The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
“While parents of all children who are not in the mainstream do not have an easy time in our society, the fact that 2e children’s disabilities mask their giftedness, and their giftedness masks their disabilities, makes it incredibly hard to get the “experts” to listen and to understand that you can’t just average the two and say this is an average child.” − Joan Affenit
“As we strive to close the achievement gaps between racial and economic groups, we will not succeed if our highest-performing students from lower-income families continue to slip through the cracks. Our failure to help them fulfill their demonstrated potential has significant implications for the social mobility of America’s lower-income families and the strength of our economy and society as a whole.” – Joshua Wyner, Achievement Trap
“The soft bigotry of low expectations” This famous line of President George W. Bush supporting the passage of No Child Left Behind resounds today as states still struggle to get every school and every child to meet minimum academic standards. But as states strive to improve urban schools, I have to wonder if the government cares that one group of students is still being left behind due to low expectations. Why are gifted minority, low-income, and learning disabled students still being overlooked?
The National Association for Gifted Children lists 5-7% of students as gifted. Studies haven’t shown vast variance in giftedness between groups based on race, income level, or learning disability. So why are gifted classrooms full of neurotypical wealthy white children?
I believe there are a few main reasons for this disparity. First, tests may not measure intelligence or academic potential in the same way in each group. Second, prejudices may prevent some from seeing members of various groups as possibly gifted. Third, peer pressure within certain groups may lead to students being accused of ‘acting white’ if they academically standout. Fourth, some groups may not have access to high quality preschools or place an emphasis on education in the home before beginning school. Fifth, other factors may obscure the student’s parent, his natural advocate, from recognizing his giftedness.
Some claim IQ tests, a standard often used for determining entrance to gifted programs, have often been shown to be racially and economically skewed. If so, equally gifted minority or low income students often will score lower on IQ tests and would not make the cut into a gifted program. It is important that multiple measures be used and tests shown to adequately measure IQ across diverse populations be employed. Additionally, exams must be tailored to meet a student’s needs. Will a gifted student with dyslexia score equally as well on a written exam as an equally gifted neurotypical student? Can standard tests properly assess visual-impaired children or students whose primary language is not English?
Unfortunately, stereotypes and prejudices still exist in even the most open-minded people. With some minority and low-income groups scoring lower than average in academics, gifted students in these groups are often overlooked as many times they don’t fit the classic mold. A boy gifted in writing or a girl gifted in math may be missed because of gender stereotypes, which, whether they are based in fact or not, cannot give a complete picture of an individual. Twice-exceptional children may be overlooked when a learning disability is equated with low IQ, a mental illness causes the child to not fit in with other gifted children, or a physical disability overshadows an individual’s other capabilities.
Within communities there is also often great pressure to not stand out, even in a very positive way. When celebrating academic talent is viewed as boastful in a way that celebrating athletic or theatrical talent is not, the message sent is to hide success in school and academic abilities or risk being ostracized. In certain communities this pressure is immensely stronger. Gifted black children are often accused of ‘acting white’ because they are working to succeed in the intellectual arena instead of athletic. Academically-advanced lower-income children succeeding in the classroom can be viewed as pretending to be ‘better’ than they are, attempting to be white collar, or becoming a member of the oppressing class. A twice-exceptional child who learns to mask his learning disability through applying his gifts risks having aid withdrawn and neither his disability nor his gifted nature are supported.
While most in our community have access to high quality preschools, many parents in other communities cannot afford to send their children to such centers or may not even have them available locally if they could afford them. Daycare options available may not have an academic component. Parents may not have finished high school or learned to value education and not have the impetus or knowledge to cover basics that most of our kindergartners come in knowing. Parents of kids with disabilities may have expended their time and energy meeting those needs and not covered academic material. For all these groups, more immediate needs than education may consume their resources. While all these gifted kids academically race at a high speed, starting far behind classmates may hide their abilities.
Many gifted children are recognized through the advocacy of their parents. However, parents unable to spend significant time with their children due to long work hours, who haven’t received a strong education themselves, or do not recognize their children’s gifts masked by learning or physical disabilities may not know to advocate for their child or have the time to. It is vital to have teachers trained in gifted education who can see the gifts that have been missed. Will a teacher not educated in understanding all gifted students recognize that the boy disrupting the classroom both has Asperger’s and is bored from being far ahead, compounding his difficultly in sitting still and learning? Teachers want to make a difference in the lives of their students and finding the overlooked and hidden gifts of these children can change a life forever.
What can be done to better assess which children are gifted and not miss ones whose other traits may mask it? That is a question that people in the educational community struggle with. Some suggestions have been using multiple assessments that can measure giftedness using a variety of methods to compensate for learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or cultural differences; testing every child for giftedness, not just those recommended by parents or teachers; training teachers about giftedness so they can recognize it when it is less than obvious; creating an atmosphere that honors academic success and talent as much as talent in arts and athletics; and providing each child with an opportunity to attend a high quality preschool. Most important will be training teachers about giftedness so they can recognize it when it is less than obvious; The solutions are going to need to be worked out by the educational community or many children will never know how to apply their gifts and may miss a crucial opportunity for personal and professional success. And the soft bigotry of low expectations will claim another victim.
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we can make a difference for gifted children!
The Importance of Gifted Education Series
I. Why I Am Passionate About Gifted Education
II. Why Is Gifted Education Necessary?
III. Is Gifted Education Equal Education?
IV. Is Gifted Education Expensive?
V. How Does Gifted Education Help Everyone?
VI. What Are Characteristics of a Gifted Child?
VII. Why Grades Don’t Matter to Me
VIII. The Procrustean Bed of Education
IX. The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
X. I Want My Kids to Fail