Gifted Education, We Have a Problem

Take a moment and call to mind the gifted advocates you know, the parents of gifted kids, the gifted parents of kids, the kids themselves. The professionals who specialize in and work with gifted kids. Notice anything unusual about them?

Actually, notice anything that’s not unusual about them?

My hunch is that just about everyone you could think of was consistent with a particular demographic — probably white, probably middle class or better, and, if an adult, probably a college graduate or better, and not a first-generation one at that.

If people accuse gifted advocates of elitism, can you really blame them?

Growing up gifted, I was surrounded by people of far less natural ability who had access to private tutors, opportunities, and connections I didn’t have. They could afford to sign their kids up for extracurriculars, camps, programs, and expensive academies. I attended parochial schools K-12, sure, but my parents bought my clothes at Walmart, Salvation Army thrift stores, and garage sales, not at Esprit and Guess.

I was lucky: I got a world-class high school education from a public magnet. Anyone who scored well enough on the tests could get in. The demographics were not nearly proportional to those of the general population in the area, making the school’s admissions policies controversial, but it was a start. There were plenty kids of color, and many kids qualified for free or reduced-cost school lunches.

But when I look at the gifted advocacy movement, those kids largely don’t appear on the radar. Sure, there’s research on those populations, but our involvement doesn’t go much further. We hold up kids who overcome adversity as exemplars of giftedness, but did we help them in any way to get there? Do we have any right at all to lay claims on their accomplishments?

There are practical obstacles, to be sure, and financial ones are foremost. Education and opportunity do not come free, and professionals who work with gifted kids deserve to make a living doing so.

Still, it’s a shame we’re spending so much of our collective creativity and intelligence fending off claims of elitism instead of putting our talents to the task of creating accessible, scalable methods of gifted education and making our social circles a bit more permeable to encourage greater equity. Drawing in more perspectives would enrich us all.