As I mentioned last entry, I was lucky enough to have a memoir-essay accepted for publication about my experience as a gifted student that ended up dropping out of high school to attend college early. It’s not a happy story; I didn’t do well in college and the problems that led to that decision were fairly severe. However, it’s one of the first things I’ve written where I felt I had a lot more to say on the subject, and that it was within my ability to continue saying it.
This semester, as part of my graduate program in Rhetoric and Composition, I’m taking a course entitled “Narrative Ways of Knowing”. The assignments in that class have allowed me to continue following this strand of work.
For the first assignment, which asked us to think critically about a teaching, learning, or writing experience, I elaborated on a bit of cognitive dissonance in my own thinking. As a student of education and the liberal arts in general, I nod my head vigorously in class when we talk about the dominant culture imposing its will subconsciously via culturally biased testing and evaluations. I know that it’s very common for students to be labeled as needing special education because they are English language learners, or because their learning style doesn’t match up with the classroom setting, or because of home life factors outside of their control. I know that tracking is often used as a modern-day segregation, and that it typically uses outdated methodology, and that there’s little accountability for revisiting these categorizations later in the child’s career. I know that these biased actions hurt the child and the system overall, and that this casts doubt on any program, aimed at top or bottom, that doesn’t promote mainstreaming and least restrictive environments.
Despite “knowing” all of this, I look back on my own education and feel that the parts I benefited from the most, and the parts that I advocate strongest for to others, are the parts that were as far from mainstreaming as you can get. Primarily, summer camps that required standardized testing scores for access, and pullout GT classes.
My conclusion for the paper was that in theory, mainstreaming is the way. But, once you consider how poorly teachers are paid, how little training the average teacher has in gifted OR special education, how large the class sizes are, and how fast school budgets are shrinking, it’s hard to imagine mainstreaming as being a realistic possibility. It’s because of that, that I fall back on well thought out pull-out programs (including super cool initiatives like college early entrance academies – see TAMS in Texas, the Gatton School in Kentucky, as well as a slew of others). Ultimately, I believe that we need to keep as many options on the table as possible, from grade-skipping to dual-credit high school classes, as every student’s needs are different. But, at the same time, we need to be pragmatic about the availability of the resources for such services.
In our second assignment, we were asked to interview someone else and reflect critically on a particular experience they shared in the interview. I ended up interviewing Tracy Weinberg, Associate Director of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented. We had a wonderful talk and spoke very broadly about gifted education, and I ended up writing a paper delving into a few of his anecdotes and comparing them to the experiences I went through, as well as those of my friends.
For our final paper, we need to extend these lines of thoughts and incorporate scholarly sources into the fold. I have a few ideas, but am unsure of how to proceed:
- Identification sucking the air out of the room. Discussion of gifted education is often so dominated by the identification topic that little attention gets paid to the fact that services for those that do get identified are lacking or nonexistent. Con: Unsure of good way to weave scholarly sources in.
- Dissonance in how we treat students gifted athletically versus students gifted academically. Tons of scholarly material depicting both processes, and at least one article looking at this discrepancy in particular. Con: Difficult to make coherent connection to my first two papers. (As an example, imagine reshaping this article to be about an academically gifted student.)
- Same as second idea, but comparing approaches to special versus gifted education in a similar way. Same con.
- Something else riffing on the debate over mainstreaming or not.
Your help would be appreciated! What topics that are related to our culture’s treatment of gifted education interest you?
For your outside perusal today, a recent article on the lack of meaningful, widely available gifted education – Young, Gifted, and Neglected