The Talents of All Students Must Be Nurtured in Schools

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The COVID-19 pandemic and schools being closed have made many parents acknowledge that the mainstream educational system wasn’t serving their kids appropriately. I keep hearing from parents that although their kids miss their friends, they are less stressed and don’t want to go back to school in the fall. Some kids are diving into learning and creative projects in a way that parents didn’t expect. Others are frustrated by trying to replicate traditional school at home. Many parents are asking what alternatives are there?

Some students, parents, and teachers are realizing alternative educational options are critical for students who do not fit into the mold of traditional schools. More frequently than you may suspect, brilliant students fare poorly in conventional schools because schools reward conformity and convergent rather than divergent thinking. Talented youth are often nonconformists and independent thinkers. The expectation for them to conform may actually lead to underachievement and/or “behavioral challenges” (as defined by adults in the school system). Within the educational system, there is also the myth that high ability youth will do well regardless of what is happening around them. It is simply not true.

For example, youth who have been identified as talented and gifted (TAG) make up 25% of students who leave high school before graduation. TAG identified youth who experience poverty are even more likely to leave school. These students are frequently “pushed out” of the system, they do not choose to “drop out.” When interviewed by researchers, young people said the main reasons they left school was because they were failing or that they didn’t like it. Youth also said that schoolwork wasn’t challenging, they had poor relationships with their teachers, didn’t feel supported in the classroom, or weren’t interested in the classes available to them. Their reasons for leaving school often have little to do with their academic ability.

There is also the issue of under-identification for the rare talented and gifted programs that exist and over-identification for special education for African Americans, Latin@s, and Indigenous students. Black and Hispanic students are less likely to be in gifted programming in either low or high poverty school districts. Other researchers have found that teachers are not aware of the many ways that youth may demonstrate being gifted and talented — bringing to light that this is also a social justice issue.

African American, Latino, and Indigenous students who are non-compliant or assertive in their questioning of authority (both traits of TAG youth) may be identified as having a “behavior disorder.” However, many of the behaviors which lead to a diagnosis of Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) suggest that these youth may be highly creative or have high abilities. Additionally, many kids identified with EBD and ADHD are individuals who demonstrate their giftedness in an alternative manner and are perceived as non-conformists. These youth may feel like they “don’t fit in” or actually do not fit into the traditional educational model. Youth who are forced into compliance may become depressed, defiant, oppositional, and hostile. Even the most brilliant kids who aren’t engaged at school may fail to perform well academically.

In contrast, provided the right conditions for students to identify their strengths and abilities — they thrive, and their quality of life improves. The current system marginalizes and harms too many students. Doesn’t it seem obvious that we cannot continue schooling this way? Options must be explored- homeschooling, home-school partnerships, remote learning, micro-schools, or community schools can offer students a more individual education and help them reach their potential.

When even the “best and brightest” are not being served within our educational system, we really need to take a hard look at it.

We must ask ourselves why the needs of students are not being met and the cost to our society (and the kids themselves) of this wasted potential. Do not accept the standard answer that we cannot afford to give our children an individualized education. America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world! We pay for what is important to us. It is time for us to put educating our children above unchecked capitalism and tax breaks for the rich.

We MUST stop being complacent and compliant! We MUST demand that our government rearranges its priorities and serves the people!!

Additional References:

Gentry, M. & Fugate, C.M. (2012). Gifted Native American Students: Underperforming, under-identified, and overlooked. Psychology in the Schools, 1–16.

McCluskey,K. , Baker,P. , McCluskey,A. , Baker,P. , & McCluskey,A. (2005). Creative Problem Solving with Marginalized Populations: Reclaiming Lost Prizes Through In-the-Trenches Interventions. Gifted Child Quarterly49(4), 330–341.

“McCluskey, K., Treffinger, D., (1998). Nurturing talented but troubled children and youth. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 6, 215–219.”

Reid, B. D., & McGuire, M. D. (1995). Square pegs in round holes-these kids don’t fit: High ability students with behavioral problems. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. ED402701.

Ruf, D. (2005). Losing our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.

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