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.