Friday, February 13, 2009

The Gifted

I've always thought the concept of gifted kids is very funny. How much of it is really true, how much of it is the parents pushing or encouraging and how much of it is an incessant need on the part of parents to think that their genes are far superior to everybody else? Or, in the case of adoption, the incessant need of parents to think that they are providing an ultra-rich cultural and academic environment that produces gifted children?

Take, for instance, in our county, all the "gifted" programs at the schools. First of all, in the city there is a high school just for gifted kids. One whole big high school full of kids that are gifted -- now add into that number all the kids who passed the test but didn't go there, and then all the kids who are in the "gifted" program of all the other public and private schools. Don't forget the home schooled ones or the "undiagnosed" ones! You end up with a mighty large number of "gifted" kids! It almost makes you wonder just how "gifted" they all are if there are so many of them.

Malcolm Gladwell once pointed out that research has shown that while Mozart was gifted in music, he would not have been the phenomenal success that he was if it weren't for his father, Leopold Mozart, who taught, pushed and shaped him into the musical genius that he was. Could he have written his first piece of music at age 5 unless his dad was there to help? Probably not.

So, I've always thought this gifted stuff was malarkey, but, then again, I've bought into it.

Several years ago I was at Border's and perusing the workbook section in the education department. I was looking for books to work on with Lawyer/Social Advocate Boy. Of all the different series of workbooks, I, of course, was drawn to the one entitled "The Gifted Kid's Home Enrichment Program".

"Well," I thought, "That's obviously the one for my boy!"

As I looked through it, I realized the marketing scam involved. See, I had looked through some of the other series there as well, and this series, the series for the outrageously intelligent child, had the exact same concepts in it as the other ones! These, though, we're more popular because what parent wouldn't chose the workbook that calls their child "gifted"?

That got me thinking about why honest marketing schemes don't work in education. For instance, who would buy "The-slightly-Below-Average-Kid"workbook or "Your-Kid-Is-a-Slacker-In-School-So-You-Have-To-Buy-Them-a-Workbook" workbook or how about "Your-Kid's-Teacher-Didn't-Teach-It-Right-the-First-Time-So-Now-You-Must-Spend-$10-In-Addition-to-Taxes-Or-Tuition" workbook?

It just seems like those wouldn't sell so well.

The other night Rob and I were talking about what exactly one might find in these workbooks. We came up with "Billy and Bob's Needin' Extra Schoolin' and Learnin Workbook".

Such a book would have to focus upon logic through the use of words problems, such as:

Billy had $1 . Bobby wanted that $1. He is much bigger than Billy. So Billy gave Bobby his $1. How much money does Billy now have? (For a great two parter, they could add in "How much money does Bobby now have?")

Billy had $1. Each piece of candy cost .50. Bobby also wanted candy, and is still much bigger than Billy. But Billy had recently attended a "Boundaries" workshop and decided to say "no" to Bobby. What did Bobby do in order to get Billy to buy him candy?

Then there might be a puzzle section that contains puzzles that a bit scaled back:

1 _
_ 1

Crossword puzzles:

1 down, 3 letters, a "kitchen utensil that starts with the letter P and ends with the letter T."

I really believe that if they did market this, but rather called it "The Gifted Child's Home Enrichment Program", it would, indeed, sell well.

One of the things that I have always hated about organized schooling is the need to catagorize kids into the "haves" and "have nots". What really determines how "gifted" a kid is? And, even if the kid is gifted, is he more worthy of learning than the kid who isn't? What gifts matter? Doesn't being gifted with compassion or mercy have more meaning than being able to "stay ahead" of your peers?

In the context of public education, I have to question how just it is to give one child more opportunities than another just because he's "smarter"... yet, it's often justified because being "gifted" actually makes them an "exceptional learner". In education college, I was taught that the gifted are actually "special needs children". Please! So I guess it works well for schools to put them all together to work hard and improve the school's test scores?

Well, at least with home schooling I can just teach Jesus'way: Meet them where they're at and take them to the next place.

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