We Live In A Society Focused on Deficits

One of the most thought provoking sessions I went to at NAGC was with Robert A. Schulz who works in Gifted Education and Curriculum  Studies at the University of Toledo. In his presentation he provided a bit of a retrospective on the path gifted education has taken as well as exploring the tension between the notion of giftedness and talent. He took us through some of the trends in education: the societal reconstruction of the 60’s and 70’s, a nation at risk in the 70’s and 80’s to the audit culture of the 90’s, the indigo children of the 21st century and now into a time of more doing. He summed this journey up with a quote from Donald Treffinger that “we live in a society that is focused on deficits.”

Focused on deficits. Isn’t that our job as educators? To fill in the gaps? To make sure our students are “well rounded”? To make sure everybody meets the basic “outcomes”?

Schultz then went on to discuss four things that we KNOW about learning:

1. Learning is personal.

2. Teaching is guesswork and hopefulness.

3. Being/becoming are not formulaic.

4. “Psycho-therapy” based on products instead of process is wrong-headed.

Now you see what I mean about thought provoking as I think it would be interesting to have a long conversation about any one of those items.  I can already hear all the number crunchers in my life taking a really deep breath. So I will go on to a couple of other things he brought up that have really stayed with me.

His advice to the NAGC was that the organization rethink their definition of gifted and steer it along the lines of Annemarie Roeper’s definition: “Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”  To this he added his own thought that giftedness is who you are, not what you do. As I think about that my mind goes to all of the students who feel the weight of a gifted label and the expectations that it can carry. I think about the teachers who tell me that they can’t see the giftedness. I think of the pressure that I feel to show that my program matters. Schulz summed up this disconnect in the bottom line: Education has a business model.

I bought his book “if i’m so SMART, why aren’t the answers EASY?” which he co-authored/edited with James R. Delisle. The books is subtitled Advice from Teens on Growing Up Gifted and contains a lot of lived experiences of gifted kids from their understanding of what giftedness is, to their school and family life. At the end of the book, the authors have put together a list of the Eight Great Gripes of Gifted Students (common concerns that have been communicated by gifted students over more than 20 years of research). I thought I would share them here.

1. No one explains what being “smart” or “gifted” is all about. It’s kept a big mystery.

2. School is too easy and not challenging.

3. Parents, teachers and/or friends expect me to be perfect at everything.

4. Friends who really understand me are hard to find.

5. Kids often tease me about being smart.

6. I feel overwhelmed by the number of things I can do in life.

7. I feel different and alienated from most of my classmates-I think in different ways that they do.

8. I worry about world problems and feel helpless to do anything about them.

As I read through them again I notice how few are about the school work itself. Look at the ones that emerge from the focus on deficits. Once again Schultz has directed me back to what was emerging from every session: the social/emotional aspect of giftedness must be addressed.

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