Finding the Next Einstein

Why smart is relative

Three Reasons Why Americans Ignore Gifted Children

Is this why Americans neglect gifted children?

Chester E. Finn Jr. of The Fordham Institute recently wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times titled "Young, Gifted, and Neglected."  It is definitely worth a read.  In it, he writes:

"Public education’s neglect of high-ability students doesn’t just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country’s future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs."

I believe that we should help all children including gifted children.  I have outlined the reasons why in my article Of Brainiacs and Billionaires for Psychology Today, which also shares a perspective similar to that of Finn.

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However, I have also been thinking about reasons why many Americans may not be interested in gifted education.  After talking with people outside the gifted education community, I've summarized the main arguments as to why most Americans are simply not interested.

1. Most Americans don’t have gifted children — by definition.  And parents care about their kids.  So why should most Americans care about gifted kids?

The intellectually gifted generally refers to roughly 5 to 10 percent of the population. That means that the vast majority do not have gifted children, so why would they care about someone else's kids?  I think this point alone accounts for a huge portion of the reason as to why most Americans do not care about the gifted population.  People are generally self-interested and act accordingly.

2. Most gifted children are at an advantage because they have already been dealt a very good hand in life.  So why do gifted kids need further assistance?

Although this is something that is frequently ignored by both the gifted community and those outside of it, the truth is that most gifted kids are in fact quite fortunate.  I have articulated why this is so in my article The Benefits of Being Gifted, and longitudinal findings from The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth empirically support this point.  Gifted students are gifted, which essentially means they have an intellectual advantage compared to others and a head start in life.

3. A majority of Americans believe in equity rather than excellence.

For whatever reason, Americans today generally believe in developing equity rather than excellence.  Programs such as No Child Left Behind and Teach for America focus on closing the achievement gap in education and leveling the intellectual playing field.  Camilla Benbow and Julian Stanley wrote an article that discusses this issue titled Inequity in equity: How ‘equity’ can lead to inequity for high-potential students.

I think for those of us who want to help gifted children, we have to be open to hearing about other points of view.  Not only will this help us better understand how to persuade others that gifted kids need our help; it will also help us recognize, respect, and learn from other viewpoints.  We should be open to understanding these other perspectives, because they form the reality of the cultural climate that we operate in today.  Please share your thoughts on more reasons why Americans may or may not care about gifted education.

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or G+. For more of Finding the Next Einstein: Why Smart is Relative go here.

Thanks to Maya Wai for improving this article.

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

 
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