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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

8 Feb

heart

An early Valentine’s Day post. This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about for years but seldom speak about and have never (as far as I can remember) written about. One reason it is hard to write and speak about love is that there are so many definitions of this single word and it is used to mean so very many things.

But let’s pretend we all know what we’re talking about here, and I’ll just go ahead; you can decide for yourself (as always) whether this post resonates with you or not. As they say in 12 step groups, “take what you like and leave the rest.”

I have begun to believe, after all these years talking about highly and profoundly gifted individuals, that love has pretty much everything to do with it. We speak of kids who have a “rage to learn,” of kids who have a “passion” (sometimes permanent, often ephemeral) for a subject or a project or a system or a field of study. We’ve seen kids “on fire” to explore something new, who are driven from within to understand, to investigate some mystery or other, who can’t bear to put down a book before they’ve finished it. What is it that we’re seeing? Love.

We’ve seen kids who are traumatized by news broadcasts that show images of man’s inhumanity to man, or to animals, or to the Earth itself. We often explain that trauma by saying they feel innately “connected” to humanity, other living beings, and their home planet. When kids become distraught over bullying or conflict on the playground, even when they themselves are not the target, or protest practices they consider unfair, we call it “empathy.” We could call that, too, love.

Parents have told me of children who “hate” a school subject nevertheless willingly putting time and effort into that subject, or children who make it through an entire school year with few complaints even when—as in the “awful” years—there was almost nothing new or challenging to learn, just because they “like” the teacher. Love, again. The best mentors we find for children with a passion for a subject are adults who share that same passion. The relationship that develops between subject, child and adult—love.

It is often said that as individuals, we cannot fully love another until we are able to love ourselves. Years ago my son said that I should give up the effort of trying to make anyone “feel sorry” for gifted kids, because people see them as having so much more going for them in life. And of course, in one way it is true—they have greater than average capacities that could lead them to the achievement and success so valued in our culture. But they’re also children, trying to figure out who they are in a world that makes it quite clear that whoever they are, they “don’t fit.” How do they learn to love themselves?

Highly gifted kids often suffer the whiplash that comes from systems that aren’t able or don’t wish to really challenge them to give their best, yet at the same time demand perfection in all things—“if you’re so bright, why can’t (or don’t) you…?” If they do shine when challenged, and rejoice in that (as is natural and only fair), they may be accused of arrogance, and if they don’t shine as they and others expect, they feel and may be treated like failures. And in cases where parents are overly invested in their children’s unusual or extreme gifts kids may feel they are loved not for who they are, but solely for what they do; that does not feel like love! A girl once told me that her parents were so insistent that she become a brilliant concert violinist (because she had the talent) that by the age of 15, she still had no idea what she loved to do, because she’d never been allowed the time to explore anything else.

We live in a world that doesn’t much like the word “gifted,” because it seems to mean that God or the Fates, or Life or the Universe has bestowed a gift on some minority of individuals, a gift that has been withheld from everybody else. The backlash is in the often heard (and often disputed) statement “All children are gifted.” I’ve argued against that statement myself, over and over again, usually by using an analogy: “all children have height, but not all children are tall.”

But my own belief about humanity is that every single child and every single adult has value, has a vital place in the world. As a fiction writer, I am aware that every character in a novel or even a vast, sprawling saga, is there for a reason and has a part to play in the story. And science has shown us that each human being is unique. Even among identical twins, there are no two identical human beings.

At the same time all of us belong to a larger oneness, the web of life, the interconnectedness of all things—all of us are, as some have said, “star stuff.” It is a paradox, this individuality and oneness.

It seems likely to me that every individual is born with the capacity for love of one kind or another, though the direction of that love is individual. My husband truly loved to do crossword puzzles. For me doing a crossword puzzle is about as enjoyable as sticking a needle in my eye. But both of us loved words and the stories they can create. We followed that love in different ways.

Consider a change in terminology. What we call “gifts,” could also be thought of as “loves.” Now imagine an education in which love really did have everything to do with it. Imagine, instead of categorizing and grouping children by their abilities, we were to purposely set out to help them find what it is they love and then to support that, even as we help them learn what else they’re likely to need on their life journey. What would that change? How would such a world look?

The symbol of Valentine’s Day is, of course, the heart. Gifted children are often expected (or even required) to “live in their heads,” and when we focus relentlessly on their intellects, we teach them to value that shard of who they truly are more than any other. The HeartMath Institute has shown that the human heart’s energy field is very much larger than the brain’s, and that learning to create coherence between brain and heart is beneficial not only to the individual, but to those around them. Far from competing, our heads and hearts work best together, energizing us and allowing access to ways of knowing and connecting seldom tapped or even recognized in education. It shouldn’t surprise us, by the way, that a standard method of creating heart-brain coherence is to focus on an image or memory that evokes love.

We could use 364 more days to focus on the heart, and to acknowledge what Love has to do with it!

Meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you wish to explore the findings of the HeartMath Institute further, you might start here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/QdneZ4fIIHE

 

Off the Charts! — Book Debut

13 Nov

Twenty years ago the field of gifted education was beginning to define giftedness very specifically as achievement—as doing rather than being.  One of the leaders in the nation’s gifted community was claiming at that time that schools “created” giftedness and that children who were not achieving academically were clearly not gifted (and therefore should not be taking up the limited numbers of “seats” in gifted programs).  Dismayed by the narrowness and external focus of this definition, a group of us whose experience with the gifted had shown us that unusual intelligence was an internal aspect of the child, apparent well before the start of school, gathered to discuss how we might help to refocus attention on this way of understanding the gifted population.

Out of our meeting in Columbus, Ohio in the summer of 1991 came the definition of giftedness as asynchronous development that was quickly recognized and adopted by many teachers, parents and counselors throughout the country and around the globe.  A phenomenological view of unusual intelligence, it provided a way of comprehending both the potential for extraordinary achievement and the struggles the gifted face in being out of sync both internally and with the expectations of the broader culture.

Last year at the national conference of the National Association for Gifted Children (just a few months more than 20 years after that first Columbus Group meeting) the suggestion was made in the presidential address that the field of gifted education should unify its disparate viewpoints by adopting Talent Development, with its clear attention to the issue of extraordinary achievement, as the single driver of both this field’s educational programming and its research.   So it was that members of the Columbus Group, that has continued to meet throughout these two decades, decided it was an important time to put out a book to remind the field of the critical “other side” (the inside) of giftedness, which is part of the gifted individual’s experience whether in or out of school, whether achieving in the eyes of the world at any given moment or not! 

So, we’re thrilled that the book (conceived only a year ago, and with chapters from 14 experts on the needs of gifted and highly gifted individuals) is to be available online from Royal Fireworks Press (http://rfwp.com) as of today (though at 1pm EST it wasn’t yet up on the website).  Dedicated to the memory of Annemarie Roeper, the book includes her last writing about the population of children to whom she devoted her life. 

We had hoped to have the actual books at NAGC this week, but weather (a modest incursion of Hurricane Sandy on its way to devastating the North East) intervened and stopped electricity to the presses.  

Prepublication discount!  The list price of the book is $30 but for online orders this week (through November 18th) the price is $25. 

Included in the book are chapters on the historical foundations of the definition, methods of identification, characteristics of asynchronous development, understanding individual needs, gifted adults, counseling, parenting and family issues, and educational options from a group of authors, each of whom has decades of experience working with, researching, and writing about “off the charts” kids and families.  

On a personal note:  the other thing that happened last year at NAGC that particularly motivated me when the idea for the book was being considered occurred at my presentation for the Counseling and Guidance network called “The Asynchronous Cheetah.”  (My cheetah metaphor was developed originally for a keynote at the Hollingworth Conference for the Highly Gifted in 1992—the same year the first article about asynchronous development was published in Understanding Our Gifted.)  When I mentioned the Columbus Group during that presentation, an attendee raised her hand and informed me that when she had been doing some research on asynchronous development for her graduate degree in gifted education, her professor had informed her that the Columbus Group didn’t exist.  “It’s a fiction,” he told her. 

Laughing at that representation, I explained that not only was the Columbus Group not a fiction, but it had actually met the evening before in the conference hotel. 

It’s quite true that I’m a fiction writer, and I’m really fond of fiction and the fundamental truths that are often explored in the pages of a novel.  But I prefer not to think of myself as fictional.  So–for those who may be interested in the Columbus Group’s “true story” and the reason a leading figure in gifted education could make the assumption that it wasn’t real (as a group, we have flown quite purposely under the radar all these years) I wrote an introductory chapter giving the “true story” of that 1991 meeting and the definition that grew out of it.  So if you’ve ever tried to find out more than what could be gleaned from the usual citation of the “unpublished transcript” of that meeting, you can learn why you couldn’t.  There are hours of audio tape from that meeting, but no plans to publish the transcript!

Tomorrow I’ll be off to Denver for NAGC 2012 and hope to see some of you there.

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.

Why the Deep End?

18 Apr

In the tsunami of information that pours into our electronic devices every day, there are an astonishing number of articles, discussion groups, blogs, internet sites and social networking pages devoted to gifted children–their characteristics, their education, their psychology, their social and emotional needs, their quirks, passions, possible disabilities, and the threats they face if they are not understood and supported.

So why add this blog?  Because sometimes even we who deal with mermaids (see the “ABOUT” page) can get caught in the shallows.  This blog intends to help whoever wishes to visit or follow it with me to discover or remember that, as Julie Cortez has said on the linked Facebook page, “the deep end is deeper than we know.”  It will also suggest that–if we can maintain a sense of wonder and joy–there is much treasure in its depths.

Quick History

For 30 years I’ve spent a sizeable portion of my life focusing on the gifted, writing about their needs, consulting with parents and schools, speaking at conferences–originally because I found myself in the position of parenting a child who was difficult, if not impossible to educate appropriately in what would have been called a normal school classroom, at a time when there were few if any alternatives.  The first “page” I’ve created here is an update of the “Open Letter” Jim Webb, Betty Meckstroth and I included in our 1982 book Guiding the Gifted Child that pretty well covers my early experience with my son, as well as some of the experiences of a dear friend whose son was even less able to fit into the American educational system.

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is a population of children for whom school as we know it (especially in the early years) is not so much a place of learning as an intense daily, multi-year obstacle course for their minds to survive.  For very personal reasons, I care about that.  And, along with many able colleagues,  I did my best all those years to try to change it.

With remarkably little success.

In 1992 I gave a talk at the Hollingworth Conference for the Highly Gifted, called “Is It a Cheetah?” It used a metaphor that I hoped would allow people to understand that schools must consider providing gifted children with an appropriately individualized education just as zoos do their best to provide each species of animal with the particular environment and diet it needs.  The article I wrote from that speech a few years later (which I encouraged people to reprint and distribute) became known around the world and remains my most well-known piece of writing about the gifted.  It can be found here.

Many people did understand the metaphor, of course.  And many say they were helped by it.  Still, most of our cheetahs are still caged.

Where I Am Now and What I Hope to Share Here 

2012.  While technology has opened new vistas and homeschooling provides alternatives for many families, little has changed in the American educational system for kids whose minds outpace the structures and timelines of the typical school environment.  More distressing to me is that in the gifted field the eternal conflict between those who see giftedness as achievement and those (like myself) who experience it as differential (asynchronous) development has escalated to the point that some are now advocating giving up the very idea of the “gifted child” altogether.  As if by calling cheetahs “cats” we might find it easier to fit them in and meet their needs among lions.

I’m an elder now, and my perspective has changed.  I have learned at last that it is impossible to force others (both individuals and systems) either to share my point of view, or to change what they do.  Change, I see now, is either precipitated by catastrophe or comes more gently from within.  I’ve encountered the spiritual concepts of nonresistence, of focusing on being rather than solely on doing.  And I’ve discovered and come to revel in the fact (which I spoke about in a mini-keynote at NAGC in 2006) that there is much more to mind than reason, logic and left-hemisphere-ruled intellect.

Mind, like the deep end, is much deeper than we know.  So while this blog might overlap in some cases with the many others out there, it will, I hope, provide a still, small voice that is different.  Back in the days of the Hollingworth Conferences for the Highly Gifted, it was said by some that I was “too far out.”  Oddly, while I am much farther out by now, the change has come from going farther “in.”

I invite you to join me here in the mixed metaphor world of cheetahs and mermaids, and to share a conversation focused on possibilities.