Let me open with a quick news round-up from Gifted Education:
2013 doesn’t look good for the return of federal funding for Gifted Education. Refunding the Javits Act is not included in Obama’s new budget, and the TALENT act is still in limbo in Congress. Please consider calling your representative in the House of Representatives and asking them to support the TALENT act. For more information on these and other legislative issues related to Gifted Education, check out the NAGC page on the topic.
January 12, the New York Times published another in a long line of articles about race disparity in gifted classrooms. I liked this article because it dug in really deep and tried to identify some of the reasons why the identification process is flawed, but I wish it hadn’t stopped short of saying that a lot of the identification measures are skewed toward not just the class/race majority, but also toward achievers and teacher pleasers, not academically gifted fast learners.
January 22, CNET writes that Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” is set to produce a TV show entitled “Prodigies”, which would look at young geniuses (the initial list in the article is STEM oriented, but the associated Youtube channel includes creative/athletic prodigies as well). I’m curious to see how this turns out, as it could lead to a heightened awareness of the needs of the academically gifted and the difficulty for a lot of people to fulfill those needs, or it could emphasize stereotypes and lead to a “child beauty pageant”-like side-show effect. Given the current state of reality television, I don’t have high hopes.
Finally, the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children has announced its 2013 conference will be held in Louisville, KY August 10-14. I’m especially excited about it, as Dr. Julia Roberts is one of my personal heroes and I’m glad to see her heavily involved with this. If you’re interested in applying to present, the deadline is May 25. Bonus – the keynote speaker is Dr. Joseph Renzulli, and if you’ve done any research at all in Gifted Education, I’m sure you’re familiar with his name.
In my world, a new year also begins a new semester of graduate school. This spring I’m spending an entire class looking at creative nonfiction, both memoirs and essays, taught by author Tom Grimes. In one of the first pieces we read this semester, Adam Gopnik’s introduction to The Best American Essays of 2008, he describes the three types of essays: the review essay, the memoir essay, and the odd-object essay. The first two are simple, a review of a book, an event, a place, or something else; and a personal experience with broader meaning. The last one, however, struck my interest the most. Gopnik describes odd-object essays as using small objects to talk about large subjects, the same way that Atul Gawande uses dental health to segue into our current societal attitudes to end-of-life finances and medical care in one of the first essays of the book, “The Way We Age Now”. The more I think about this idea, of zooming in on something and then panning out to gain meaning and relation, the more I think this applies to every essay, even if the odd-object is instead an event, a person, or a completely normal object. After all, aren’t many reviews of creative works used to comment on the genre or medium as a whole? I’m thinking specifically of the recent reviews of The Hobbit which became a critique of the–apparently–too realistic quality of 48 FPS and 3D on a huge screen. And, are personal essays meaningful/valuable if they don’t connect on a more global level with people’s experiences that are not the same? Another example from this book, Bernard Cooper’s essay “The Constant Gardener”, describes caring for his HIV infected partner, an experience that I haven’t come anywhere close to. Yet the questions this essay addresses: What will we do for those we love? How will we measure up in the face of overwhelming life events? What qualities do we bring to a relationship, and what qualities do we need in a successful one? all pertain to my life, and are all questions I’ve pondered in some form before.
“The essay begins with an ordinary object–a goldfish dies–and ends, the essayist hopes, with an unexpected subject: what is death?” -Gopnik, xviii
Likewise, in my writing that I’ve discussed in this blog, I seek to draw a line in the reader’s mind between my grade school experiences and gifted education as a whole. It is also possible to look at gifted education specifically and use it as a perspective on our culture’s attitudes toward education and academic achievement on a broader scale. What Gopnik describes in naming the odd-object essay isn’t reserved for good essays, but for good writing in general.