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September 28, 2015


“All kids are gifted.”  “The word gifted is elitist.”  “Labels are unnecessary and meaningless.”  “Labels are wrong!”  “We need to develop all the strengths of all kids!” “Why aren’t you advocating for all children?”  “I care about ALL students.”

When the #BlackLivesMatter campaign began, some people responded with #AllLivesMatter.  The #BlackLivesMatter group became offended; the #AllLivesMatter group responded that ALL lives do matter and we shouldn’t single out a particular group, so what was the #BlackLivesMatter group getting all bent out of shape over?

#BlackLivesMatter was created to point out that a particular group was facing issues.  The #AllLivesMatter campaign tried to remove the spotlight from black lives and, intentionally or not, stop discussion of the horrible treatment some black people have faced at the hands of police.  Yes, there are white, Latino, and Asian people mistreated by cops, but to get action, #BlackLivesMatter needed to be the unco-opted slogan used.

When the term ‘gifted’ is used to describe students with unusually high learning ability and memory retention and their needs, there is a crowd that tries to redirect the conversation.  They don’t like that one group is being singled out by advocates saying that this group is being under-served and education needs to change to support this group.  They are also looking out for their kids and worry what will happen if the spotlight is shifted to a particular group.  And why should this group claim any sort of status as a group?  Isn’t that elitist?

Don’t all kids have strengths?  Doesn’t this mean that all kids are ‘gifted’?  All kids also have weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that all kids are dyslexic or even that all kids have learning disabilities.  Even though there is discussion over the definition of gifted, in an academic setting it is students whose IQ is two or more standard deviations above the mean.  Even though kids can be profoundly strong in compassion, openness to new experiences, motivation, extroversion, and other aspects, these don’t fall in giftedness any more than dyslexia would be considered a form of autism.

Some argue that the definition of giftedness is too narrow.  There is a case to be made for changing this awkward and nebulous word to encompass students who have profound strengths in any area and replacing with a better word indicative of superior academic ability.  Until that redefinition, both sides are stuck with a word that is not descriptive, but only used because the meaning is typically understood in academics.

Why do we need labels?  We don’t.  We need an academic diagnosis.  We need to understand students and these academic diagnoses help with gifted learners as much as they do with dyslexic learners.  While academic theoreticians and differentiation proponents may suggest getting rid of the gifted label and meeting the individual needs of each student, few suggest that we stop diagnosing learners as dyslexic or dysgraphic while meeting their needs.  As long as schools modify funding, resources, curriculum, and instruction based on academic diagnoses and labels, we cannot afford to move a to label-free academia and further reduce educators’ understanding of gifted learners.

Gifted learners are a real group facing real issues in school.  They often are a year or more ahead and face daily review of material they already know.  They become disillusioned with education.  They do not learn vital skills of working hard, overcoming challenges, and recovering from failure.  It isn’t elitist, but a group with needs often different from typical.  Removing the label means making it harder to get any services for gifted students.

We have good reasons for using the term gifted and identifying students as gifted.  When people protest the term gifted or the identification and support of gifted learners, they are trying to change the conversation.  Yes, all lives matter.  All students matter.  All strengths matter.  But we need a focus on gifted children because they are facing a discrimination of neglect in our schools!  They need our advocacy in a unique way that cannot simply bundled in with “all students” and lost in the crowd.  Like #BlackLivesMatter, we haven’t felt included in the definition of “all”.

When faced with an educator, parent, or Facebook friend who tries to shift the conversation to all students, you’ll need to collect your courage and state “You are trying to silence or distract from this important conversation!  Instead, I need you to ask ‘What can I do to support gifted children?  What can I do to support your child?'”

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

One Comment leave one →
  1. ltung21 permalink
    September 30, 2015 4:44 PM

    Very well stated, and point taken. While all children have strengths, not all children are academically gifted. Yes, I believe we do need to find a new label for “giftedness” that isn’t an emotional word that makes parents feel that their children are being slighted in some way. Especially when it means that the focus can be brought back around to the intended–the academically gifted and their struggles.

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