blog: Give gifted students their due
Vail CO, Colorado
Recently, in 2006, I graduated from Pacelli High School in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I then spent a year at Arizona State University, until deciding that for now, a further education is not something I am interested in pursuing.
A little bit of background about me: I spent the first 18 years of my life in Central Wisconsin, participating in sports such as football, skiing, and golf as well as playing video games, reading, and doing normal child/young adult activities. I graduated with a 3.02 cumulative GPA, but scored in the 5th percentile on the ACT/SAT.
From about 4th grade on, my grades were never good. Sure, I was a solid B student, but in all honesty I should have been straight A all the way through.
Since deciding not to continue my schooling this year, I’ve spent a good deal amount of time wondering why I just achieve my full potential in a normal, school setting. Outside of school, I succeed at nearly everything I attempt: Basic C++ programming, basic video game programming, writing, work, etc…
Recently, I began looking at the educational system we have in America, particularly looking at how it failed me. For you see, I am one of many brought up in the age of equity and minimum testing. I was never pushed to excel while in school, in fact was often held back by a system which cares mainly for teaching all students equally and to a median level. Here are the problems in our method of teaching and testing out students that I have discovered:
The median is king. Throughout the country, teachers spend a vast amount of time helping those who are behind catch up. While they are doing that, the kids who are where they need to be are left with little to do. By this I mean that, even within an accelerated course, teachers still plan their lessons for the lower end of the class. The best and brightest are being held back in what they can achieve, and many grow bored and stop trying to advance on their own. If the teachers (and system as a whole) will not challenge them to push themselves, why should they push themselves?
Gifted students are no different than challenged students. Scientifically, there are roughly the same amount as gifted students (IQ 3 standard deviants above the mean, 145 or more), as there are challenged students (IQ 3 stand deviants below the mean, 55 or lower). Yet, in a recently released study done by Time Magazine, more than $8 billion is spent annually on challenged students, while roughly $800 million is spent on gifted students. Now, many will say that the gifted need less, as they are intellectually smart and can learn by themselves. However, this is simply not true. Roughly 5% of gifted students drop out of school, or the same percentage as challenged students. According to the Handbook of Gifted Education, roughly 20% of dropouts will test in the gifted range. Clearly, our schools, and the policies that govern them, have no idea how to cultivate and grow out nation’s greatest assets: Our best and brightest. In a society where recycling and lowering waste is becoming more important, we are throwing away the very thing which might one day cure cancer, or aids, or stop global warming.
Much of this can be traced either directly or indirectly to the No Child Left Behind Act. The year after NCLB became law, the State of Michigan lowered its financing of gifted programs from $5 million to $.5 million. Federal funding for the gifted has dropped from $11.3 million to $7.6 million since 2002. Instead of pushing students to excel, states and schools are more interested in defining and attempting to correct deficiencies. In classrooms, teachers are more focused upon guaranteeing that everyone has an equal understanding in Math, Science, and Reading than in allowing and fostering an atmosphere of competition and excellence. America was founded by nobodies who made themselves. All of the richest families in America stem from a single, self made man/woman. Many of our greatest advancements come from competition born out of a desire to be the best. That is what we need to foster in our schools today, to prepare our country for the future.
In the past decade and a half, we have become complacent as Americans. The Soviet Union fell, technology boomed, and all of a sudden we are on top of the world. So, what did we do with the plethora of options available to us? Did we continue to foster competition and excellence while taking care of those in need? Or did we forget about what got us to where we are in a [failed] attempt to bring everyone to an equal footing? The answer to that question, so far, has been the latter, nor the former. We have forgotten our roots: Competition, excellence, and the fostering of personal growth and achievement.
America has the resources to do both: Push our best and brightest to be the best they can while still taking care of and improving the life of those in need, but that would require us to accept some harsh facts of life which, in today’s politically correct, feel-good story society many of us cannot accept. That fact is that not everyone wants to learn, not every wants to succeed, and that no matter what we, as a nation do, those who do not want to succeed will not succeed and we are wasting our resources by attempting to force them to. The idea that every student in America can be taught to the same standard is ludicrous, yet something which our government tries to do. America is great, but it cannot do the impossible. We should quite wasting our resources on those who do not wish to learn, those who choose to fail, and instead focus those resources on those who want to succeed, both gifted and challenged. By doing that, we would giving everyone the freedom which is so cherished in America: The freedom to make your own path in life and be what you aspire to be.
Now, how can we bring this about? For starters, we should begin to reward those who succeed while not rewarding those who do not. Those who show a desire to learn, to succeed, should be given every means available to do so. For example, a gifted student should be allowed to test out of every grade they can. If that means that an 11 year old is in 11th grade, great! That child has shown an incredible gift, and instead of hampering it by holding them back and forcing them to learn at a pace ill-suited for them, we should push them forward and allow them to succeed. On the flip side, if a student needs special help in learning, we should not be scared to hold them back, give them special classes, or take any other means necessary to allow them to learn at their pace. It is well accepted that forcing a challenged student (IQ or 45) to learn at the rate of a normal child (IQ 90-100) will not lead to success. What we need to accept is that forcing a gifted child (IQ 145) to learn at the rate of a normal child (IQ 90-100) is just as disastrous, and should be avoided.
Finally, we need to accept the fact that rewarding, pushing, and spending money of the intellectually gifted is not elitist. No one calls a special baseball camp for athletically gifted elitist, why should we call special services for the intellectually gifted elitist. We, as a nation, need to go back to our roots, that which got us to where we are: Personal accountably, competition, and not babying those who choose to fail. It is a personal choice whether to succeed or fail and we need to realize that and allow our children to make that choice for themselves: As our nation making that choice for them has not proven to work.