RED ALERT: Gifted Education is a Civil Rights Issue


Fast forward 10 years. It’s 2019. How are our gifted and talented learners faring in the United States? Well, if our federal and state governments, boards of education and communities continue along current pathways, we might as well start mourning now. Our gifted and talented students will not only be left behind, but we – as citizens of the United States and world – will also have to face the harsh realities and opportunity costs of losing our most precious natural resources. Say good-bye to innovation and hope – and global prowess.

For it appears that the untapped talents and visionary strengths of gifted learners will wind up buried, along with the critical talents of gifted educators, who actually know how to serve this population with zeal and courage.

By 2019, it’s likely that a U.S. Secretary of Education will finally admit the ludicrous fallacy of NCLB and how it did not ensure a better education for all students. He or she will confess that a mere $7.8-million-dollar outlay for Javits was an embarrassingly small investment. State governments, who threw millions upon millions of dollars at low-level assessments, will also feel shame about ignoring our gifted children (and undermining teaching for all children in general). Even now, bright minds in California and Illinois – and across the country – are being left behind, as they sit bored in classrooms – wondering what life is all about and why they should even care.

I’m typically not a pessimist, but I’m charged up right now. Earlier this week, I attended the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented (CAGT) Conference. I had the distinct honor of hearing from our country’s leaders in gifted education, including Dr. Richard “Rick” Olenchak who spoke eloquently and passionately about the billions being spent on mandatory testing (not to mention its incessant influence on curriculum and scripting).

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I, like Dr. Olenchak, am all for assessing students, but the pendulum has swung ridiculously far and the negative impacts of mandatory testing in the United States now seriously outweigh its originally intended benefits.

Moreover, one of the mostprofound missing links in our education system today, as it relates to both gifted learners and all students, is the absence of affective curriculum. Dr. Olenchak agrees. The lack of affective curriculum designed to prepare our students for the real world is perhaps one of the greatest educational tragedies of the past several decades.

We’re pumping out students who can cognitively complete a state test, but who have no understanding of decision-making, communication, discernment, global viewpoints, creative thought and/or hope. What will we do as we move from an Information Age to the Conceptional Age/Nanotech Era? Wing it? Well, rote learning and dormant thinking will certainly not cut it. Meeting the academic and socio-emotional needs of our high-potential learners is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. As such, I can’t sit by stagnantly, just hoping for the best. I’m committed to helping chart a different course and strongly believe communications is the answer!

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The only way we are going to save gifted education in this country (and throughout the world) is through action — and collaboration. In the United States, state associations are going to have to step up to the plate and take their place in the fight. They will need to double – even triple – their memberships (particularly among parents) and initiate high-powered, effective campaigns. Working hand in hand with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and other national gifted organizations will be vital.

Moreover, state associations will need an even bigger place at their own legislative tables. Cuts are coming, and the only way gifted education will survive will be through communication with parents, teachers, leaders, board members, business executives and community influencers and representatives. Public relations and lobbying efforts must take place and people must wake up to the fact that all children, including gifted learners from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds, deserve an appropriate public education.

Myths about gifted learners must be debunked and exposed though appropriate education and trust-building. Just as you would not deny a handicapped student a ramp, you cannot deny our gifted students the chance to actually learn something during a school year. Dare I say this is a civil rights issue?

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© frenta – Fotolia.com

I applaud the leaders of CAGT and the governor of our state for recognizing the importance of gifted education (but even our gifted children remain vulnerable). If you are a teacher, parent, state association board member and/or student, I invite you to act! Numbers count; you count.

Send me an email at deborah@ingeniosus.net with the subject line of “Gifted Rights” and I’ll keep you apprised of the fight for our gifted learners’ futures. Also feel free to follow me on Twitter; I’m @DeborahMersino and post gifted education news from around the world every week.

Finally, I invite you to take two actions this week:

  1. Become a member of the National Association for Gifted Children (if you haven’t already). Visit www.nagc.org for more information. This year’s annual meeting is being offered virtually; as such, it’s an ideal time to join!
  2. Become a member of your state gifted association.

Thank you for the privilege of communicating with you. Together, we can envision 2019 in a new light!

Warmest regards,

Deborah Mersino

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3 Responses to “RED ALERT: Gifted Education is a Civil Rights Issue”

  1. Lisa Lauffer says:

    Like Deborah, I attended the CAGT conference, and I concur with her summary here. If we don’t want the USA to become a nation in service to others, we need to act. Not only do we need to put funding behind our gifted learners and teach affective education in addition to cognitive education, we need to teach our kids wisdom and moral courage. Our gifted kids have the raw materials within them for these very things; we just need to cultivate it. Our whole nation–dare I say, our whole world–needs us to.

  2. Rick Olenchak says:

    I am the infamous Rick Olenchak to whom Deborah refers in her blog dated 08Oct09. She aptly crystallizes the plight of gifted and talented learners in the United States, yet I have to reinforce a point I made during my recent Colorado trip to speak with educators and parents. Not only is it critical that we deliver a balanced education to gifted and talented students, with special attention not only to cognitive growth but also to affective development, but it is equally vital that schools make a point to help each young person find his/her niche so that his or her best work can emerge. A test-driven schoolhouse, in which individual needs are seldom granted much time and effort, is unlikely to identify and then nurture the array of gifts and talents our society requires to flourish. I am a proponent of accountability in education, but when the accountability measures serve predominately to de-accentuate the school’s ability to heighten individual growth in favor of a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all model, we run the risk of educating but a few and going through the motions with the many.

  3. Jen says:

    I was thrilled to be at the CAGT Parent Institute a few weeks ago. I only wish I had gone to the entire conference, but that’s for next year.
    My oldest son, my 2e son, is part of the class of 2019, so this hits close to home for me. What exactly is he preparing for? His personality traits (though they drive me batsnot crazy), curiosity, and quirks will serve him well as an adult, but are not ideal for school. School is trying to rub those characteristics out. I think at this point I simply want the schools to recognize that the way they are teaching our students now is outdated and ineffective, and that divergent thinkers are better served in different ways. Acknowledgment must happen before change, and unfortunately I’m not seeing a whole lot of that right now.

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