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Aug 29 2012

How can we go Back to Gifted if we never left?

It’s been seven glorious The Angels Are Singing days since J went back to school. A, of course, is staying here with me as we start our first full year of homeschooling. It’s a new kind of Back to School for us here in the House of Chaos, one I never expected. It’s a change from the previous several years, but a necessary and welcome one. He and I are both looking forward to homeschooling and the gentle routine we established last winter. The end-of-summer sibling bickering was driving the entire house up a wall; a return to a more stable routine has been a relief.

What hasn’t changed is A’s wiring. He’s still gifted in the summer, and I think that’s something that is often forgotten. Even by those who should know better. Shortly before school started I got this postcard in the mail:

If it’s hard to see, look in the upper left. Back to School/Back to Gifted. This on a mailing from the National Association for Gifted Children. It’s a reminder ad about their WOW! (Webinars on Wednesday) series, essentially online professional development for educators.

Sooo…this irks me badly. Deeply. On a cellular level. I got the postcard and scanned it, flipped it over to see what the webinars were, re-read it…and felt my brain slowly rise to its full and imposing height and say quite clearly, “What.The.Hell?” Six little words that quite clearly give the impression that returning to school equals returning to giftedness.

And I finally decided to write this post, one that has been simmering in the back of my mind since last November.

The NAGC has moved towards a definition of giftedness that is talent development focused. That is, achievement based. The organization has a page dedicated to the various definitions of giftedness in the field, and in reading them it’s hard to not scream in frustration. Six different definitions of giftedness and one for every state in the union. Oh.For.The.Love. (As a personal aside, it’s worth noting that our former state of Colorado includes twice exceptional in the definition and our current state of Illinois does not). Is it any wonder that society as a whole thinks that giftedness is elitist or made up or just another blip on the radar of a helicopter parent? We can’t even agree on a single definition ourselves!

That, however, is an entirely different (though equally important) post. My concern here is the implication that giftedness is only an issue in school, and the message that sends to parents of gifted children by the organization presumably charged with representing their children. So I must ask…is the organization truly representing gifted children?

Over the last few years, I have corresponded with many, many parents. We have commiserated over the challenges these incredible children present, and have shared ideas back and forth on how to juggle our sanity with those challenges. And I will tell you, I don’t think a single one of those parents would say that yup, all those gifted challenges evaporated in June, but dang they popped right back up with the Back to School shoe sales. Gifted children are gifted year ’round, and need services and support regardless of what the calendar says.

As a parent of a twice-exceptional son being homeschooled, I do have to ask: is he considered no longer gifted because he’s not in an educational institution? Achievement is not the primary goal in our homeschool, and when the NAGC has this as part of their definition of giftedness: “As individuals mature through childhood to adolescence, however, achievement and high levels of motivation in the domain become the primary characteristics of their giftedness,” where does that leave us? Achievement according to whom?

The NAGC has a position paper on its website, Redefining Giftedness for a New Century: Shifting the Paradigm, where the implications of the redefinition for various groups is stated. Implications for educators, barriers to attainment, adulthood, adulthood, implications for policy makers…does anyone else see what’s missing? Hm? What about the implications for parents? And more importantly, the implications for the gifted children themselves? Isn’t their whole gifted self every bit as important, if not more so, than what they achieve?

For all that the organization intends to represent and support parents, I can’t help but feel forgotten, especially as a homeschooling parent. My twice-exceptional son is not in school, but is being intensely educated, at his pace (speedy in some areas, so slow as to be almost backward in others). I don’t believe education is a twelve year race, but lifelong, and I also don’t believe giftedness ends with high school graduation. As the parent of a challenging gifted child, I (and all the other parents) could really use acknowledgment of the painful difficulty of what I do. To essentially be marginalized by the national organization for the sake of policy makers and academia does not sit well with me.

For many reasons I’ve decided not to renew my NAGC membership. For starters, it apparently expired last fall and I don’t recall ever being notified. But I’m also not feeling the urge to somehow produce membership fees out of thin air; the grocery budget has already hit “grad student rice and beans” levels. I wanted to go to the national conference this November, partly to return to Denver for a few days, and partly to get more involved. The exorbitant cost slammed that door shut, and my current feeling of marginalization locked it down.

I’m disappointed in the NAGC. Disappointed and sad and far too aware that academia and policy makers are bigger players than parents. My take on it is that there would be no gifted children (and thus no gifted research or gifted education or gifted anything) without parents, but it seems that few share that opinion. I would like to see the national organization acknowledge and actively support the needs of parents…or acknowledge that the needs of parents and gifted children are secondary to research and policy, and that they would be better served by other organizations. The NAGC has children in their name; I’d like to see more focus on them and their needs. Trust me, they’re plentiful.

Back to school does not mean back to gifted. Even if it’s a quick, thrown-off slogan designed to promote educational webinars, words have power and influence. Gifted is 24/7/365 (or, as any gifted child would tell you, 366 this year…I’ve been corrected repeatedly since January). Parents know this, they live it every single day, no breaks, little respite. My boys went back to school last week, and it was glorious.

But they never left gifted.

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  1. Parent of Two Gifted Kids

    Sing it, sister.

    Every year, I consider joining NAGC. Every year, I decide against giving my money to an organization that seems increasingly to place teachers’ desires above the needs of gifted kids. I think they are unintentionally but nevertheless actively harming the cause of giftedness right now. They’re not the organization they were back in the 70s and 80s.

    1. Jen

      Look into SENG if you haven’t already.

  2. Michelle

    Thank you for posting this. I have surviving quads and they are SO different functionally and academically. One of my children I would consider to be a twice-exceptional child. He is labeled by the school district in Clark County, Nevada as being Autistic. I would agree with this assessment but I also think he is gifted and the school district here will not recognize that. Even if they did there are NO gifted programs for children until 3rd grade.

    Currently my child is receiving special education services from the school district and next year he would begin Kindergarten. He (at 4 years old) has all ready tested VERY high in academic skills needed for K – 1st grade. He was able to read at a second grade level. He talks about bone being in the body and the water cycle. I am blown away by him but the school district just wants to lump him into a class for autistic children. It is VERY frustrating! You are definitely doing the right thing teaching your son at home and I hope my son will get the same opportunity.

  3. Elizabeth

    No, you’re absolutely right. One of the things we’ve always maintained is that “gifted” is just the wrong word. Like your book title, if it’s a gift, can I send it back, we wouldn’t ask that question if our kids just showed off mad skills at something.

    2E kids particularly bring a whole new level of confound to the world of confusion. My 2E child can be astoundingly talented and I can remember someone at scouts remarking that he possessed a lot of talents for one small boy: he’s brilliant and speaks like a brilliant person, he sings with a beautiful voice, he’s very artistic, and knows more about dinosaurs than anyone should. And that same little boy was the subject of a meeting just days later to determine whether of not he’d be kicked out of scouts because they were tired of his meltdowns. He has been the reason my husband and I turn and smile at each other or brag, and also the reason we’ve had some blow-out fights because we were so out of our depth in how to handle him that we lost it with each other.

    Schools couldn’t even handle our child, so why would anyone think that giftedness drops off with summer vacation. Maybe if the parents don’t pay any attention to their kid somehow. But then that isn’t usually possible with a truly gifted kid.

    As for defining a gifted kid by achievements, well, I saw that coming. Didn’t you? In the world where star testing is the way they measure everything, where gifted programs provide more work rather than advanced content, where kids need an I.E.P. to get services, but can have an I.E.P. refused if the child’s ability testing exceeds expectations for their age, we can’t be shocked when everything boils down to product. If the schools had the right approach for kids like yours and mine, neither one of us would have come to homeschooling. And that’s the bottom line isn’t it. The “professional” educators are clueless. So it isn’t that surprising that the “professional” organizations are equally clueless. But it is really annoying.

    1. Jen

      Yeah, I saw it coming, unfortunately. What sticks in my craw is that NAGC continues to say they work with parents. Every comment on this post shows that parents feel differently.

  4. Anne

    I just started homeschooling my 7 year old gifted son. I’m not sure if he is 2 E, but he did get an IEP evaluation in kindergarten for his misbehavior, and failed to qualify for any services with a top 1 percent verbal IQ, even though there is a gifted program in the district. Apparently, it was the wrong IQ test, or given by the wrong person, or whatever. It seemed like there was never any attempt at acknowleging a child might misbehave BECAUSE they were advanced and bored.

    Anyway, I’ve only been at homeschooling 2 weeks, but it already seems a lot easier than trying to get him to go to school which he hated, to sit still and learn nothing.

    So far, I’m trying to make sure he does some academic work, but mostly following his lead of interests/curiosity.

    I also have him involved in lots of social activities.

    Is this a good strategy?

    1. Jen

      At age 7, that sounds like a good strategy. I’m doing something similar for A and he’s 11.

  5. Kimberly

    Great post. It’s recently become clear to me as well that “academia and policy makers are bigger players than parents” – far bigger. I understand why that’s the case, but it reaches the point where it seems there are often two separate camps, parents and academics, trying to support the same group.

  6. Theresa

    If I can add another comment without making you angry, I have heard plenty from ‘the other side’ of parents (personal conversations, blog posts, online articles, facebook even), and the use of the word “gifed” seems to be what sets them off. Like I mentioned in my last comment, this changes a definition that was widely accepted and used, into something far different in many ways. So the above comment about the use of the word brought that to mind.

    And maybe there is hope once they do become adults – mine still makes stupid mistakes, still drives me crazy many times, but boy is she one smart, compassionate, amazing young woman who has done it on her own since she moved out before she even graduated from high school. The moment I stopped trying to fix her, she opened her wings and she soared.

    1. Jen

      “The moment I stopped trying to fix her, she opened her wings and she soared.”
      We’re getting to that point here now. Homeschooling has done wonders for A in this very area. He used to cry, “I’m not broken! Quit trying to fix me!” And once I stopped trying to jam him into school situations that couldn’t help him and brought him home he started to soar.

  7. Gretchen

    I agree 100%, we never go “back” to gifted. Although my child will go back to a brick and mortar school, it isn’t even back to learning. We make sure she gets all the input her brain desires all summer long. That takes a lot of work! So I agree, bad slogan with a bad concept behind it.

  8. Lissa

    Might I suggest another organization? Mensa has maintained one definition of Gifted, internationally, since it’s inception. I have four kids, some just plain gifted and some 2e. I know how school sucked for me, but I wanted to get to know other adults who were gifted and learn about their paths rather than just flounder around trying to fix the mistakes of my own upbringing. Mensa is NOT an advocacy group and they will tell you that repeatedly. They don’t educate teachers on giftedness or argue the politics of school policies. They just give you a social group of your intellectual peers to interact with. The dues are less than than NAGC, if one family member joins, are are welcome at most events, and there has been a significant push in the last five years to increase the benefits for young members. I qualified in second grade and never did anything about it until I had gifted kids to deal with. The schools here won’t test them because they have no programs to offer, so I took the Mensa Qualifying Exam, passed and joined so I could bring my kids with me. They love going to lunch with adults who don’t talk down to them. They love game nights. Especially since I’m homeschooling different ones from year to year, the community aspect of Mensa has been a wonderful benefit to my kids. After two years as a member I agreed to be the gifted children’s coordinator for our region. Now I get their support reaching out to other frustrated parents and planning more fun activities that are kid centered. No one in Mensa gets paid for what they do except maybe an administrator in the national office. We just do it because we’ve found a community that understands us and people that don’t grumble about elitism when you’re just trying to get the educational needs of your child met.

    1. Jen

      Huh. I hadn’t thought of that. I’m pretty sure the Chicago area has a Mensa group; I’ll have to check into that. I’ll make my husband take the qualifying test. 😉

  9. Corin Goodwin

    Spot on, Jen, as usual. 🙂

  10. Kevin Gray

    I’ve been told (by several people I met at the SENG national conference in Milwaukee this year) that the NAGC leadership’s reconceptualization was designed to position gifted education programming and funding in alignment with the increasingly test-based and NCLB inspired education reform movement. As it appears that movement is increasingly determining the policies of federal, state, and local schooling based on who gets money to pursue educational interests, it kind of makes sense that this repositioning may have been done with an eye to attracting more research money, more programming grants, etc… to supporting gifted education. And, given that mainstream education has never acknowledged the emotional life of schoolchildren and the adults that serve them, that aspects like overexcitability, sensitivity, and intensity would be dismissed by the new focus on achievement-only. I found the academic article announcing this new position to be shocking in its declaration that giftedness involves no social or emotional differences from general education students and that none has ever been found or proven in research (using Terman as the source). That Terman wasn’t looking for or was even aware of the above, notwithstanding (even though in his journal notes, he did record many instances of Termites who committed suicide, dropped out of school, or ended up with far-less than predictable ‘achievement’ than inclusion in his sample predicted; he suggested the reasons for these outcomes were mysteries; the NAGC repositioning doesn’t even acknowledge they existed). And, aren’t there enough programs supporting sports excellence in schools that we don’t have to make the NAGC another conduit for sports giftedness? …Recently discovered your blog work, and love what I’ve seen so far. Going back to catch up now. Keep at it, please. We do need community and a place to compare thoughts. Peace,
    -KG

    1. Jen

      So they used what was essentially incomplete data for the basis of the change? Great.

  11. Stacia

    Amen and amen.

  12. Allysson

    Wow! I can’t believe this statement: “As individuals mature through childhood to adolescence, however, achievement and high levels of motivation in the domain become the primary characteristics of their giftedness…” In my reading on giftedness and my witnessing my own child and others “mature through childhood to adolescence” there was less motivation and concern with achievement. I was VERY worried about the absence of real programing/differentiation for gifted children at our middle school, as were other parents. Gifted kids are more likely to drop out than others, and need extra support as teens – not less!

  13. Rusty Biesele

    As far as I can tell with my limited experience, the NAGC seems more oriented to strictly public school institutions. There new alignment does seem to go well with the social and economic darwinism that is sweeping the country. Certainly, the country cares far less about the ‘development of the individual’ and their talents. But the most important change with respect to giftedness is that gifted people are increasingly considered raw material for institutional fame and industrial might. We are tools not people. 2E certainly doesn’t fit into this idea of gifted people as a tool, unless you just can’t get the tool any other way. But more importantly, gifted people and kids forming an identity is not in the exploiters’ or industrialists’ best interest at all. Making us feel odd distracts us by continually making us explain how we’re different and why we “deserve” to get what we need. It prevents us from forming an identity. People screaming elitist cause us to deny who we are out of embarrassment. We need to stop being embarrassed and turn a deaf ear.

    If it turns out that NAGC doesn’t serve us, then that’s fine. They can go have a party with the public school system or the government or industrialists or whoever. They have no hold on gifted people other than what we give them.

    We need to stop arguing with morons. If a store doesn’t serve us, we stop patronizing it. We find a store that does serve us. Or we make the item we are shopping for ourselves. I’ve noticed that many of the private schools explicitly made to serve the gifted don’t worry about all this junk. They just serve their students and keep cranking out emotionally and intellectually whole gifted people year after year.

    In some ways the darwinism and people treating us like aliens could be a good thing. We need to think like crash landed aliens. We don’t need to negotiate with the humans. We just need to get what we need in order to survive and thrive. It’s time we get to it.

    1. Jen

      Damn. Yes!

  14. Nancy M

    Holy. The word “motivation” is what jumps out at me. In order to have motivation as a teen, you have to have survived childhood with some positivity intact. School would have to have been meaningful.
    I removed my daughter from our district’s Highly Gifted elementary program after three years (grades 2-3-4). Turned out that it was misnamed; it should’ve been called the “Highly Gifted AND Well-Adjusted” program. The focus on performance and not on the whole child was a heartbreaking disappointment.

    1. Jen

      I’ve been asked since A was FOUR what his motivation was. Well…seven years later and I can still say, “Beats the hell outta me.” You’re absolutely right; motivation is one of the first things to wither if early needs aren’t met.

  15. Catharine Alvarez

    Join SENG instead! They are all about Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. Check out a SENG conference, too.

    http://www.sengifted.org/

    1. Jen

      I am a member of SENG and will likely be taking the parent training class this spring. 🙂 SENG gets it.

  16. devang

    hi does anyone have tips on helping a gifted child get friends

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