What Is Our Field?

10 May

As I was re-reading Jim DeLisle’s response to NAGC’s “bold move” this morning, it occurred to me that the way I and others often refer to the “field” we identify with is wrong.  I went back over some recent writing of my own and discovered that even though I myself spent only five years of my life as an educator (teaching composition to first and second year college students), I had often identified myself with the field of gifted education.  Certainly, appropriate education for gifted kids is important to me.  It’s a huge part of their lives and an area in which very few of their needs are met.  But one of the main reasons so many of us feel so strongly that the National Association for Gifted Children has recently gone astray, is not just a semantic and conceptual argument about giftedness vs. talent.  The organization seems to have come to believe that its mission is to represent not children, but education and perhaps educators.  The justification for switching terms and concepts appears to be a desire to hold onto a place in American education. 

When my son first heard about the “bold move” introduced last November, he said, “Taking away the word ‘gifted’ would be like the NAACP becoming the National Association for the Advancement of People.  Sort of loses the point!” 

But what is our point?  Who is the focus of our mission?  Notice how that would change, for instance, if instead of being the National Association for Gifted Children, that organization became the National Association for Talent Development.  Do you notice that instead of being focused on people it would become focused on an educational strategy?  (Not who but what.) Now look at the words I took a few minutes ago from the NAGC website:  “What binds us together is our common interest in the education and talent development of gifted learners in any setting.”  Not “our common interest in gifted children,” or “our common interest in the needs of gifted children,” but our common interest in education, and not of “gifted children,” but “gifted learners.” 

As for the words “in any setting”—they don’t seem to be backed up by either focus or action.  NAGC has shown very little interest in the “education and talent development of gifted learners in the home.”  Homeschoolers get scant attention from the organization which, like most educational institutions, seems to be defensive about the overwhelming rise in the numbers of families choosing to bring their children’s learning home.  As Wenda Sheard, a board member of NAGC’s British counterpart pointed out recently here, our country’s organization shows little to no interest in gifted children in jails.  And NAGC would appear to have little outreach to private education in general.  Its attention goes mostly to learners in public schools.

But mainly, its focus now is education, education, education.  Not kids, kids, kids.  Nor people, people, people. 

When NAGC writes “what binds us together,” we might ask for a definition of us.  Surely that must mean its members.  It seems to me, from more than 25 years of going to NAGC’s national convention, and more than 30 as a consultant about the needs of the gifted, we who are (or have been) members are a diverse lot. 

I guess, because of my own history, I’d start with parents (and some grandparents).  NAGC has never, in my acquaintance with it, made parents a priority constituency, though it is parents who are responsible (biologically and otherwise) for the existence of gifted kids in the first place.  They are the ones 24/7 on the front lines of trying to meet the needs of their children—not just educational needs, but social, psychological, emotional, spiritual, physical.  So even if they are a membership minority, they are absolutely critical to the population NAGC came into existence to serve. And they tend to need all the help they can get. 

There are, of course, teachers.  They, like parents, are on the front lines day after day, faced with the incredibly difficult task of trying to meet the learning needs of gifted students in classrooms of wildly diverse learners with wildly diverse needs.  In addition—nowadays—they are held accountable for all their students’ scores on standardized tests invented by people with little or no understanding of what today’s classrooms are like, and no apparent expertise in test creation.  The craze for standardized testing is not a pedagogical issue, it is a political one, whose ramifications are most felt at the teachers’ level. 

Some of “us” are school administrators, whose job is to oversee the whole educational enterprise, from curriculum, to teacher development and retention, to curriculum.  Oh yes, and probably discipline, fundraising, building maintenance and transportation.  (To say nothing of paperwork.) 

Another part of “us” would be counselors, psychologists, therapists, whose mission is to help the children cope with all the incredible complexity of their lives and beingness.  Their focus must be on social, emotional, psychological development in areas far beyond “learning” and education.  

Then, of course, there are the academics.  Their interest is naturally in theory and research.  They develop theories and definitions and test them out with research studies.  They write and speak, publish and edit, and share their work teaching teachers or would-be teachers. 

Graduate students are also part of “us,” learning from the academics.  Some are already teaching, gaining degrees to solidify or enhance their teaching positions, and some are on their way to becoming the next generation of academics. 

And then there are non-affiliated folk like me, with experience in one or several of the above groups, who hang around to share what we have learned just because we care. 

So what, in the final analysis, do we truly have in common?  What most binds us together?  I should think it is our interest in and concern for gifted kids (and maybe gifted people in general), however that came about.  And education is only one part of that. 

All day I’ve been thinking about what “our field” might be more accurately called. I tried gifted conservation, gifted nurturance, gifted support, gifted beingness, and many more.  Finally I arrived, ironically enough, at gifted development, just as Linda Silverman came to that when naming her Center.  Unlike talent development, gifted development is about the people.  Gifted children.  Gifted adolescents.  Gifted adults.  Gifted elders.  All of those are living human beings with some fundamental differences from the norm and some fundamental challenges finding a place for themselves in the world.  Development, like learning, is a lifelong endeavor. 

So, wherever NAGC chooses as an organization to go, my own focus will remain where my heart lies—in the field (I’ll think of it full of grasses and wildflowers, stretching out toward the horizon) of gifted development.

9 Responses to “What Is Our Field?”

  1. Mona May 10, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    My field is full of wildflowers, too. And I’ll keep my focus there as well. 🙂

  2. felixfemina May 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    I’ll take the wild side… NAGC is beginning to get to me with those yucky feelings that my family doesn’t even exist, nor do other gifted people. Not sure children exist in that paradigm. It feels that they want to own giftedness itself. I am sooooo not there.

    • John May 10, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      Totally agree!

  3. John May 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    I find it interesting there is a groundswell of leaders in the field of “gifted development” writing about the need to focus services for students rather than programs. It’s a disturbing trend for education in general and specifically fro gifted education. The politics of education suck!

  4. simplyshrinking May 11, 2012 at 1:17 am #

    Your comment about the lack of focus on the parents is why I chose to do my research on them! Thank you for writing so clearly how I was feeling. As a psychologist, grad student, parent of a PG daughter and being PG myself, I have often wondered where I fit into “this field”

  5. Joshua Raymond May 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    I definitely believe it is important to have a group’s title reflect its aim. The National Association for Gifted Children should support “Gifted Children”, whether they are in public, private, or home school situations and outside of academia as well.

    My group (Rochester SAGE – Supporting Advanced & Gifted Education) is more narrowly tailored in its focus of having a gifted education program created in Rochester Community Schools. If all NAGC wants to do is have public gifted education or talent development, it should consider a name change. I would still support it, but would advocate for a new nationwide group to focus on all areas of supporting the gifted child.

  6. Katie May 17, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Oh, thank you for this post. It clarifies why people are upset about this change (I didn’t really get it at first). By making it about gifted learners, doesn’t that specifically imply that the NAGC isn’t interested in 2e kids?

    • Stef May 17, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      Katie–you put your finger on an implication in that language that I very much doubt the author[s] of those words intended. In the effort to find politically correct language we often distort intention. Certainly I have seen many presentations at NAGC’s conventions (more and more lately) focused on 2e children.

      But every part of what I quoted from the website is intentionally focused on education because that is the direction the organization is leaning at this time. There is much more involved in the development of these kids who dwell outside the “norms.”

      • Katie May 17, 2012 at 11:06 am #

        Well, it’s important to me that we retain the distinction between gifted kids (warts and all) and kids who are academic achievers. They can be the same kid… but there are lots of kids who are either one or the other.

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