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.