GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
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VOLUME NINE, NUMBER TWO
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As members of a field of American education concerned with developing the gifts of its highest ability children, we need more imaginative solutions to our problems than currently demonstrated in the formal literature and in discussions of these problems. Among the critical areas that need such solutions are: identifying ethnic minorities for gifted programs, and designing a core curriculum that will help all gifted children to grow intellectually in the 21st century. This curriculum should help them to understand and respect knowledge accumulated by World civilizations during the last 3,000 years.
Diane Grybek is concerned with identifying high ability minority youth involved in inner city gangs. What is most enlightening about her article is the process by which she attempts to understand hard-core gang connected youth from black and Hispanic cultures. It is an excellent illustration of the end product (a checklist used for identification purposes) being less important than the process of learning about these children's behavior and values.
What impressed us most about Grybek's analysis of this problem is that she uses ideas from sociology, cultural anthropology and mythology, information about these students' families, and information concerning gang members' rules of proper behavior. She also compares these findings with observations of the social values of white middle class families to produce insights concerning the culture in which many minority students live. Grybek's perspective shows educators what they should be asking about students usually overlooked for participation in differential education programs. These youth may be involved in the crack cocaine culture of ghetto life, or they may engage in other criminal activities that remove them from mainstream middle class America.
Grybek discusses why the school staff usually ignores this group, resulting in the exclusion of an important segment of children from gifted education. She argues that once these children are studied, they can be salvaged -- many are highly intelligent and brilliant. (Her assessment instrument can help in the identification process.) This approach to studying inner-city gang-based minority children is unique in the gifted education field, and represents imaginative thinking about giftedness. The gifted field needs more writing at this high level of imaginativeness to solve many of its current problems.
The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (Free Press, 1994) is frightening, not because of what the authors have inferred regarding the abilities of African-Americans, but because it is a déjà vu experience concerning the extensive debates that occurred in the late 1960s through the middle 1970s. Many individuals who were graduate students during this period may recall the angry and voluminous responses (in articles and meetings) to Arthur Jensen's contention that blacks are inherently inferior to whites in intelligence (e.g., see his 1969 article, How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement? Harvard Educational Review. 39: 1-123). This article was preceded by many decades of rancorous debate on the nature of human intelligence among research psychologists concerned with studying individual differences in abilities. As a result of the criticisms of Jensen's work, compensatory education programs such as Head Start and Title I were designed to help remove environmental and educational barriers to minority students' full intellectual development. We will not discuss the findings of The Bell Curve at this time, but we believe the arguments surrounding this book have ignored teachers' successes with minority students. Rather than studying the practices and successes of teachers on the educational firing line, Herrnstein and Murray have used flawed correlational data to support their claims. Educators of the gifted should not use their arguments to obtain increased funds at the expense of compensatory education programs or to exclude ghetto minority groups from their programs. Instead, they should search for better solutions to serving non-middle class children, regardless of whether they are white, black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian or "other" ethnic groups.
In the search for information about teachers' and gifted children's perceptions of each other, we have included an article by Leigh Shelton -- a relatively new teacher with just four years experience. Her article shows that gifted children are still being perceived negatively by regular education teachers. As a result, they suffer intellectually and emotionally. We applaud teachers like Shelton who speak out against this type of prejudice and discrimination. Another teacher with more extensive classroom experience has responded to Mara Sapon-Shevin's critique (GEPQ, Winter 1995 ) of Stephen Schroeder-Davis's review of her book (GEPQ, Fall 1994 ). Michael Walters has been teaching for almost twenty years in one of the most hard-core ghetto areas of the nation -- the South Bronx in New York City.
MAURICE D. FISHER, Ph.D.PUBLISHER
THE LORDS OF FLY: FINDING TEEN-AGE BLACK AND HISPANIC GIFTED STUDENTS *
* ("The Lords" refers to a gang name, while "Fly" is ghetto jargon for a cool thing or person.)
BY DIANE D. GRYBEK SUPERVISOR, SECONDARY GIFTED PROGRAM
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS TAMPA, FLORIDA
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that more black students are now attending college than ever before (New York Times, 1992). The bad news is that the percentage of young students from most non-Caucasian backgrounds being identified for gifted programs has not changed in over twenty years -- longer than most current gifted programs have existed (Anderson, 1987; Curry, 1990; Bureau of Education for Exceptional Students, 1976; Tsakaris, 1988), and this in an age of soaring minority enrollments. (Associated Press, 1991).
Since the early days of Head Start, it has been a sort of rule-of-thumb among educators that the IQs of minority students become depressed as they grow older. (Loretan and Umans, 1966). Presumably, these students are from "deprived" and "non-stimulating" environments, an observation undoubtedly meant in the sense of orienta-tion to formal education. Certainly the neighborhoods where children from our poorest populations are to be found, whether Caucasian, black or Hispanic, although always stimulating and rich in texture, are much more stimulating in at least some sense than they were thirty years ago, if violent interpersonal events such as fighting, nightly shootings, high speed chases, clandestine activities and other events are to be considered. This change is probably an outgrowth of the crack cocaine epidemic, something few would have predicted. Inevitably the young are involved, first as observers, tragically often as innocent bystanders, then, well before maturity, as participants. And this is not only characteristic of our inner cities. In Florida, rural, Hispanic communities in agricultural zones experience the same problems, problems so bad that the majority of white, black, and Hispanic citizens drive miles out of their way to avoid these neighborhoods. There would seem to be a kind of stimulation here, but gifted children are found in percentages as low, or lower than twenty- five years ago. That is to say, the tested IQs continue to be below the Florida cut-off of two standard deviations above the mean. One may gather that random stimulation does not raise IQ. Does this mean that intelligent children are not to be found in these neighborhoods? More likely, children whose lives may be peppered with danger develop their intelligence along lines not considered on the tests we use. (Meyer and Jencks, 1989; New York Times Report, 1991).
It has long been argued that the so-called tests of intelligence are biased. (Ford & Harris, 1990). Nevertheless, "the devastating effects that undereducated sub-populations can have on the cultural and financial future of the nation have been clearly documented." (Bermudez, 1989).
Gifted children occur in the same proportions among humans of all racial origins although they may operate differently. (Gardner, 1981, p. 4). But there is a great discrepancy in identification. Using the WISC and Binet R, such pretest screening devices that have been designed over the years, and a State of Florida definition of the "gifted" child as having a score on these measurements of two standard deviations above the mean, most school districts on which we have data have identified more Caucasians, far more Asians, fewer Hispanics and far fewer African-Americans than the above premise indicates. (Florida Bureau of Education for Exceptional Students, 10/15/91). Non-Caucasian students who are identified are most likely to come from families with middle class educations and aspirations, even if not middle class incomes. (Mayer & Jencks, 1989). Some research shows that test scores follow income (Nairn et al, 1980), others that it is more a matter of "lifestyle." (Clark, 1987).
Whatever the income, we need only visit most of our gifted classes to find those students who are being identified as gifted also may be described as quiet and soft spoken, polite, well behaved, capable of responding to directions, respectful, neat, clean, prompt, healthy looking and with an excellent command of standard English. (Warfel 1972). These traits do not require brains, only a caring set of adults who have the traits themselves to serve as role models and who can make time for delivery of certain cultural values, giving direction to the student's developing maturity. A little money for nice clothes helps as do parents who have the time and interest to read and converse with the child. (Slaughter-Defoe et al, 1990). The child who is angry, loud, impulsive, rude, even violent at times; who is dirty, or at least messy, whose class work is unprepared, homework is in tatters, who has not grown up with multiple possessions to play with and a room to keep neat (requiring sorting and organizing of possessions), who speaks a dialect of English -- perhaps with a syntax unrecognized by most mainstream Americans, and certainly with a pronunciation rejected by the mainstream -- will not be recommended for gifted programs. Even when the student from such a background shows promise early on, he may lose ground academically, in effect "become stupider" with age unless great care is taken. It has been pointed out that IQ points tend to diminish as such children become more acculturated in the milieu in which they find themselves and move away from the values implicit on individual intelligence tests. It is not that they are not progressing, but as the fairy tale goes, they "will what we'd not have them will."
Starting with the assumption that the tests are not culture free, we are left with the same dilemma as the small town which only had one gambling establishment. Everyone knew that the games were "fixed," and not "games of chance" at all; yet everyone went there because it was the only game in town. There are some new measurements available, and we don't claim to have tried them all; however, a broad, unpublished statewide investigation in 1987 found no identification panaceas.
We assume that the presently used criteria act as some kind of a sieve for children whose parents have successfully entered the middle class, regardless of origin. Those children have an identity with middle class culture and values. One definition for "disadvantaged" is "children who have had one or more factors in their environment, background or education that cause a significant negative impact on the development of their academic or creative abilities." (Barstaw, 1987). On the other hand, "The only way to get high scores is if you have everything going for you, including the positive alleles." (Holden, 1992). It's important to pick your parents carefully both for genes and social background. They need not be rich, but the right family can add many stimulating factors to a child's life such as getting read to and having a variety of experiences which center around her, and, ideally, some older person to interpret those experiences.
But after heredity and family nurturing, there is still the world outside the home. Non-Caucasian students from the most positive homes report great pressure from minority peers to recognize their origins by adopting behaviors of those peers. The message is, "Don't try to be white." To the extent that this peer pressure is negative, it affects achievement. Interestingly, white students also report pressure from peers to "fit in," not to "set the curve." The operational principal for the student is not to embarrass age peers. There are powerful people in the peer group, and they have their ways of getting even. But there is a profound multiplier effect for the minority child who has both age and ethnic peers to urge the masking of academic ability. It's a wonder that as many resist the pressure as do. (Frazier, 1991).
To paraphrase Shakespeare, perhaps the fault lies not in our tests, but in ourselves. And yet, in defense of tests, the test might find more students among diverse populations if we sent more to be tested. With this thought we look at those who screen the students for testing. We find that, by and large, those teachers, counselors, and even parents who nominate children who will ultimately be tested for the gifted program, while racially diverse, are culturally and solidly in the middle class. Among parents, those from backgrounds of hereditary poverty are unlikely (for a variety of reasons, some of which will be discussed) to push their child forward. In many cases, parents themselves have not internalized the importance of education beyond that necessary for an entry level or manual labor job. Able students may be discouraged, losing at home any progress in attitude they may have developed at school. (Worthy, 1990). Among professionals, it is difficult to move beyond cultural characteristics one has always been taught to value. (Casas, et al, 1986; Cayleff 1986). Few will find reason to recommend the child who does not speak in a manner pretty close to Standard English. It seems apparent that teachers (who tend to embrace the majority culture, regardless of their origins) and counselors must recognize gifted students, even in the face of behaviors they find disruptive. Checklists designed for identifying students who might be overlooked due to racial or cultural differences generally emphasize positive school behaviors. It is unlikely that many very young inner-city children have the internal fortitude to display such behaviors in school and risk isolation -- or worse -- on the way home. At the same time, many of the potentially gifted students we would be considering will have neither the academic nor social sophistication to survive being dropped into a class of gifted students identified by more obvious stratagems and who have been geared to the fast track for a lifetime.
The poorer the family, the more multipliers against "playing the school game." Poorer families tend to drift into neighborhoods of poorer families. Because of economic factors which require primary care givers to spend much time away, working, but not earning enough for food, rent and day care -- or extra bus fare to get to free day care -- parents must depend on relatives, neighbors and siblings only a little older to supervise their children. By necessity and for survival, children are encouraged to be independent almost from infancy: the most visible social group in these neighborhoods may be that of the young people "hanging out" on the streets. Growing up among adults too busy meeting basic needs (food/shelter/safety) to form bonds initiating the emerging adolescent as he grows past the mother-centered years (Campbell, 1949), the children turn to one another, strengthening the normal childhood myth-life in which the adult (powerful person) may be subconsciously represented as the antagonist. The children form an anti-culture where adult goals (such as school rules) are to be opposed. The universal attractiveness of this is reinforced by Saturday children's television in which villains are always adults, and children (or very small people such as Smurfs) are always heroes. For all but the most disadvantaged white children, this attractive scenario from Grimm's Fairy Tales (Bettelheim, 1985) is temporary, clung to during a short period in which they are small and hence powerless. For too many minority students, it becomes a long-term fantasy, ever so much better than the real life they know. In real life no one they know achieves real power, except by breaking society's (school) taboos.
Except when bused to school, children from the inner-city have little opportunity to leave the familiar areas in their early years. They have only a limited understanding of the rules and workings of a world outside. Frequently the largest organization anyone they know functions in on a regular basis is the nuclear family; so they have little frame of reference for understanding the reasons for rules of organizational society, for school rules or for the rights of large, funny speaking -- possibly, to them, funny looking -- adults to order them around. If children have been semi-independent since diapers, how can they understand that they can only stand, sit, talk, play or go to the toilet after being given permission by one of these foreign creatures? They have made such decisions for themselves all their lives. Kindergarten must seem a very hostile place: small wonder if they reject school, even as they believe school is rejecting them. But some of them are gifted.
Joseph Campbell in his series on myths and culture, The Masks of God (1959), describes a cultural dichotomy between the individualism and macho competitive style of the hunter society versus the cooperative and group controlled style of the planter people. Bringing this comparison into the present focus may be easier if we consider the early child rearing styles of two neighborhoods to be found in many, if not most mid-sized cities today.
One neighborhood is populated primarily by profes-sional and managerial class families. These families as a rule have two to three children each, often waiting until their late twenties or early thirties or beyond to leave the family. Children are valued very highly, and protected -- or overprotected -- accordingly. Mother, or a hired nanny, are always within an arm's reach, and, until they are seven or eight years old, at any time they are outside the confines of the house or a fenced yard they are held by the hand, or at least by the invisible leash of a sharp voice. Well after their entry into school, they may under the more psychological confines of numerous rules concerning where it is permissible to go, with whom, and for how long. Nor must this community be white, middle class. Asian cultural groups, usually labeled a "minority," are often considered exemplary for high academic achievement. It has been suggested that the significant cultural variant may be the emphasis Asian families place on cooperativeness in family and community life. The sacrifice of the mother in the Japanese family is almost shocking to Westerners. She waits at home for her children, extra homework in hand. At night she sleeps in their rooms. (Gifted Child Monthly, 1987). An article on Southeast Asian boat people describes a similar family tradition. After supper all the children sit around the dinner table and do their school work together so the older ones can help the younger. It is the only group found where the achievement scores go up with each additional child in the family (Caplan et al, 1992).
The other neighborhood is populated primarily by poor, possibly unemployed families predominately with only one, usually female, adult in the house. Children are loved but often unexpected and even unwanted when they first appear. The parent is busy and exhausted and frequently tells the children to go somewhere else and stop bothering her. There is a strong feeling that they must become independent as soon as possible; and an observer in the neighborhood will see adults on the porches watching, but only interfering in life and death situations, as children as young as two-and-a-half scoot far up the block and even across the street to play with other children. The peer group becomes the socializing factor in their lives; and, in the absence of formal education, the powerful individuals of that peer group pass on their version of the myths of children through the oral tradition, inventing their culture. A culture in many important ways specific to that time and place. Little wonder that these children have difficulties adjusting to kindergarten and first grade programs in which adults micro manage their every activity.
Interestingly, Warfel (1962) described still another early childhood. This one lies between the two extremes described above, and while, in those places where children may still be safely raised with such Tom Sawyer freedom, it represents an almost bucolic ideal, but we may also miss many of the academically gifted. Still, nostalgia makes us think that among boys, at least, creativity would surely flourish here:
"He grows into language by two. By three he shows a need for human companions outside the family circle and for knowledge. He asks many questions and makes few general statements. At four he wants companionship all the time, plays vigorously with his fellows, and talks much. By five he has a large measure of independence and roams the immediate neighborhood, a garrulous person who talks with everybody. At six he trudges to school and begins the long process of adding to his mastered language code the vocabulary and habit patterns that will shape him into a personality. His entire life in school is devoted to a language program and to the development of skills associated with language.
"The teenager begins to specialize in those activities in which his skills seem to come naturally. Usually there are sex differences. The restricted life of girls puts them quite fully into grown-up language because of their continuous talk with mother, aunts, grandmother, and neighbor ladies. Boys move away from home into gangs or teams. Teenage boys talk as their associates talk. Their concept of being grown-up is to imitate older -- often ruder -- boys. The source of juvenile delinquency often lies in unsatisfactory formal language training. Boys' skill in using teenage dialects shows their innate capacity for mastering a foreign language as well as their own. At this age personality and character become formed. If the home and school are doing a poor job, the boy's companions will supply reasons for his moving in his own direction. . . ."
If one were to apply Campbell's two cultures view on a yard-stick, the first generation Asian family would be far out on one end, representing the cooperative (planter) culture. The family of poverty, rejected, frustrated, consigned to ghettos would be at the other end, and middle class, Western tradition families would be only somewhat to the right of middle: neither releasing their children to the peer group at an early age, nor restricting them to the family dinner table homework society at the other. School achievement for each group correlates with this model.
When speaking of the importance of standard English for gifted students to use in situations external to their personal milieu, I have been told that this is regarded by some as de-valuating the culture of the home situation. There is no intention to do this. (As Warfel points out in the quoted paragraph just above, very often the real language of this teenager is as different from that of the home as it is from that of the counselor's home.) It is simply that for students to become effective in the society beyond the streets where they live, English should be regarded as the modern lingua franca. "The ability to read, speak and write standard English is the passport to success in the larger community. Without this, students are denied access." (Carlson, 1991). The importance of English is that it is a tool for learning about life and cultures beyond one's own -- the verbalized meaning of art, music and mathematics and for returning one's own thoughts on this to a larger community. It is also the tool for receiving education about one's self and one's ethnic community. In Europe and many countries of Asia, most students, whether gifted or otherwise, are taught English, often in immersion programs, throughout their school years simply because it is a part of being educated. Unfortunately, few of the underserved populations in this country have had access to such programs. It has become evident that a pernicious reason for failure to nominate students from presently underserved populations groups lies in the area of language use. (Stanley and Padilla, 1989). Few children who speak a heavily accented subgroup of standard English, whether black or Hispanic are ever referred for further evaluation. (Lambert et al, 1972; Warfel, 1962).
There is little reason to recapitulate the evidence for the effects on intelligence (as we measure it) of an upbringing that varies widely from the cultural norm. These data have been known and published since, at the very least, the early sixties. It would insult the reader who has stayed the course to trot it out now. However, a quote from an article by Torrance in 1964 may be an useful reminder of an ongoing problem:
"The perceptions of educators and psychologists of creative possibilities among disadvantaged youths and children are also likely to be observed by behavior considered to be immoral, such as uncouth language, lying and cheating. It is most important that those who are searching for giftedness among such youngsters try to determine the positive possibilities the undesirable behavior indicates rather than being concerned only about what punishment is merited." (Loretan and Umans, 1966).
We knew that almost thirty years ago, but we have yet to find a way to put it into practice. How many times have we heard educators say, "I'm not going to reward a child who acts like that by putting him in the gifted program!" Could we be looking at some behaviors as "bad" when evidenced by minority -- or just poor -- students, but "typically gifted" when we see them in an affluent-gifted child?
The problem has been attacked numerous times by the Florida Bureau of Education for Exceptional Students. (1976). At one point a large number of proposed measures were identified in a two year study (mentioned earlier) called the "Gifted and Talented Program Study." After nearly two years of research into potential measures of a wider range of intelligence, field testing was conducted by a local evaluation team in a multi-county investigation for the DOE. Unfortunately, no conclusive results occurred beyond the fact that there were no conclusive results. (Curry, 1990). Attempting to admit students to gifted programs from the overall student body on any recommended measure without first giving intensive training in thinking skills, appropriate behavior and general knowledge has the same effect as lowering the selection criteria. This did not significantly change the percentages of minorities admitted.
In our initial screening, we must ask ourselves: What are the "blockers" to selecting children for gifted classes who are not in the mainstream? What common characteristics of gifted ethnic Hispanic and black children make them different from teacher perceptions of giftedness in mainstream children? What are the "windows"? What characteristics shine through, and where? And when? Where must we stand to see through those windows the things by which we may know these children?
The purpose then of our search for effective means of assessing minority students, is to explore alternative screening procedures for nominating preadolescents from cultures of poverty. They do not reflect the assumptions underlying current identification procedures about how intelligence is expressed. Simply, how do smart minority students act smart? Then, having made a selection by changing the outlook of the selectors, how do we make such behavioral changes in the selectees that they may find success among age peers who are not only from more mainstream backgrounds, but who have been in the program longer? (Casas, 1986). Counseling will be essential, not only to assist newly identified students to be comfortable in their new role, but in existing gifted classes with the earlier identified students and their teachers to develop broader views of how intelligence may be expressed.
Perhaps it is important not even to start from a position of children's needs. This translates into "what can we do for these kids and only reinforces the "adults have power, children (we) have none" mental set which they are already oriented to oppose. We must start from the strengths of these students. We must find them by their strengths. We already do this to some extent with highly gifted students: they often have the same fantasies which, in their case, may not arise from forced neglect, but because the extremely precocious child so often finds adults who are not prepared for confrontation with their intellectual power.
Consider the following quotation from Campbell in terms of the gang member in a poor neighborhood as he sees his classroom teacher versus the gang leader.
"The contrast between the two world views may be seen more sharply by comparing the priest and the shaman. The priest is the socially initiated, ceremonially inducted member of a recognized . . . organization, where he holds certain rank and functions as the tenant of an office that was held by others before him, while the shaman is one who, as a consequence of a personal psychological crisis, has gained a certain power of his own." (1959).
If we were to consider the teen age gang as a hunting band, it might be observed that in many ways it mimics that medieval outgrowth of the hunting band, the secret society. (Knight, 1984). Individuals have emotional ties of honor to like groups, whom they have never met. There are recognition systems: articles of clothing, hand shakes and hand signals known only to certain other "fly" individuals who are privy to the inner knowledge and passed on through the oral tradition. The gang leader, the "shaman," holds his office through the (usually) informal consent of the group, gained via certain charismatic power (which may have been earned in the age old tradition of the alpha male among all social species by beating up all contenders). And there is the sense which these totems vouchsafe the membership that they are special, and therefore a little better than any other group or individual.
It's the leader, the "shaman" and some of his lieutenants we would most like to draw into our gifted programs. Whether we can offer any rewards in an ambiguous future that would be as satisfying as the ego trip he is presently on is not clear. In any case, there are certainly others who might be wooed away: wannabe shamans, those on the edge who have not been able to suppress their own personalities enough to be true followers, would be some of those among whom we might cast our nets.
What strengths do these First World shamans have? We must keep in mind that their strengths may be against middle class values. They have anger, chutzpah, manipulativeness, streetwiseness, secretiveness. How can we use these?
To seek answers, a group of interested individuals, each hailing from black or Hispanic origins examined these assumptions and agreed they represented a factor to be considered in the search for high intelligence among students from the culture of poverty, regardless of other cultural variants. If we are to reach the best of these students, the lure to another group must be strong. The true story of Jaime Escalante (Meek, 1989) as depicted in the movie "Stand and Deliver" demonstrates how one teacher used empowerment as an enticement. If we are to proceed along the lines of the "hunter society" described in a different context by Campbell, we must look through the hunter's eyes -- in this case the leader's or shaman's eyes, for they are most likely to be the potentially gifted that we seek. These young people are immersed in a group in which they have a high level of respect, even reverence. Like gifted students everywhere they have seen adults as a peer group since they were small -- and why not? The mental age of a highly gifted early adolescent is equivalent to that of the average adult. One result is that gifted students at this age don't give their teachers the automatic respect we would like to see just for being teachers. However, middle class students (from what parallels the "planter" society) know the rules: Play the (adult's) game, don't get caught, don't show off, getting "in the teacher's face" is stupid. Don't cross certain lines. (That is not to say they are passive, well-behaved young people. Any teacher of secondary gifted students knows what kinds of mind games they play: the teacher who doesn't, will not last as a teacher of gifted students.)
The "shaman" also plays by the rules, but he has a different set of rules, even a different set of mind games. He comes from a milieu in which he has more power from his gang than any adult he knows has from any source (more than his parents, more than the teacher). Moreover, the rules of his group require him to play at the edge. If he doesn't like what the teacher tells him to do, his response is likely to be two words that might get him suspended. The prime directive for the shaman, gang leader or would-be gang leader is, "Thee must not lose face among thy followers," who are in the class watching. (The teacher's power may be limited, but ultimately it derives from the state. If the gang leader misreads the teacher's willingness to invoke that power, he could be in trouble. On the other hand he -- and, we hope, the teacher -- know that if the teacher invokes that power too many times, she is in trouble for not being able to control the class.)
It has been pointed out a depressing number of times that it's easier to find minority students when they are very young -- before the beliefs and behaviors of the underclass are indelible. If we could identify all gifted students in the early years, our job would be easier. Too many slip by. Of these, students with middle class orientation may get picked up later, but few educators are even looking for the students we have been discussing at this age (of about eleven to fourteen).
Our group looked at a number of existing checklists which seemed to be seeking a child who is already getting nominated -- the motivated child who is already trying to work hard, get along and ahead, and who is willing to take direction. It seemed to us that too many of the children we were concerned with had "smarts," but no way to get on the nomination list because of failure to adjust to the necessarily autocratic philosophy of school. So we looked for students who challenged the teacher (often found on "gifted" checklists) for power. And we looked for humor -- the underlying humor insults so often used in interchanges on the street, used here between students, but with the hidden agenda of controlling the class. Do middle class students do these things? They do. But they often get nominated because they have other behaviors that offset the undesirable ones. They know how to "play the game" on the school's terms. After several meetings, two checklists were approved. One for the leader types described above, and the other for what we termed "wannabes." The latter was more like familiar nomination checklists, but calling on specific behaviors we had observed. Obviously neither list can be used in isolation -- other screening procedures are required. Nor will either list inundate us with referrals. We hope that some of those that do come will be unique to this system. The reason for two lists instead of combining the two into one was bureaucratic. The state of Florida requires "a majority" of characteristics on a checklist. On checklists looking for students so different, it would be harder to assess a "majority" if combined. These checklists were presented to several groups with a positive overall reception: They included teacher groups from across a large district with multiethnic diversity. Many were gifted teachers. Others were professionals with a minority background. Following approval of the district's "Plan for Identifying Gifted Students From Underserved Populations," it was included in screening procedures beginning in the fall of 1992.
(Further Observations on Minority Students. The comparison of present minority cultures with that of emigrants from Eastern European countries in the late nineteenth century is often deemed invidious. After all, it is reasoned, whites can disappear among other whites. Yet for many, theirs was a culture base so strong that much of it remains today among the third generation in the form of ethnic clubs, radio stations, etc. Although we don't face the fact, it is too often true that third generation children who remain too close to the old country culture may be doomed to spend their lives performing repetitive, physical tasks in factories, regardless of intelligence. What else could one who dressed in the working class manner and said "Dis, an dat" expect? Only through education can they move on, but education will also tend to erase the signs of an ethnic past. The advantage of the Caucasian appearance may not be readily available until the third generation and beyond.
The cohesiveness extends to the community. We have summer programs for gifted students from the seventh to twelfth grades at our two local universities. They are always disproportionately attended by Asian students, often primarily from a recent wave of emigration: one year Japanese, then Korean and Chinese, and still another year Southeast Asian. Lately many students have been from the Near East and India. Frequently they are not even residents of our county, but request special placement for the summer. One Indian family -- in which the father works in Egypt where the children attend school -- maintains a pied-a-terre in Tampa, and the mother and children return each summer for these classes. A newsletter among the cultural community keeps all informed of these opportunities for their children. The children, in their turn, do not question the decisions their parents have made for them, feeling they are meant for their good.)
Anderson, Robert E. 1987. A comprehensive study of the underrepresentation of minorities in the gifted programs of Sarasota Public Schools. pp. 1-8. State of Florida.
Associated Press. 1991. Minority enrollment to soar. The Tampa Tribune.
Barstaw, David. Nov. 1987. Serve gifted and serve all gifted. Gifted Child Monthly. v. 8, no. 10 pp. 1-3.
Bermudez, Dr. Andrea B. and Rakow, Dr. Steven J. Fall 1989. Meeting the educational needs of gifted limited English proficient students. Southwest Ed. Develpm. Lab. Training Projects Bulletin. v. 3, no. 1. State of Texas. pp. 1-2.
Bettelheim, Bruno. 1985. The uses of enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales. Knopf: New York. pp. 12, 147.
Bureau of Education for Exceptional Students. Sept. 20, 1976. Separate criteria for identifying culturally disadvantaged, underachieving gifted students. Department of Education, State of Florida.
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A TEACHER'S OBSERVATIONS ON DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GIFTED CHILDREN
BY LEIGH A. SHELTON
ROCKWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Discrimination in any sense of the word is wrong. The more overt cases reported today target skin color, gender, age, religion, and nationality. There is a type of discrimination, however, that occurs in classrooms across the United States and that goes far deeper than outward appearance. Students with high academic ability are consistently punished for their gifts. The effect of this discrimination is educational inequity and perhaps more importantly, a wounded soul.
It is frightening to consider some of the blatant discrimination and emotional abuse gifted children suffer at the hands of educators. Unfortunately, some of the very people who are in the position of both educating and nurturing our youth, are the ones degrading and ridiculing them through discrimination. The immediate effect of this treatment is the child's wounded soul. The sad part of this treatment is that it is very hurtful to the child. The logical thinker, however, would also realize this type of destructive treatment of people has a profound effect on their place in and response to society. The discriminatory treatment of gifted students not only affects the individual, but society.
Because of the added emotional needs of gifted students, the building in which I teach designates a twenty-minute period each day to deal with their affective needs. The structure of this time frame differs from classroom to classroom. There are lessons completed on perfectionism, group dynamics, and self-esteem. The majority of my time, however, is spent getting to know the students and allowing them time to get to know one another and themselves. I often use The Kid's Book of Questions by Gregory Stock (Workman Publishing, 1988) as a catalyst for many discussions. An interesting discussion followed the question: "Do you think boys or girls have it easier?"
My students snickered a bit and gave their opinions. The characteristic mature sense of humor of the gifted came to light when one of the boys said with a laugh, "Well boys are getting cheated in the classroom!"
It was interesting that Jim, a fifth grader, had been watching 20/20 and 60 Minutes and was aware of the studies, and even more ironic that he made the connection to our discussion. A few minutes later, however, a look of seriousness came over his face and he said, "To be serious, I really believe gifted kids are getting cheated in the classroom."
This comment set the tone of the discussion for the remainder of the time. Students were allowed to speak specifically about situations, but were asked not to mention names of students or teachers they were discussing. This was not a teacher bashing session, but instead, students being honest about their hurt feelings. As with adults, children also need time to vent their frustrations. As a gifted educator, part of my job is to meet those affective needs. What follows is a list of examples of teacher discrimination:
"I don't think my teacher likes gifted kids very much."
"When I missed two (answers) on my social studies test last week, my teacher announced who got the highest grade to the whole class. Then she said, 'She even beat Mary's score, and Mary is supposed to be gifted!' "
"When I asked my math teacher to help me with a problem she said, 'You're gifted -- you figure it out.' "
"It's almost like you have to pay to be gifted."
"My teacher told me I had not turned in one of my assignments that I knew I had, and she wanted me to do it over. I told her that I was sure I had put it in the homework basket, could she please recheck her grade book before I did it again. She then screamed to the whole class, 'Well, Sue here seems to think I made a mistake and wants me to go back through and recheck myself. She wants me to do this and I will not get your quizzes graded before you go. Is that what everyone wants?' (After Sue had redone her assignment, the teacher recorded it in the grade book, and realized that she had been looking at the student above Sue on the roster. She had turned in the homework. Sue was there to witness the realization, but no apology was uttered.)"
My teacher calls on us (gifted kids) when our hands aren't raised instead of when they are. It's like she wants to embarrass us when we don't know the answer. I don't know why people think we should know everything just because we're in the gifted program. My friends who aren't in it are a lot better in some subjects than me.
Do these comments sound like anything that should come out of a adult's mouth--even worse, a teacher's mouth? Do these teachers think at all about some of the implications their tongue lashings have on my super sensitive students? Furthermore, what sort of example are they providing for students when they are modeling the ridiculing of another human being?
The very foundation of this country is based on the idea that everyone has the right to an equal education. Unless gifted students are challenged to reach their potential and beyond, they are not getting an equal education. The students in the above scenarios are not being challenged to reach their potential. Instead, their potential is ignored. Regardless of the teachers', administrators', or the other parents' views, gifted students deserve a challenging curriculum; just as learning disabled students deserve remedial intervention. Gifted students also deserve to be treated as human beings like other students.
While the field of gifted education has made great strides in the area of curriculum, it still lacks overall understanding of gifted students and their affective needs. Inservice training dealing with gifted students would be of great benefit to teachers, students and society as a whole. If we don't deal directly with these issues, we will be educating people who grow up to discriminate against the gifted, not to mention the emotional scars that will be inflicted on these children by denying them what is rightfully theirs: an equal education.
Finding a solution to the problem requires the identification of the various facets of the problem. A portion of the discrimination exhibited toward academically gifted students and their special needs comes from those who believe that testing does not always identify giftedness. Being a poor test-taker helps me to realize there are probably many who slip between the cracks of the system. But because this method of determining giftedness is not foolproof, does not mean we should halt the identification of those undoubtedly in need.
The self-esteem of the teacher is often at issue. Academically gifted students sometimes pose a threat to the teacher's intelligence. Inservice training, which helps educators accept the fact that gifted students will often know more than they do about a specific topic, would probably also help to develop more positive attitudes toward these special needs students. It is not only acceptable for a teacher to proclaim, "I don't know, let's see if we can find the answer," but would be ideal, so that he/she demonstrates it is okay to not know everything, and it is okay to ask questions.
Support for gifted education should not only be modeled by administrators throughout the district, but should be demanded of teachers. Simply put, accepting student differences is a job responsibility of the teacher. What happens in the business world when workers ignore their responsibilities? Why in education, is it so easy to ignore a critical group of children without suffering any ramifications?
The most serious effect of these issues is the attack on the soul of the child. The result of constant degradation is a broken-soul which gives a student no confidence or desire to succeed. The resulting discrimination not only affects the academics of the students but also their social adjustment. Many gifted students are already suffering a lower self-concept than their non-gifted counterparts. If they continue to suffer from this discrimination, as with any discrimination, they could become leery of others and develop an attitude of mistrust. A poor educational experience is the short term issue. The emotional scars, however, will remain with gifted children and undoubtedly affect their response to society.
Discrimination is wrong, regardless of who is the victim, child or adult. If it were to stop at young ages, schools would no longer be perpetuating negative attitudes and poor self-concepts. The school's job is to educate students with the skills needed to succeed independently in the future, regardless of academic ability. The skills I refer to are not only academic. I reflect on the ludicrous scenarios I have described and ask myself, just what type of education are we providing?
RESPONSE TO MARA SAPON-SHEVIN'S COMMENTS IN THE WINTER 1995 GEPQ
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
As a teacher of many disadvantaged gifted children during the last 20 years in the South Bronx, I deal with the everyday practical realities of teaching rather than with theoretical constructs. My observations concerning Sapon-Shevin's rebuttal (GEPQ, Winter 1995) are as follows:
"As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish, he'd go away."
John Donne (1573-1631)
Sapon-Shevin is disturbed by the person who is always at the stair although she never encounters this constant presence -- the fact of human uniqueness is what she wishes would go away. It troubles her conscience that there might be educational and social inequities as long as human sensibility and giftedness are used as criteria for placing children in special programs. In her "brave new world," the unique abilities of human beings are equally distributed. Genius is verboten in her "community of learners." This word has its roots in being original or unique, and is also used to express appreciation for people who show unique forms of creativity and thought.
Sapon-Shevin perceives gifted education as a disrupter of community. Two major types of community have occurred in the 20th century, totalitarian and democratic communities. The former is represented by the Fascist Corporate State, the Stalinoid People's Republic and theocratic religious fundamentalism. The democratic community is represented by a society where individuals are tolerant of each other's uniqueness. The totalitarian community is based upon mandated equity and statistical justice. In contrast, the democratic community stresses equality of opportunity where individuals are encouraged to develop their own unique sensibility.
The tone of Sapon-Shevin's rebuttal is that of a person who holds collective social justice as the highest priority. Perhaps she should reread Plato's writings which show that people have debated the question of "what is justice" for thousands of years. It doesn't matter whether one accepts the ideas expressed in Plato's Republic. What is important is that our society needs a continuous symposium on what the word "justice" means. To Sapon-Shevin, it is similar to John Rawls' "distributive justice" paradigm (A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, 1971). According to this paradigm, we will only have a just society when skills, talents and giftedness are literally demonstrated by politically correct statistical data. Schroeder-Davis has a different vision of justice. His is a just society where everyone has an equal opportunity to develop their abilities as a result of demonstrated accomplishments. Fallacious statistical formulas do not play a role in his conception of equality and justice. Sapon-Shevin perceives the classroom teacher as the commissar of educational equity, while Schroeder-Davis perceives this teacher as a guru of educational opportunity.
The presence of different levels and types of individual sensibility troubles Sapon-Shevin. In her classroom, there are group sensibilities, not individual ones because individual sensibility cannot be programmed, charted, designed by teacher trainers and plotted via mastery learning flow charts. Individual sensibility is influenced by a complex network of cultural factors such as family structure, individual philosophy, human interaction, inspiration, encouragement and role modeling.
This debate is concerned with more than gifted education. It is about models of human endeavor. Sapon-Shevin seeks equity and justice supported by statistical formulas. Schroeder-Davis wants a society whose model of human endeavor is the freedom to develop individual sensibility and giftedness. Winston Churchill said that he preferred an imperfect democracy over a perfect totalitarian society. The imperfections of Schroeder-Davis's approach at least maintain respect for the human condition while Sapon-Shevin's taste is to indulge in conditioning the human psyche.
"But what, then am I? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands (conceives), affirms, denies, wills, abstains from willing, that also can be aware of images and sensations." René Descartes (1596-1650).
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"Creativity, as usually understood, entails not only a 'what,' a talent, but a 'who' -- strong personal characteristics, a strong identity, personal sensibility, a personal style, which flow into the talent, interfuse it, give it personal body and form. Creativity in this sense involves the power to originate, to break away from the existing ways of looking at things, to move freely in the realm of the imagination, to create and recreate fully in one's mind -- while supervising all this with a critical inner eye. Creativity has to do with inner life -- with the flow of new ideas and strong feelings." Oliver Sacks. January 9, 1995. "Neurologist's Notebook: Prodigies." The New Yorker. p. 65.