Thursday, February 7, 2008

Talented and Gifted?

I just read this editor's note in the Portland Metro Parent magazine, and it really resonated with me. I wrote to the author/editor and received her permission to reprint it in my blog. She also said that since the article published, she has received five e-mails from upset parents!

February 2008 Editor’s Note from Portland Metro Parent:
"Talented and Gifted Kids"

This month’s education topic – what to do when your child struggles in school (see “Is It Time for a Tutor?” on page 12) – got me to thinking about one of my pet peeves: The Talented and Gifted Program.

Now before all of you TAG parents fire off angry e-mails about the need for the TAG program and how it’s underfunded, please understand that it’s not the existence of the TAG program that bugs me. I’m completely in favor of ensuring that children who excel academically or intellectually have access to curricula and opportunities that challenge them.

It’s not the idea behind the program that bothers me, it’s the NAME of the program that grates. I’m frankly shocked that we still use the name “talented and gifted.” Just as that label may have some Pymalion effect on those in the program, where they rise to the level of “talented and gifted” because they’re expected to, it could certainly have the opposite result for those who aren’t labeled TAG. (Pity the poor kid who is tested and told, “oh honey, no, you didn’t make it into TAG.”)

So it’s the insensitivity of the label that stuns me but also the fact that it’s simply a misnomer. I don’t know exactly what to call the program – the Accelerated Academics Department? RIMA (Reading, Intellectual and Math Acceleration)? The Talented and Gifted in Some Areas Program? – but, as it is, TAG is clearly not an accurate description of the program.

Anyone who has spent time in a preschool or elementary classroom, interacting with young people knows that EVERY child has talents and gifts. And I’m not saying this in some glib attempt at euphemism. Every kid really does have gifts – all of us adults do, too.

There are the more obvious ones – the preschooler who has mastered three-digit addition and the 5-year-old with the vocabulary of a college professor. But there are others that are nearly as unmistakable: the child creating the Monet-like paintings on the classroom easels or the dramatic fist grader who shows up on Halloween, not just in costume but playing the role of Dracula. And that kindergartner whose timing is spot on as he regales you with “knock, knock” jokes. Remember that the TAG program tests only for math, reading and intellectual giftedness – our budding Renoir, Denzel Washington and Robin Williams fall through the cracks.

And then there are those young children who dazzle us with other attributes – the ones who always volunteer first to help with any small task, the youngster (not your own!) who jumps up and runs to give you a hug as soon as he sees you in the classroom, the shy one who grabs your hand and holds on during field trips. The gifts of these kids are hard to categorize: kindness, citizenship, perception, compassion? And they surely can’t be tested.

Every single child deserves to have their talents and gifts recognized and, if they’re the kind of talents that can be encouraged and taken to a higher level, then they deserve to have help getting there.

But first off, let’s get rid of that archaic label for the academically accelerated program! Please!

There may be a few of you reading this who are wondering at this point if my kids are talented and gifted.

Of course, they are! Just like everyone else’s…

Marie Sherlock, Editor
Metro Parent

I agree with (the other) Marie that there is a need for accelerated learning programs and academic enhancement for kids who need extra challenges in school. However, do they really need to call it "Talented and Gifted"? That title implies that only the children who are selected to participate in the program and pass the required tests are talented and gifted...without recognizing that all children have their own unique talents and gifts, many of which cannot be quantified by tests.

And how do the children perceive this title? Do the kids not identified as "TAG" feel crummy because they didn't make the cut? I suspect that some "TAG" kids might feel that they are smarter than the other kids. That might be true, but does it do any child (or society?) any good to feel superior to other kids?

At the information session at DaVinci Arts Middle School, the staff talked about the fact that children are admitted on a lottery basis. A child with amazing artistic, musical, or theatrical talents has no more chance of being admitted than a child who is tone deaf, has stage fright, or cannot draw worth a hill of beans. The school philosophy is that every child has a DaVinci inside of him or her, and every child's life can be enriched by the arts.

This is what bothers me about the title TAG and the "you're in or out" approach to this designation. Doesn't every child have the right to experience academic enrichment if they so desire? Shouldn't every child be appreciated for his or her own talents and gifts, and labeled as such?

I started out this post by saying that I acknowledge the need for academic enrichment for kids who need extra challenges, and I stand by that. But perhaps I have more qualms about the TAG program than the title itself. I have always loved the following quotation, and it sums up how I feel about TAG, better than I could say myself:

"...What do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move.You may become a Shakespeare, a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?

You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children."
--Pablo Casals, Spanish Cellist

Shouldn't we be investing our time and energies in nurturing the potential in all children, and teaching each child that he or she is a marvel, a potential Marie Curie, Maya Angelou, Stephen Hawking, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama?

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