A few days ago I wrote about labels and the inevitable 'othering' that comes with the act of labelling people. Now I want to talk specifically about one particular label: giftedness.
I mentioned in that earlier blog post that I have two children who've been labelled as gifted and that we've used the label to 'other' them into a specialised programme. Hypocritical? I can see how it might look that way. It's a bit more complicated than that though. When we're dealing with kids, it always is right?
Giftedness is an umbrella label applied to different groups of individuals depending on the organisation or educational body doing the applying. Here in South Australia the Department of Education and Child Development uses Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent to identify that "gifted individuals as those who possess a natural (innate) ability
or aptitude in at least one field or domain of ability, such as intellectual, creative, socio
affective or sensorimotor, which is manifested to an outstanding degree, positioning them
amongst the top 10% of their age peers" (DECD, 2012).
Other definitions focus on behavioural characteristics such as asynchronous development (Columbus Group, 1991) or a greater awareness (Annemarie Roeper, 2000). The problem with all of these definitions, as with any umbrella label definition, is that they paint only part of the picture.
A very cursory search of the world of mummy blogs will show that living with 'gifted' kids is often described as a minefield of much, much more than asynchronous development. Talk to any mainstream teacher and they will tell you that the rare truly gifted student they come across are usually the toughest kid in their class to reach. My 13 and 15 year old sons both have a greater awareness of some things and practically none of others that don't rate as worthy of their attention. I've been told that to think my children need different educational accommodations is pure elitism.
The thing with giftedness is that it's rarely simple, and never easy. So that's why it's a bit more complicated.
Educational outcomes for gifted children are often very low because due to disengagement with school. Many do not 'survive' our traditional methods of schooling well at all. Those who do get through secondary school with the grades to enter tertiary education often drop out.
Giftedness is a loaded label that 'others' both the kids and their parents, and carries a social stigma of elitism. I'm NOT comparing the challenges associated with parenting or teaching gifted children with the challenges associated with other special needs. The challenges are different. Qualitatively and quantitatively What I AM saying is that this label is complicated and these children deserve consideration of their special needs. Most do not get this. My two are lucky: they've got pushy parents who know their way around the education field. It shouldn't come down to luck though. It shouldn't be this complicated.
This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 4 Create and maintain safe and supportive learning environments
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community