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If You See Something, Say Something: Gifted Education

March 20, 2012

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." -Edmund Burke

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do. – Edward Everett Hale

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

I didn’t plan on advocating for gifted kids.  I wanted to be the kind of parent who lets the schools run as they deem best and volunteers to help with after-school activities and field trips.   I would support the teachers by backing them on their decisions and helping my kids with homework.  Heck, I didn’t even plan on having gifted kids.

It wasn’t my intention to have to go to my children’s teachers and ask why they were being taught what they already knew.  I figured a teacher would test all the children and then divide them into groups based on what they needed to learn.  Isn’t this the age of individualized instruction and differentiation?  Yet, there we have been at every parent-teacher conference wondering why our daughters are being taught what they knew a year ago.

I didn’t want to get the principal and learning consultant involved.  I had hoped that talking with the teacher would have resolved things.  But teachers have 25 kids to work with and a strong incentive, professionally and personally, to pay attention to the average and struggling learners.  There is a huge emphasis on each student reaching a threshold and the school’s reputation is formed largely by how students perform on these threshold standardized tests.  For teachers it also can be very obvious when a struggling student finally “gets it”, but not as much when they help an advanced learner.  In a profession where many enter to make a difference in children’s lives, it can be harder to see the results with gifted students.

I really didn’t want to take it to the district administration and Board of Education.  It feels like being sent to the principal and public speaking always puts a knot in my stomach.  But when we could make no headway with the principal and the response to our suggestions was always “We tried that once and it didn’t work, so we won’t do it”, we had to escalate the issue.  What kind of parent would I be if I ignored my children’s needs because of adversity from authority?  And so when the principal and learning consultant weren’t willing to make adequate changes, some of us went to the district decision makers.  Frankly, I thought it would be fairly easy.  I had asked my city council for a pathway in my subdivision and they put me on a committee to make it happen.  Now families can walk a safe distance from the road.

It wasn’t a goal to form an advocacy group for my district, but it quickly became apparent that numbers are important and that other families were struggling the same way we were.  We don’t have the funds to send our children to private gifted schools and we believe that public education should meet the needs of all students.  We know it can be done, as many school districts across the nation have programs that educate children where they are at academically, not just chronologically.  We live in one of the best districts in our state, so shouldn’t it also be one of the best for advanced learners?

I didn’t plan to have to defend my advocacy or feel weird when talking about my children’s accomplishments.  I’m still not sure why it is OK to be thrilled when your child is an athletic or artistic genius winning the big game or blue ribbons but speaking about how great your child is doing in school needs to be done in hushed voices with like-minded parents.  I wasn’t prepared when someone dismissed my issue with “That’s a good problem to have!” and didn’t realize that a child who spends the day on stuff she already knows and doesn’t learn to work hard isn’t a good problem to have, but just a different problem.  I was taken aback by parents who believed I thought my child was better than theirs.  I most certainly don’t, but I revel in the accomplishments of each child, whether it is in academics, athletics, the arts, leadership, or just doing something they hadn’t been able to do before.

I didn’t want to start blogging about gifted children.  I’m a very private person.  My Facebook page – another thing I hadn’t planned on – has no information about my family and little information about me.  I don’t have a desire to go into politics.  It wasn’t my plan to read books on gifted education, spend hours writing, or attend every school board meeting.  However, when I saw how little understood gifted children were, I felt the need to write about them so that perhaps I could make a bit of difference.

“If you see something, say something.”  This little phrase is a public awareness campaign by the Department of Homeland Security.  But while our country may suffer wounds from terrorist bombs and hijackings, it will be brought to its economic knees by failing to educate our children.  While China spends billions on turning gifted learners into top scientists, engineers, and innovators, our federal government has typically spent less than $10 million per year on its only program for gifted students and now has defunded it.

If you see that we shouldn’t cede America’s position as the land of entrepreneurs and innovators, say something.

If you see that all kids deserve to be educated at their academic level and not just pigeonholed by age, say something.

If you see that your child’s academic skills should be just as valued as other children’s athletic and artistic skills, say something.

If you see that the good of our nation and our children depends on not waiting for someone else to raise the issue, say something.

Blog it.  Whisper it.  Yell it.  Write it in a letter.  Make a sign.  Wear a button.  Say something.

Say it to a friend.  Say it to an educator.  Say it to a legislator.  Say it to a group.  Say it to an individual.  Say something.

Say it until you are heard.
Say it until you are understood.
Say it until it changes.
Say something.

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE.  Together we can make a difference for gifted children!

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2012 12:57 PM

    Wow – it’s like we are living parallel lives, but you’ve taken it to action – I’m still festering in frustration. In Texas the priority is shifted so far towards athletics and away from academics that it’s embarrasing. Even in an “Exemplary” school district, my GT kid gets 90 minutes a week of pull-out. Guess how much specialized time my talented Basketball player gets from the school? 10 hours a week. So glad to find your blog.

    • March 20, 2012 2:55 PM

      Melanie, I absolutely hate pull-out programs! To me, they are an attempt to pacify the parents while giving the child a few moments to look forward to, but do little to actually acknowledge that the learner is gifted all day, every day. I believe they inspire jealousy from other students and parents and undermine that we don’t want extra services, we want the right services. (Sorry if that’s a bit strong. I’ll have to write a post about it.) On the other hand, they are better than nothing.

      Michael Clay Thompson expresses it nicely when he wrote “As a society we must be able to admire ability, to support ability, to celebrate ability and to nurture ability. It must be as socially acceptable to support genius that is intellectual as it is to support genius that is athletic.”

      Unfortunately, there is still a lot of festering in frustration even while taking action. My district is willing to spend $1000 per athlete, but $0 per gifted student. There have been Curriculum Committee meetings about G/T, but not a dollar allocated yet.

      I encourage you to take action in your schools, but do it in a committed manner. They won’t change overnight. School Boards move at a snail’s pace on many issues. Look at the allocation for your current G/T program and ask if there are more effective ways of spending that money. Are you in a big enough district where magnet classrooms would be an option? Some districts can implement this with no additional personnel. Can the gifted children be clustered in one classroom so that a strong teacher can provide curricula at their levels? Get facts, get people, and see what your options are. I wish you the best of luck.

  2. alison k permalink
    March 20, 2012 12:57 PM

    testify, brother. testify! i feel similarly and am going to start a push here. we moved our broken boy out of public school but have given up everything to do so– cell, internet, landline, cable.. everything. this is not the road i thought we’d be taking. your statements are sound and just. here’s to power in numbers!

    • March 20, 2012 3:02 PM

      Alison, we have certainly considered other options, but having a new superintendent who is willing to work with us has made a difference. It is very difficult when a school that is supposed to educate all students refuses to.

  3. March 20, 2012 2:21 PM

    Hi! It’s Tracy this time, (not Ty, wink, wink)!

    I have to echo melaniea73…SO GLAD to have found your blog!!! You have repeatedly validated so many of my inner thoughts, in short you made me feel sane for thinking the way I have!

    I come from 2 very different places on the “gifted scale”, if you will…my oldest son, Ty (aka Ty’s Adventures) has Down syndrome (as you know) & works his hiney off every day. My middle son has been bored with school & has aced every test they throw at him since Kindergarten, he’s in 2nd grade now. Like you, my Hubby & I have sat through parent teacher conferences year after year wondering when our middle son would be challenged…we’re still waiting.

    I completely understand what you mean when you say, I “didn’t realize that a child who spends the day on stuff she already knows and doesn’t learn to work hard isn’t a good problem to have, but just a different problem…” So now we are faced with a kiddo who knows he doesn’t have to work hard to get good scores, but hates school because he’s so bored!

    Your thoughts continue to stick with me! Thank you so much for sharing this…I’ll be forwarding this on as well.

    • March 20, 2012 3:27 PM

      Thanks, Tracy! Our eldest is certainly bored with school and I believe we made some mistakes early on trusting that the schools would provide her the curriculum she needed. Between that and her personality, she has developed a somewhat lackadaisical approach to school. She knows that with minimal effort she can stay ahead of her class. Our middle child is much more willing to work to learn, but that seems to be her attempt to keep up with her older sister. Since she has someone else to challenge herself against, she will put in the work. Would finding a slightly older gifted child as a friend to your middle child be an option? That might inspire some academic competition. Unfortunately, I rarely see competition between children on who can work the hardest, so that important habit of Ty’s is going to be a tough one to rub off on your middle son.

  4. March 20, 2012 7:54 PM

    Spot on. The Gandhi quote sums it up nicely.

  5. March 20, 2012 8:48 PM

    If you find the whole process frustrating as a parent – try being the parent of grown gifted children turned GT specialist/teacher! I’m the one who sees your identified students for 90 minutes a week wishing the whole time that I could see them more! Alas, budget cuts have me wearing two hats (servicing struggling learners of Math) and relying more and more on the ‘trained’ homeroom teachers with 22+ students to meet the needs of my identified students. If I could find a job that allowed me to work every day, all day with gifted students that was within driving distance and paid a decent salary I would do it. As it is, I do the best that I can to advocate for the students with administration, staff, parents and the community. There are some good things going on just not enough! If you are in Texas, be sure to look at the TxGifted Association. They are doing some good things to train professionals and parents on the unique needs of our gifted learners.

    I totally agree with the author above. It will take many of us advocating in the small ways and the big ways that will change the status quo.

  6. March 20, 2012 9:35 PM

    I love your blog. I often feel as if I could have written what you wrote as I have fought this fight. My husband and I are educators who made the choice to teach internationally to better meet the education needs of our children – two are identified as gifted, one is not. I think one of the most difficult feelings as the parent of a gifted child is doing all that you mentioned above and NOT having it make a difference. That was where we were. I was often asked why I kept advocating. My reply is the same; I don’t feel like I could look my children in the eyes and say I’d done everything possible to help them if I don’t keep trying.

  7. March 21, 2012 9:25 AM

    Another excellent post ! I have two grandaughters in gifted classes in Virginia. Thank goodness their parents are behind them 100% I do think that parents make a difference when they are involved but too many gifted kids go unreconized and are written off as trouble makers. Many are so numbed by repetitve schooling that they drop out. What a loss!

  8. Cathy permalink
    March 24, 2012 5:27 AM

    I must say, this is one of the most well written posts regarding gifted learners that I’ve read in a very long time. I hope many, many people read it, and think about it, and share it. Your statements regarding China are right on point. Your statements regarding the needs to say something could not be more true. As a traveler who is watching the Asian countries educate their children much differently than we do in America, I am convinced that it is imperative that we change our ways.

  9. March 25, 2012 10:28 AM

    Ah … the cartharsis to be found in expressing ourselves in the written word.

    Life rarely goes as planned – at least not for parents of gifted children. It’s the curve ball thrown to you … an evolutionary joke played on unsuspecting souls.

    It’s time to look on the bright side … enjoy what your life has become and revel in your ability to make your children’s world and ultimately your own … a better place.

    This is an excellent blog and know that you are helping others to understand the need for continued advocacy for the rights of gifted children.

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