My husband and I have two grown daughters that daily make us proud. Our oldest daughter is a wife and mother to two daughters and is currently changing career directions, entering the medical field. Our youngest daughter is a wife and mother to two daughters and one son; she teaches yoga and Pilates at a regional medical wellness facility. Both daughters are active in the community in which they live and still manage to be excellent cooks and moms who play with their children. Both strive daily to achieve balance in the many roles they play, believing in the importance of each, and although they would probably both beg to differ with me, they somehow manage to get it all done.
As teachers of gifted students, we too, find ourselves fulfilling many valuable roles --everything from maintaining documentation to providing in-service for classroom teachers to developing curriculum for multi-age students. The challenge that challenges is how to get it all done. After 24 years in the field I'm still trying to discover that magic balance formula; however . . .although maybe it should be... that is NOT the balance that concerns me.
When I began coursework in gifted education, I learned the importance of balancing instruction equally between creativity, affective education, and critical thinking. I learned how important it was for gifted students of all ages to spend time with other gifted students, exploring differentiated topics in a differentiated manner. Our programs reflected that thinking and provided identified students balanced instruction --instruction honoring all areas. Unfortunately, in recent years programming has shifted focus. Now we find students even as young as 6th grade being served, not in the G.T. resource room, but in the regular classroom through what's called Pre-Advanced Placement. I agree that in the past the rigor in the regular classroom (where our kids spent most of their time) lacked challenge for gifted students. I also agree that in order to change that, gifted education had to hone in with a laser commitment, determined to pull in Pre AP and AP coursework to fill that void. There was a downside, however, to that victory... one that is seldom acknowledged --one that I've heard other G.T. teachers express...our G.T. programs became academic programs.
Students lost their time together --they lost their chance to explore areas of personal interest --they lost exposure to differentiated subjects and ways of responding to their learning, they lost immersion in affective development, and they lost genuine experiences in creativity. I remember inwardly weeping when I would occasionally hear a G.T. teacher expressing excitement about NOT having to pull out high school and middle school students anymore; they were now using Pre-AP for their G.T. requirement.
Why did we let go of what was so wonderful? Why didn't we give our kids the best of ALL worlds? Why didn't we fight to maintain a fine balance in our curriculum and the delivery of that curriculum? Our victory in the regular classroom resulted in the loss of so much. Gifted programs in the gifted and talented "setting" are virtually gone for older students. I can honestly say that the older my G.T. kids get the MORE they need their pullout program. It is true that we have those kids who, even without experiences in the gifted classroom, will still go on and achieve in college on a level worthy of their potential; however, I still wonder if their success would have been at an even higher level with continued experiences in creativity and affective development --something we'll never know.
While I was in Japan, participating in the Fulbright Program, I had a conversation with Japan's Director of Education where I told him that educators in the United States envied Japan's continuing high scores in mathematics and the sciences. He smiled and said, "We in Japan admire the pragmatism of the United States. Our students are focused on one correct answer and do not have the skills to seek many solutions, many ideas --something crucial if Japan is to continue to succeed." Creativity. Our programs insured that older students continued their growing of creative thinking. I wonder what the cost is of leaving that behind?
Sadly, we all see those G.T. kids whose negative G.T. characteristics often find them floundering; they become their own worst enemy, as is sometimes said. Unfortunately, these students too often become involved in drugs during their teenage years or decide they don't care anymore. I especially think of one bright young man I had in recent years who hated school. He would skip school for several days, but always came on G.T. day. Sometimes he would come for the G.T. seminar class in the middle of the day and then leave. The principal and I talked OFTEN about him (his home situation was a challenge) --this principal knew the only thing keeping him in school at all was G.T.; the decision was made to leave him in the program with the hope of keeping him in school. For two years I worked with this young man and with his teachers. Success or failure story? Only the years ahead will answer that. I remember another high school student who was one of the most creative students I've ever had. He managed academically; however, the products and ideas he generated in the G.T. setting amazed me. It was his safe haven --a place that nurtured his gift. I've wondered if the luxury of having a place to be himself --to be creative --is what kept him going...
Where is the fine balance we once offered all gifted students? Where is that balance that honored creativity and affective development just as much as academics and critical thinking? Where are the programs that sought to identify creative children as well as those of high intelligence? I am proud of what has been done with Pre-AP and AP, appreciating the hard fought battle necessary for transforming classrooms, but I also mourn for what was given up in that endeavor. Our programs lost the balance that honored the whole of the gifted student. It's time to rejoice in the rigor our students now experience in today's classrooms and recapture what was lost. It's time to level the scale --it's time to reclaim a indeed very fine and wonderful balance.