All too often parents of gifted children are either vigorously informed that “special curriculums for gifted students are unnecessary” or pointedly asked such question as, “Haven’t you noticed there are plenty of other smart kids in their school system who are doing just fine?” These naysayers imply what should be done is not only already being done but also it is clearly enough. And, as proof, they are quick to offer examples of students who have gone on to become particle physicists or nuclear engineers, successful artists and so on. The parents of gifted children are then invited on a guilt trip when asked why they think their kids should get special treatment (and funding) when all these others are turning out just fine.
Note: The reality is, as I have said in previous articles, the population of students least likely to achieve their full potential is the gifted. In terms of funding, my own state in company with many others[i], at last check still offers “0” (zero) funding for gifted education.
Dr. Trevor Tebbs, Ph.D. is an expert in working with gifted and talented children across a wide spectrum of concerns. I recently had the opportunity to interview him and asked him for his thoughts on this unfortunate response to parents and advocates for gifted education. He is clearly troubled by such apparently uninformed resistance. “When I hear such stories I am saddened by what appears to be such a poor understanding of, even unwillingness to understand highly able children overall. It appears especially true that faculty are unable to differentiate between ‘smart’ and ‘gifted’ kids.”
“What makes a kid smart? What makes a kid gifted? There are very real, clear and important differences[ii] but my experience is that the term “smart” (or “bright”) is synonymous with “gifted” and serves as the cover-all. It usually implies a recognition that a child is possessed of some degree of pizazz, is generally obedient and quiet, finishes homework accurately and on time, raises hands swiftly in class, provides the right answers, has neat writing, lots of 100s on tests and spellings that are rarely wrong, and rapidly completes worksheets filled with repetitious addition, subtraction and multiplication facts marked correct with a big red C. A long-held perception that these patterns of behavior are truly representative of a ’gifted’ child are hard to adjust. If a quiet but brave attempt is made to provide some meaningful insight, the level of response can quickly escalate into something quite negative and decidedly unhelpful – not least to the child him or herself. ”
So what can you do if you are the parent of a gifted child and you feel that you are in gridlock with the school your child attends? Many, many individuals fall into this category. How concerned should you be? For various perfectly understandable reasons home schooling is not always an option. Ditto for private education. What to do? What are your realistic options when you feel a school system is not cooperating?
For anyone just tuning in, I began my interview with Dr. Tebbs in an earlier post, Gifted Learners - New Holistic Methodology and Tech, which you may wish to reference so that you can follow our entire discussion via several posts on the topic of gifted children.
I’ll again introduce Trevor Tebbs.
Trained in both the U.K. and the U.S., Dr. Tebbs, Ph.D., has held a variety of positions in a wide range of institutions, including a stint as vice-principal in an English special school for children with severe cognitive and physical disability and on our side of the Atlantic, as Assistant Director of the University of Connecticut (UConn) Honors Program. He has, in addition, taught a diversity of college courses in the area of educational psychology as well as courses in Arthurian myths and realities in ancient texts and historical places in England and Wales, Art Education, Critical Thinking, Curriculum Development, Drawing and Sculpture.
Currently Dr. Tebbs is an adjunct professor of psychology at Castleton State College, Vermont. He also offers evaluative services under the name Chandelier©Assessments in Vermont. He travels widely in the context of his special interests working with colleagues in many countries worldwide. Most recently he presented his technologically supported methodology[iii] in France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
So back to the question: What do you do when you feel you are up against the proverbial wall in explaining your case and gifted learner to the institution and individuals currently providing of your child’s education?
The question is frequently posed and Dr. Tebbs readily admits to being stressed when contemplating the paucity of satisfactory answers. He clearly does not agree that this should be or even needs to be the case but acknowledges that the issue is something of a crapshoot – not at all predictable. One way or another most parents already feel the crunches of this reality. It hits their sense of justice like a karate chop. Most I have spoken with on this subject are concerned as the window to nurture core elements of their child’s talents begins closing. And with that goes their potential contributions the rest of us could enjoy. The fulfillment of potential comes at a cost, yes. But so does its loss.
As has been noted in earlier posts, Dr. Tebbs is strongly inclined to view the development of potential holistically and is particularly attentive to whatever intrinsic or extrinsic strengths are available to an individual which promise to be positively supportive. Above all, it does come down to the idiosyncrasies of each particular family. Everything from finance to civic status, education, and all the details regarding living environments and conditions from locals – rural, suburb, city – to marital and employment status. Personal, school, community and resources will drive differences in what and how many options a parent may have. The parents’ motivation will dictate how these multifaceted resources are accessed and implemented successfully.
It should be noted that not all schools lack resources, not all faculty are unaware of the educational and social emotional needs of these children and not all faculty are short of the knowledge, skill and motivation to accommodate those needs. There are resources available, even in systems that deny the very existence of the population of gifted children. Parents may have to look around and not be afraid to ask. They may also offer to become a “resource” themselves, or recommend a retired, but still competent, enthusiastic community member for service as a tutor/mentor in a school.
So say all of the people I have interviewed and dealt with in this arena of parenting gifted children as well. It realistically seems that quite a bit – probably the majority of what you will accomplish for your child – is going come down to how much you can advocate for what your child’s individual programming needs are and will be and then how much you are willing and able to compensate. Yes, all of the issues we cited above can provide or detract advantages. But they are not the final judge and jury on the matter. So no one should give up.
Even so, should any of those negative perceptions pertain it is not only their own circumstances that will make a difference. Of course, community funds for education in general, and for programming that is dedicated to serving the needs of highly able and creative children specifically, would certainly help. Parents with access to personal funds or who benefit from generous grandparents or trusts certainly have more choices for supplementing and compensating for any lack in the school environment. Tutoring, homeschooling, widely differing before and afterschool, weekend or seasonal activities are easier to afford for some more than others.
For a myriad of reasons and realistically access to such funds is not always, even ever, available to certain groups – perhaps the majority - of people. For example, Dr. Tebbs says, “Homeschooling is not always an option, especially in a single parent family where income is entirely dependent on that one parent working, on, two or even more jobs. Fortunately for one of my clients, there is a grandma – an ex –teacher – who has agreed to take on the responsibility of homeschooling. The arrangements are working superbly well.” He adds, “This is not, of course, always the case, but when circumstances allow (in some places it is absolutely not allowed), in my experience homeschooling is a great option. It is especially helpful if there is a group of parents who can work together pooling talents, skills and learning and social opportunities.” Dr. Tebbs considers it very important that highly able and creative youngsters are provided many opportunities to share time and interests with young people of a similar intellect and level of passion. He recognizes, “This is not always easy or comfortable for the ‘introverted’ individual but even for the introvert there are benefits in being able to ‘extravert’ in the context of a shared interest!”
The following are tips offered up by Dr. Tebbs on what you can do beyond the realities of crunching or freeing of resources. “If all else fails – and in any case – I believe strongly that parents must become informed with regards to this population – not simply by way of reading the many books that exist[iv] but in the obvious natural and personal ways. I will summarize William Glasser’s[v] advice. He suggests that a sense of security, survival, happiness, or satisfaction is likely to be present if a child experiences fun, freedom, power, love and belonging. This is not no less important to the gifted and talented child than any other.”
“Love them!” says Tebbs. “Share time. Engage in ‘sensible’ conversations. Pose questions. Share in the learning. Recognize the importance of the child being who he or she is as opposed to a replica of yourself. Allow time for reflection. If possible provide a space where ownership can be expressed. Nurture them and provide for their development as best they may with books (books don’t have to cost huge amounts of money), guide them through the potential jungle of the internet, initiate and engage in good conversation, provide opportunities for leadership in the home and community and take responsibility as a community member, encourage autonomy, self-determination and self-discipline not by punishing or rewarding in the accepted sense of the word - - rather looking to ways of providing privileges that are important and which may be chosen, providing opportunities where and whenever possible that enrich the child’s experience of life, by not becoming a “couch potato” … in other words, do whatever possible/necessary to understand and support the child in his or her needs, recognizing the strengths and facilitating their pursuit of knowledge, engagement and achievement.”
In the end, this kind of understanding and support given to our children will be vital. It is likely to help them build a core of discovery and strength about who they are, what fuels them and what good they can do for themselves and the greater community by fully developing their potentials rather than squandering them just to fit in or worse dropping out entirely. In the end, these children need a soft, safe and nurturing place to land. Ultimately, as parents, we are the only window we can ensure will remain
[iii] See: www.chandelierassessments.com