Finding the Next Einstein

Why smart is relative

Teach Students What They Don't Know But Are Ready To Learn

What should the goals of gifted education be?

In 2011, Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, and Frank C. Worrell published a landmark article for the field of gifted education titled “Rethinking giftedness and gifted education: A proposed direction forward based on psychological science” in the journal Psychological Science In The Public Interest.

Here is the core of their argument:

“For nearly a century, scholars have sought to understand, measure, and explain giftedness. Succeeding theories and empirical investigations have often built on earlier work, complementing or sometimes clashing over conceptions of talent or contesting the mechanisms of talent development. Some have even suggested that giftedness itself is a misnomer, mistaken for the results of endless practice or social advantage. In surveying the landscape of current knowledge about giftedness and gifted education, this monograph will advance a set of interrelated arguments: The abilities of individuals do matter, particularly their abilities in specific talent domains; different talent domains have different developmental trajectories that vary as to when they start, peak, and end; and opportunities provided by society are crucial at every point in the talent-development process. We argue that society must strive to promote these opportunities but that individuals with talent also have some responsibility for their own growth and development. Furthermore, the research knowledge base indicates that psychosocial variables are determining influences in the successful development of talent. Finally, outstanding achievement or eminence ought to be the chief goal of gifted education. We assert that aspiring to fulfill one’s talents and abilities in the form of transcendent creative contributions will lead to high levels of personal satisfaction and self-actualization as well as produce yet unimaginable scientific, aesthetic, and practical benefits to society.” [An interview with one of the authors, Frank C. Worrell, gives some nuance to the points made in the paper.]

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Now just in press is a special issue in the journal Gifted Child Quarterly led by Jonathan A. Plucker and Carolyn M. Callahan.  A number of leading scholars in the field of gifted education were invited to respond to the article, including my colleague Matthew C. Makel.  What appeared to be the most contentious topic among the many responses to the target article was whether “outstanding achievement or eminence ought to be the chief goal of gifted education.”  The entire issue is worth reading because it illustrates how many different perspectives there are in the field of gifted education.  However, there also appeared to be areas where there was much agreement, including the idea that the main goal of gifted education should really be the goal of all education.

Matthew C. Makel, who led the commentary titled “Teach students what they don’t know but are ready to learn”, puts it well when he writes:

“Rather than portray the needs of gifted students as being unique, we suggest weaving them into the general education tapestry. To accomplish this, we would revise the chief goal of gifted education to be the chief goal of all education: to ensure that all students receive the education appropriate for them at any given time by maximizing the match between individual students’ educational experiences with their individual educational needs.”

What do you think the goals of gifted education should be?

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

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Jonathan Wai, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, and research scientist at Duke University.

 
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