The following letters are in response to "Gifted Education as Resegregation," my May 9 column. Many more will be posted as time permits.pt
Hello Mr. Tristam,
Unfortunately, it is thinking like yours that prohibits the truly gifted from receiving the type of education they need. Obviously you and your family have not had the need for this type or style of education. You may want to do a little more research on gifted children and their needs BEFORE you write an article on the subject again. Raising and educating a highly gifted child can be as challenging as doing the same for a child with a learning disability, but yet society thinks nothing of having special programs for those children. Your attitude on the subject is common, albeit completely wrong. School is segregation by age. Do you really think that keeping a child in the same age group makes sense for a kid that is reading or doing math multiple years ahead of his/her peers? For example, our son turned 5 in February. He should be starting Kindergarten this Fall but is already reading and doing math at a third grade level. His social and fine motor skills are highly advanced and his IQ is over 140. His ability to learn is completely different from other children. Tell me it makes perfect sense to put him in a Kindergarten group with many kids who don't even know the alphabet yet. Obviously not. Luckily, our school district is very forward-thinking and has developed a curriculum specifically for our son.
Next time you consider an article on gifted education, you may want to interview some gifted kids and their parents first.
Thank you for your time,
Hi I just read your piece on the Common Dreams site. I have an interesting perspective on this. I have one high achiever and one gifted kid. The way it works in my school district is that the gifted program is spread around to various schools. There is a gifted program and a separate high achiever program at the school we currently attend. I’m not for segregating the gifted kids. That presupposes that there is nothing that they can learn from the “regular” kids. The after-school program at our school mixes all the kids together. This helps intellectually gifted students see that there are kids who are super talented in other areas besides academics. Some kids are good in sports, art, music, dance, business, (yes even in elementary school), horticulture, and on and on. If that gifted kid is confident enough in him/herself he/she will always have an opportunity to learn and grow. In our school the gifted student curricula is still a few notches above the regular. It is very rigorous
As a person who is surrounded by gifted people all the time (I’m an academic), I can tell you there are some situations that you find yourself in that an academically gifted person may not be able to help you with especially if they’ve been cutoff and isolated from everybody else throughout their educational lives. If these parents of the gifted think it’s a disservice that their kids will have to go to school with those of “lesser intelligence”. I think it’s a disservice to them if they don’t have to go to school with others.
--Rosalind Wyatt, A Blessed Mother
Dear Mr. Tristam,
I ran across your piece on the education of gifted kid at commondreams.org,
and it raised an interesting question in my mind, "what exactly is such
As a survivor of the public schools of Colorado, and labeled gifted (I had a
PhD at 22 from the London School of Economics if such things matter), I can
tell you what it ISN'T about. It is not about creating individuals who can
socially function despite being smarter than most of the people around them.
Gifted has many meanings. Mozart was gifted, but would he get in the AP
Physics class -- no. And these are the kids who simply get left out of all
special programs; and even the regular ones, since we're dropping art and
music as "unimportant."
But consider, if an IQ test can be a proxy for braininess, kids with scores
of 70 and 130 vary from the norm equally, just in different directions. A
child with a 70 gets all sorts of special treatment including state mandated
help of various kinds -- and after all, that kid needs it. So why let the
kid who scores 130 sink or float on his/her own? The 70 score is actually
treated better by society because the special needs are recognized. He is
taught to cope as best as we can teach him. For the 130, more reading and
more math problems in a special school doesn't address the problems of being
Gifted is often a status symbol for the parents, or a code word for
segregation for others, but to most of the kids who are truly gifted, it's a
problem that the grown-up world doesn't get. Education programs aimed at
gifted kids usually fail miserably in turning out gifted adults who are
well-adjusted to their condition because they address the blessing side of
the equation and not the curse part of it.
Sorry if this has turned into a rant, but you touched a nerve (for which I
All the best,
I totally agree with your view about the sequestration of the superbly
gifted within a public school setting. Wouldn't it be grand to return
to the "each one teach one" that made our rural schools of decades ago
so marvelous a launching pad for tomorrow's citizens? Both my
grandmother and father taught in one-room schools, using the bright kids
as helpers to free up one-on-teaching opportunities for both.
As a very old party, allow me to introduce you to what was done with the
bright, the gifted and the unclassifiable in my grammar-school ca.
1938-44. We had a combined 5th-6th grade "Adjustment Room" - a title
that caused no hackles to rise with the parents, and no shame to stick
to the kids. "Adjustment" was an impact-free term.
In this room, taught by a marvelously gifted spinster named Miss Brandt,
were all the high-IQ, high-achievers & precocious brainiacs--along with
refugee kids learning English by full immersion, the totally bald kid
who needed a haven from the smart-asses, the precocious slut-in-waiting
who blossomed far too soon, the Absolutely Worst Boy That Ever Was [his
mother had her own problems with Demon Rum and often visited Billy's
room half-wasted and sometimes half-dressed] and a few nervous cases who
couldn't settle down to anything much.
Miss Brandt worked with everyone, leaving no kid unloved or untaught.
We learned compassion from her [she only punished people for being cruel
or mean to the afflicted] and those of us reading off the charts were
sent to the library to read and write book reports for Extra Credit. We
had a math genius amongst us, who recently retired as head of a giant
investment firm...he had first learned English in our kindergarten, and
his parents were German-Jewish refugees.
By throwing all of us in the mix with Miss Brandt as our guide, we paced
ourselves with what we were good at--we helped the helpless and hapless,
and I don't think even the bald kid and the girl who threw up everyday
and the Worst Boy felt other than secure. The Polish refugee kid
learned English, the slut-in-waiting waited [she later became an MGM
starlet] and the math genius wound up in Stanford enroute to his own
The views you gave us in your article would have been totally
comprehensible to our Miss Brandt. The sequestering of the gifted helps
only parental egos and teaches the kids nothing about human interaction
and the inevitable titrations of minimum, modicum and maximum when it
comes to young brainpower.
How can a young manager, say, deal with the folks out on the floor who
move their lips when they read instructions? Kept apart socially and
academically, the gifted can only develop a sense of entitlement...sans
heart, sans understanding, sans everything that really matters.
Keep on punching!
best regards, E.H.
As a former 'gifted student' as well as a former professor and university administrator, your article prompts me to reply.
Unfortunately, our educational systems are geared towards the mediocre and low acheivers, very little is in place for those who excel. The attitude is that they don't need help and will get along just fine.
In fact, one might ask how it reflects on a society that spends so little time & money on it's exceptional students, yet goes overboard in providing for the less stellar elements of the population? So too does America spend more on it's failed members of society; prisoners, than it does on the average student.
It is no more segregational in providing programming for exceptional students than it is providing programming for underacheiving students. It is undermining and detrimental not to do so for both the individual and society. Perhaps that's one reason why U.S. students are really at the head of the class anymore.
Dear Mr. Tristam:
Separating gifted children from a heterogeneous
classroom is an advantage, not only for the gifted
children but for children of all ability levels. A
1985 study by James and Chen-Lin Kulik found that
"students in an ability group setting--*regardless of
track*--were substantially more motivated toward
subject areas than were students who were not
grouped." (Quoted in Rogers, Karen, _Re-Forming Gifted
This makes sense empirically as well. Imagine yourself
in a heterogeneous, or "desegregated," classroom.
There's always that one child with his hand up in the
air everytime the teacher asks a question. No one else
gets a chance to puzzle through the answer and
actually learn something because he tells them the
answer. He's first, best and brightest with all the
answers. The kids all know it, call him "teacher's
pet" and "egghead" and shun him or outright bully him
for it. Children segregate themselves socially and the
more children who are different, the easier it is for
them to do that, perpetuating the cycle.
He has two choices: he can reject his classmates and
assume he's just naturally first, best and brightest
at everything, or he can sit on his answering hand and
laugh at bathroom humor on the playground just like
everyone else, even while he knows he'll always be
different, and alone.
Now imagine he's in a segregated, gifted classroom.
There are a couple kids in that class who are smarter
than he is. Suddenly he has to work to keep up with a
much faster curriculum. His motivation to learn
increases and at the same time, he has an opportunity
to find a friend his age who also really like
dissecting worms or reading Oliver Twist. He's not
alone, and his previous classmates, also now in a
class of homogeneous ability, finally have the chance
to answer questions and participate in discussions
that aren't esoteric to the point of boredom. They're
also not under pressure to ostracize the child who is
different, so don't continue the cycle of bullying
Gifted education has nothing to do with "deserving the
best education" more than others or a "presumption
[of] standing apart economically." What the parents
of gifted students want is the same thing that parents
of special education students get: instruction at
their child's level of ability and a chance for them
to find friends with similar interests; kids who get
their jokes. Every child deserves that, not matter
what their ability.
Lessa J. Scherrer
After reading your article about gifted education, I cannot help thinking
that you are totally wrong because your premise that this is another form of
segregation is based on the fact that YOU have decided that no black
children are smart enough to get into the program. Where are your facts?
Yet, another form of truthiness invading the media.
Also, why the defensive stance that gifted children are given some sort of
celebrity treatment against the common good-for-nothing regular population
of the school? That tone of your article makes you even less credible. It
sounds like you are nursing some feelings of inadequacy yourself.
Yes, I am the parent of children in a gifted program, but believe me, I do
not see my children as being better than the rest of the kids. Also, in
their class of 12, there are 7 black kids, and 2 hispanic kids. In my
community, we are seen as low class because our kids attend public school,
but I really don't care. Both my husband and I possess Ph. D.'s in
chemistry and we have both dealt with the "system" for over twenty years.
We are wise enough to know that "gifted" is just a label, but if we can get
an education for our kids where the teachers all have Master's Degrees and
are certified to teach gifted children, where the class sizes are guaranteed
to be no higher than 15, one which offers individualized learning, and most
importantly, one which is FREE, then please, sign me up! And as far as
being treated like royalty, the truth couldn't be further. Our kids are
being bussed to the worst neighborhoods in town and are taught in temporary
buildings, so they can bring up the school's test scores, while "regular"
children attend the new magnet schools that are being built.
I advise you read the book "Bringing Out the Best" by Jacqulyn Saunders. It
at least gives insight to the gifted child and has a lot of references
within. I think it will benefit you greatly.
I read your article on the gifted and talented with some interest. My mother was a public school teacher and librarian for over 25 years. She taught a gifted and talented class at the 5th- 6th grade level for years. While the basic concept may have has some merit.... Leaving aside the ethical and moral issues in segregating children based on somewhat dubious criteria, its execution in real life left much to be desired. Specifically I used to laugh at just which children "met" the criteria for being "gifted and talented".
One criteria that granted a child instant admittance was birthright. If you were the son or daughter of the superindenant or one of your parents was a member of the state legislature, etc., etc. Laugh if you will, but the number of admitted students meeting that "criteria" was consistent and substantial. Neither of my children were ever labeled as gifted. However my daughter is now finishing her Masters at University College in London. She also found humor in the entire concept of "gifted and talented" as it was implemented at her High School. Only 1 of the students in the program in her class has managed to make it into graduate school. My daughter is now in her mid twenties.
As a father of 2 who have gone through the public school system I am now convinced that the entire idea of "gifted and talented" is flawed and has no place in publicly funded educational systems.
I do not live in your county, so I can not speak for your community or it’s children. Here in California they set children up in what they call “cluster’s” when they identify them as gifted, and then they put each cluster (around 6-8 kids) in a class with the rest being normal. The idea is that the children will not learn elitist attitudes, and that they will have more opportunities to lead. Sounds great! Would fit your idea better right? Nope. Think about the No Child Left Behind Act. This means that the teacher must teach to the bottom tier of the class, ALL the time. There is a mild attempt at enrichment education, but children that are bright and naturally curious are constantly told to sit and not think. A change in my son’s educational model will happen next year. Not to be resegregational, but to better train HIM to be the best mind and person HE can be, and THAT will serve the whole of the world better. He interacts with the world in numerous other ways. Boys Scouts, Volunteer activities, Extracurricular activities, etc. The job of a parent is to bring them up the best way possible. If parents are trying to do that, you should not be slamming them for it. If your school district has a program in place that teaches bright children in the way that they learn, by all means, PLEASE consider learning enough about how a gifted mind learns, and get behind the program to keep it in place. There are too few of these, and every one of them is needed. As for making a program throughout the school district that allows for the next level of gifted kids, that’s great! Just keep in mind that teaching one level of gifted child is NOT like teaching another. It would not be fair to either level of children to be in the same class, as it is not fair in California for the average kids to be in place with the gifted. It just plain doesn’t work.
Please look into Ruf’s level’s of giftedness.
I read your editorial this morning online via Common Dreams. It
brought back memories of similar issues for me a number of years ago
when my sons were younger. Let me say that I completely agree with
your stance, and in fact that was what my middle son and I agreed to do
after he had spent some time in "gifted" classes in elementary school,
when he was once again approached for similar programs in junior high
school. We concluded that there were better ways for him to spend his
time than being taught to think that he was somehow better than others
and to develop such incredibly elitist attitudes. Besides, in addition
to his schoolwork he was a nationally competitive gymnast and needed
time for that everyday.
However, I also think that it is very valuable to understand what
"gifted" programs are and are not. First, they are not truly programs
for the genuinely "gifted", they are in fact just additional work (busy
work if you will) for academic overachievers! This was freely
acknowledged to me by a counselor at the junior high my son was
attending. My middle son was always being pushed toward the "gifted"
classes because he is very bright and something of a perfectionist, the
model of an academic overachiever. Today he is finishing his Ph.D. in
ancient history after completing his B.A. and M.A. in the Classics.
Now, my oldest son, who has nearly a 200 I.Q., was never asked to be in
"gifted" classes. He was identified as a genius, but the schools he
attended had to acknowledge that they simply were not prepared to deal
with someone with his level of intellect. This was corroborated at the
time when I had a discussion with the woman who had designed the
"gifted" program for the large school district we were in (in
Washington state, Pierce county), when she acknowledged that there
actually weren't any "gifted" programs in the country for children who
were truly geniuses because it would be prohibitively expensive as each
program would have to be tailored around that child's specific needs.
She then went on to tell me that in fact the "gifted" programs were all
just for academic over-achievers! School rarely provided anything more
for my oldest son other than a social outlet, and at sixteen he was
finally asked to leave the high school he was attending (with their
blessing) because they simply didn't know what to do with him and he
was a distraction for the students and teachers. In junior high he had
been identified as a musical genius of the caliber of Mozart, being
able to play back on his cello (which he had only played for two years)
any recording that the teacher played for him, but he was also able to
write the score for any music he heard after only hearing it once. He
was first identified as a genius when he was only five by Dr. Philip
Morrison. Today he is still pursuing the passion that he has always
had as a dancer and choreographer and is very, very happy. Oh, and did
I mention that he routinely flunked nearly all of his classes because
he simply wouldn't play the games, but they had to pass him anyway
because his scores on standardized tests were astronomical.
So, what is the point of all of this? Simply to encourage you to allow
your children to find their passions and pursue them, and to realize
that schools cannot provide our children with anything close to all of
the wonderful things that they will want to learn. You are certainly
on the right track though to recognize that the whole "gifted" program
idea actually narrows learning rather than broadening it, as my oldest
son was always delighted to illustrate by dancing circles around all of
his teachers! ;-)
A friend sent on your article about gifted education. You might want to consider a statistic from my daughters’ elementary school: 16.2% of the students have special needs IEPs—receiving all sorts of additional help from auxiliary staff in a wide variety of subjects. It stands to reason that kids from both ends of the spectrum may need additional stimulation, attention, and help in receiving the best possible education that our
public schools can provide. Why ridicule the students who qualify and
Your article did not provide enough information about how the admittance standards will change, and how these changes may affect the class...the parents of the gifted kids may have valid reasons for being concerned. It sounds as though the school isn’t providing adequate education for the majority of the kids if your essay accurately reflects the situation.
Just one opinion.