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Gifted-Education 'Elitism' Seen in Categorization

To the Editor:

I have just read Ellen Winner's Commentary, "The Miseducation of Our Gifted Children," in your Oct. 16, 1996, issue. I wonder if Ms. Winner realizes how elitist she sounds as she puts down 3 million children as only "moderately" gifted and says that we are wasting our meager resources on these children and should really be spending these scarce dollars on a very few children she calls "profoundly" gifted. According to her proposal, those who are only a couple years ahead of their peers could linger bored in their current classrooms.

Ms. Winner does what researchers often do, and that is to not take into account the realities of today's classrooms. She forgets that what an appropriate education should do is challenge each child to reach his or her full potential, whatever that is. That means that every child, those that are learning-disabled, those of average ability, those to whom she refers as moderately gifted, and those few she calls profoundly gifted must all have their special needs met. When she says that her proposal is not a cry for more money she falls into the trap that many legislators want us to fall into: pitting one group of learners' needs against another's rather than joining together to demand that all learners' needs are met.

I don't know the last time Ms. Winner looked at the research and practice recommendations from the field of gifted education, but they for years have agreed that an IQ test is only one measure to determine a child's educational needs. She derides the wide range of solutions to dealing with the special needs of gifted children used today as having only moderate success, but she neglects to provide us with another immediate solution that would be more successful. Talking about raising standards for all students is easy, but accomplishing this in a nation that is the only one in the Western civilized world without national standards is proving to be very difficult. Does Ms. Winner advocate abandoning current and likely future generations of moderately gifted students while we fight the battle of raising standards? I would hope not.

As Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in his foreword to "National Excellence: The Case for Developing America's Talent," the 1993 U.S. Department of Education report on the state of gifted children, "We are facing a quiet crisis that continues in how we educate our top students. Our neglect of these students makes it impossible for Americans to compete in a global economy demanding their skills." In this respect, Secretary Riley clearly referred to the roughly 3 million students recognized to fit into the gifted-and-talented category based on their special needs, and not just the few profoundly gifted that Ms. Winner would see us serve.

Ms. Winner should explain her position to the parents of these millions of children who come home bored and disenchanted with education or, worse yet, drop out altogether. The thesis may sound good, but the reality makes it a cruel position to take.

Peter D. Rosenstein
Executive Director
National Association for Gifted Children
Washington, D.C.

To Techno-Reformers: Respect Education's Human Dimension

To the Editor:

Larry Cuban's Commentary, "Techno-Reformers and Classroom Teachers" is excellent. It comes close to presenting a teacher's perspective.

Teachers use machines that empower them, or at least do not substantially subtract from their class-leadership role. We tend to resist innovations that turn us into the "Dilberts" of the district--or that make our students classroom cubicle-dwellers. Why should I, as a teacher, voluntarily turn myself into a social studies clerk? Spend my days administering programs developed by people technologically qualified but whose academic knowledge may be questionable? For whom commercial success is the most important product requirement? Should I gladly accept the idea that I can no longer be a "sage on stage" but henceforth a kind of permanent substitute teacher?

We are quite like "apes in the office," I suppose, much concerned with hierarchy. But more is involved. Human interaction is a fundamental aspect of education. Teaching machines, by whatever name or sophistication level, lack effectiveness if they eliminate people-contact. Association--among students and with adult mentors--is critical, especially from a character-building standpoint.

Brant Abrahamson
The Teachers' Press
Brookfield, Ill.

Jailed Youths' School Needs Deserve More Public Scrutiny

To the Editor:

Your story "Jailed Youths Shortchanged on Education" highlighted one of the most important but underreported stories of our decade. As more and more young people spend time in detention and correctional facilities, the cost of their care will continue to increase and the resources to pay for services will continue to be spread thinner.

Taxpayers may think that education is a "frill" for these teens, but the dollars-and-cents issues go further.

Further than basic academics, too. Education prepares young people for life. Your article (and most institutions) don't address drug prevention. But as you point out, alcohol and other drugs often play a role in criminal activity. Still, woefully few states have provided even the most rudimentary drug-prevention program for these highest-risk youths. This is penny wise and pound foolish.

The New York State Division for Youth recently developed a state-of-the-art drug-prevention program, "Innervisions for Youth." The program is based on the latest prevention research, and provides accurate information, activities to strengthen self-concept, and exercises to develop student resiliency skills and promote healthy lifestyles. It specifically addresses future challenges and skills needed by teens for life after incarceration.

Information about "Innervisions for Youth" may be obtained by contacting Bob Resnick at the division for youth, (518) 473-7489.

We can't neglect drug prevention for any young person, but particularly not for those who need optimal skills to create and live a better life.

Isabel Burk
Director
The Health Network
New York, N.Y

To the Editor:

I worked in a reform school for juvenile delinquents for 24 years. As a dedicated professional, I did all that I could for the students. We entered competitions with public high school students and gained many second-place finishes. I obtained prize money from a local civic group for story-writing competitions. I checked out 60 to 70 books from the public library to supplement my school's own meager holdings and made these books available for the students in isolation. I published a school newspaper in order for the students to have a voice. All these activities were conducted on my own time.

The general lack of caring by various levels of authorities, a theme repeated many times in your article on education for jailed youths, struck a note of familiarity with me. During my last three years, I kept a pre/post-test record of the results for both my students and those of the division as a whole. My students had an average gain of six months for every month in the program. The average gain elsewhere was less than one month for every month in the program. The North Carolina division of youth services has five schools in its system. My program accounted for almost 70 percent of the General Educational Development graduates during this three-year period.

In spite of this clear record of my students' motivation and achievement, I was dismissed. This was because I did not "plan" for my students, according to one official, who assured me that teacher planning ensures the educational success of students. Not planning was the only charge against me, even though I taught using the individualized-educational-plan approach, a method that has its own planning system built into it. The real charge, in my opinion, though not the official one, was that I did not use the planning guide advanced by a corporation with ties to my superiors.

Correctional education is plagued with the same ills of politics and incompetence that sometimes plague the public sector schools. Educating incarcerated students is not a priority in too many instances. Displaying personal power and promoting a personal agenda are.

As with the public schools, incidents like mine and those documented in your article tend to overshadow the intense dedication of those who try to teach in a correctional setting. There is less public scrutiny in this setting, less public interest, and a sheltered climate for great and unhindered abuse of the educational process (or lack thereof).

Frederic M. Muse
Asheville, N.C.

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