To the Editor:
James R. Delisle makes a very interesting argument about the field of gifted education in his Commentary “What Gifted Educators Can Learn From Sarah Palin” (March 31, 2010). Definitions of giftedness have gone very far afield, causing a great deal of controversy. Mr. Delisle is correct that there is no single, concise description of who the gifted child is, as shown by the examples he provides from the federal government, Joseph S. Renzulli, and Howard Gardner, among others.
Mr. Delisle proposes that gifted-child advocates narrow the definition to those students who have extraordinary abilities and who stand out from their classmates. At this time, however, no rubric for making such determinations exists. IQ tests may narrow the field and measure how well a child will do on school-related tasks, but that is not necessarily a true indicator of giftedness, especially when more than one test is given, or the tests are group tests, as is seen in the majority of schools. Lewis Terman, who chose IQ as the predictor of giftedness, conducted longitudinal studies expecting to find future Nobel laureates. This was not to be the case.
We are approaching this challenge from the wrong end. We should not be labeling the children, but the curriculum. Curriculum (a decision on what is taught, to whom, and in what setting) for the gifted child should provide a degree of challenge, without producing anxiety, in each and every content area. Students should be able to reach a level that allows them to move ahead with the assistance of a mentor. Mentors can come from the educational community, the Internet, the larger community, or the professional realm.
If we are to move education into the 21st century, we must break down the barriers that classroom walls create, which prevent students from reaching their potential. The world, with all of its available resources, must become the encyclopedia of the future.
Adjunct Associate Professor
A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘Giftedness': Definitions Have Gone Far