"Gifted": We can all do something right

M. René Islas and Marc Webb

In school systems across our nation, high achievers are often invisible. The movie Gifted peers into the complicated process of educating, you guessed it, gifted children. The film is a hopeful reminder that we must not only see these children, but must understand, teach, and challenge young gifted minds for their sake and not ours.

Gifted tells the story of the struggles gifted children and their caregivers encounter when they lack access to gifted programs in their neighborhoods.

Mary Adler, the protagonist in Gifted, is a first-grader who vents her frustration when she has to sit through content she already knows. When her teacher asks, “What is three plus three,” Mary’s response is pure boredom, “Everyone knows that… What kind of school is this!?!” While Mary is fictitious, research shows that gifted children know nearly 50 percent of early elementary school material on the first day of class, meaning there are many children like Mary in our nation’s classrooms.

Fortunately, Mary’s teacher quickly understands that she is extraordinarily gifted and thrives on challenge and stimulation. Mary was fortunate to be in a classroom with a teacher who recognized her gifts and helped push for appropriate services.

Gifted children have unique learning needs that set them apart. Having informed teachers who recognize their talent and encourage their growth and development is critical. Yet, the truth is many teachers have no exposure to gifted education in their own training.

Many in society believe that gifted kids are born with extreme knowledge and superior skills rather than having to learn them. Gifted dispels this misguided belief that being gifted is like magic. Sadly, many believe that gifted children will be fine on their own and don’t require additional supports. This is just not true!

Gifted children need support, exposure to stimulating content, and caring adults to guide them so they may flourish on their own. This requires highly trained teachers and administrators. Unfortunately, only one state mandates a course on teaching gifted children prior to entering the classroom.

To help address these impediments, the National Association for Gifted Children launched the Giftedness Knows No Boundaries campaign to build understanding, form positive attitudes, and inspire action to support teachers and others who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children from all backgrounds.

Once and for all, we must change minds to defeat the myths that have held gifted children back for too long. We need to educate everyone, including those in our educational system, to understand that these children come from all walks of life. Sadly, students who come from poverty or are from a racial or ethnic group are 250 percent less likely to be identified for gifted programs, even when these under-represented children are performing at the same levels as their peers.

High-performing learners’ gifts will atrophy absent continuous cultivation. Gifted children like Mary, who is being raised by her uncle, are calling out to be seen, understood, taught, and challenged.

Most importantly, we need to change educational policies and laws at every level to ensure access to gifted education services for all who need them. Too many states lack policies which limit a student’s access to gifted services, and few adequately fund gifted education services, placing the onus on local school districts. In a new nationwide poll released by the Institute for Education Advancement, eight out of ten voters support increased federal funding for gifted education.

Ultimately, at the practice level, all stakeholders throughout the education sectorteachers, principals, administrators, counselors and othersmust advance the use of strategies and tactics that have been proven effective. One example is acceleration, from which, research shows, children benefit socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

It is our hope that Gifted will raise awareness about the need to support gifted and talented children to become what they are, not what we want them to be. We see the challenges that Mary and her uncle face, and we learn that obstacles can be overcome. As Mary’s uncle said, “I must be doing something right.”

Let’s all do something right and ensure that everyone truly understands the challenges facing gifted children and their families, especially those in poverty, and from minority groups.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Marc Webb is the director of Gifted.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.