments are asked to cut corners. How do you think they do that? By keeping their numbers down, services low. Thank God for the law, otherwise school districts wouldn’t have to teach our kids at all!

Also, the “full force” does not equal the “most qualified” force. Highly qualified special education teachers are hard to find. Most of the SE teachers today have been tenured without the experience or education in how to teach the type of disabilities they are seeing in their classrooms.

GT kids will not always be GT kids. Middle schools and high schools have AP and college level courses for those students who excel. They'll matriculate into college/society/work just fine. And then they'll find out they’re not so GT after all when confronted with their intellectual peers. They could graduate university early and begin their stellar careers ahead of the pack

SE kids will always be SE kids; some will receive a diploma that isn’t worth the paper it is written on (called local or IEP diplomas). Some will have a hard time finding employment, as many industries don’t accept local/IEP diplomas.

GT and SE can actually co-exist without having to bash the other or include the other in the debate. I have 2 children: one in SE, the other GT. My SE student is 3-4 years behind at 10 y/o; he used to be 1-2 years behind in kindergarten. Getting an IEP for your child is not like winning the lottery or easy to acquire. Your child has to have a DISABILITY, folks. A moment every parent *longs* for in their child's life.

My GT student is doing just fine. Her teachers continue to challenge her and we enroll her in community courses re: reading & writing, her strengths. She h-a-t-e-s the label she has been given, just as she h-a-t-e-s the one her SE brother has been given (not a nice, pleasant label either). I heard the latest trend among students in our district is to call the SE kids “The Nose Pickers.” So sweet.

One day my GT daughter will most likely have to care for her SE brother. There’s a subject they won’t teach in any AP or college-level course.

8:14 AM  
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