The Boots-on-the-Ground Battle for Gifted Education

by Joel McIntosh, Publisher

In a recent post on her Gifted Parenting Support blog, Lisa Conrad voices a call to action for gifted parents to get more involved in social media...to stop “preaching to the choir” and begin communicating about the need for gifted education to folks outside the field using social networking tools. Lisa is a valuable supporter of gifted education. Her point about the need for advocates to get involved with social media is a good one, but I disagree with her about how this new media should be used by advocates. Social media can be a fantastic tool for networking among supporters of gifted education, but not for the purpose of changing public opinion.

Perhaps I’ve become jaded after 25 years as a gifted education advocate, but I no longer feel that “getting the word out” is going to change many minds or get quality gifted programs funded. I’m increasingly convinced that we need to ask gifted advocates to put aside the task of bringing others around to our views, rather we need to train them to be more effective at the job of joining together in order to loudly pressure schools to provide services for gifted children.

Opposition to Gifted Education Is Not About Lack of Knowledge

During the last ten years, gifted education programs across the country have been decimated. While some gifted education leaders continue to talk of “working within the system” and educating opponents about the need for gifted education, thousands of gifted kids are now sitting stupefied in classrooms with no challenge or engagement. We’ve got to give up on the notion that our opponents simply don’t understand the need for gifted programs.

Simply put, all the information in the world isn’t going to turn the tide of anti-intellectualism in this country. Opposition to gifted education isn’t about lack of knowledge. Vocal gifted education opponents thrive on the misconception that support for educational equity requires a denial that some kids are gifted while others are not. More information isn’t going to change that fact.

Ever wondered why pre-service teachers get so little training in gifted education? It is because most schools of education are openly hostile to the idea of dedicated gifted programs. The mantra in these pre-service training programs is “every child is gifted”...which, in the end, simply means, “no child is gifted.”

Ever wondered why the politicians who supported No Child Left Behind included no (as in...zero) support for gifted kids? It is because, as a nation, advocating for our most able learners is unpopular—it doesn’t get politicians votes.

Ever wondered why gifted kids are so misunderstood by most people? It’s because most folks, at best, simply aren’t interested and, at worst, are irritated by the idea that some children are gifted and talented...and others are not.

We Need Guerrilla Advocacy Groups

If there is such a thing as guerrilla marketing (characterized by use of unconventional means to promote a product), then as parents of gifted children, we need to become guerrilla advocates. Guerrilla advocacy means that parents need to form strong parent groups so they have a loud voice in numbers. It means that the oilcan needs to be put away and the squeaky wheels needs to get even squeakier. We need to raise hell with administrators who think that a kid who knows 80% of the curriculum in a class ought to just sit quietly and deal with the situation. We ought to speak up loud and clear when our child’s teacher thinks its alright for our son or daughter to spend their class time tutoring others, rather than learning new things.

That boots-on-the-ground kind of battle requires that advocates join in numbers and stand their ground in a meeting with school administrators in a way that social networking alone will never accomplish.

Social media offers ways for advocates to support one another and coordinate, and preaching to the choir is exactly how we should be using social media. Then, we need to quit the Twitter app, put the keyboard down, and pick up the phone and make an appointment to visit that recalcitrant principal with a group of energized parents who speak with one irritatingly loud voice.

Gifted kids need and deserve strong local parent groups advocating on their behalf. I believe so strongly in this idea that a couple of years ago, my company, Prufrock Press, and the National Association for Gifted Children worked together to develop a free, downloadable guide, Starting & Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children. If you have a local gifted education parent group, get involved. If you don’t, take the leadership role needed to start one. Download the NAGC eBook and get started!