Educating High Ability Learners? Bah Humbug!
One of the great things about being the executive director of a state gifted organization is that I get to meet some pretty sharp people from all over the country. It makes the more painful aspects of the job (lack of funding, general disrespect from the gen. ed. community, etc, etc,) much more tolerable. It is great to routinely network with some of the brightest folks in education to share information and ideas.
My good friend from Indiana, Ginny Burney, (Indiana Association for Gifted Children) passed on a gem to me, yesterday. Written by a (very clever) student of hers, The High Ability Carol by Rhonda Cheney is a rewrite of Charles Dicken’s more famous A Christmas Carol. The main character Scrooge is replaced by a school superintendent named Clutch. Clutch’s general disdain for gifted students combined with natural miserly ways leads him to the conclusion that he should do less for students of high ability. His opinion, shared by so many was, “If these kids were so smart, why couldn’t they educate themselves?”
The night before Christmas, Clutch is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Individual Impact, the Ghost of Social Impact, and the Ghost of Global Impact. The Ghost of Individual Impact shows Clutch what his life could have been. Unfortunately, his “dreams and hopes for the future died at a young age because no one ever showed me what I could be capable of in life.” The Ghost of Social Impact is a little feistier, breaking Clutch’s window as his delivers his message, “I’m not satisfied with my life, but what else am I supposed to do? My background of poverty, behavior issues in the classroom, and achievement test scores all hid the fact that I was a student with high abilities. No one identified me for what I could be.” Finally, the Clutch is visited by the Ghost of Global Impact who shows that the effects of not educating high ability students at an appropriate level were far reaching.
The United States could no longer compete in a global market because of a lack of workers with problem solving skills and creativity. Businesses moved to other countries where they could find the employees they needed. Civil and individual effort towards improving lives dissipated as cultural apathy grew. Scientists no longer looked for cures to diseases, and entire cities were eliminated by viral infections. Institutes of high learning closed their doors with so few applicants. Those looking for more education had to find it in another country.
The story ends on a high note with Clutch waking up to reverse course and embarking on a journey to do whatever he could to meet the needs of high ability students.
And this is where I have to become the Scrooge in the story and offer up a hearty “Bah Humbug.” I am ever optimistic about moving things forward for gifted children in Ohio and the rest of the country. However, I know from years of experience that policymakers and others, even when presented with the stark evidence of the impact of ignoring the needs of gifted children are not as easily convinced to do the right thing.
Business magnates don’t necessarily care that we don’t produce great thinkers. Their answer is to outsource or expand the H1B visas to bring in foreign talent. Policymakers who view the state and national score comparisons of our brightest students against international talent prefer to believe that the comparisons are unfair, even while there is a good deal of evidence that international benchmark tests are extremely well-vetted to make sure comparisons are accurate.
What is it going to take before policymakers and others get a clue? I honestly don’t have an answer to that. What I do know is that advocates of gifted children need to continue to serve as the Ghosts of Individual, Social, and Global Impact. Let’s chip away at the Scrooges of education policy and work toward a happy future where public education blesses every child with appropriate opportunities.
Happy holidays, everyone!