Isaiah challenged my response to his question with the ferocity of Bill O’Reilly and Barney Frank going after each other on television. Isaiah, not his real name, was an eighth grade student in an affluent middle school on the near west side of Houston. Was he just another disruptive student or was there something more in play here?
Teachers generally do not like to be challenged, especially in a disrespectful way. The student usually ends up in the Principal’s office. But a trained gifted and talented teacher is more than likely to look a little deeper. A disrespectful student and a gifted and talented student may both exhibit this same behavior. The trained GT teacher will not see this as a red flag, but as an opportunity to find a potentially gifted child.
I asked Isaiah to back up his opinion, which he gleefully did in an elegant monologue. That alone did not make me think he was gifted, but I suspected he might be.
A couple of weeks later I walked into ISS (in school suspension) and there was Isaiah sitting in his three-sided cubicle staring at the blank wall. The teacher on duty explained that he was sent there for three days for refusing to do any class work or take an tests. This is another sign that the boy could be a discipline problem or he could be gifted.
I knew his father only by reputation. He owned a small business not far from the school. I decided to go and talk with him about Isaiah. He acknowledged that he had been called to the school by the Principal because Isaiah was failing several courses and was refusing to do any school work. He said he told the Principal he knew Isaiah was intelligent in that he had read War and Peace when he was ten. He said “Isaiah wants to be a writer and had written two book”; yet unpublished. “He had taught himself both Greek and Latin and was quite proficient in the later”.
Isaiah’s father said he did not know his son’s IQ, but that he had tested “gifted” early in elementary school. He then told me that the same thing had happened to Isaiah’s sister at the same school when she was in the sixth grade and he had to put her in a private school for precocious children where she began to thrive. He said “it is very expensive and I had hoped that Isaiah could make it in public school, but now that is looking more unlikely“.
The next day I asked the Principal if he knew Isaiah was gifted and he said he did. However, he was not willing to discuss it beyond that. What could he say. There are few alternatives for highly gifted children in middle school. There are some options for mildly gifted students in elementary and in high school, but very little in middle school.
In talking with one of Isaiah’s well meaning and otherwise competent teachers, he said he thought “the whole family was crazy“. Does this sound familiar. Go back an look at my article “ACE Academy: new Texas school for gifted children grows from eight to 85 in four years”. Isaiah’s story is very similar to that of the daughter’s of Donna Hulsey and Karen Langdon. It is also similar to “Jack“, one of their students.
What happened to Isaiah is not an anomaly. It is true the first goal of Gifted Education is to find these precocious children, but the second is keeping them. If we do not keep them challenged, they will leave. Why is Los Angeles Unified School District losing over 400 gifted students every year that they have already found?
The American public school systems do not have the resources, primarily enough trained GT teachers, to serve the kids that have the greatest potential to be our future leaders in industry, government and education.
If only a few children were denied a public education because the were scholastically challenged or physically handicapped, everyone would be up in arms, and rightly so. But few school districts care we are losing our students with the highest potential because we don’t provide the resources to serve them.
Why then are we spending one hundred times more money every year on Special Education than on Gifted Education. Go into almost any public school in the country and you will find 20 or more Special Education teachers for every one, if any, state certified Gifted and Talented teacher.
It has been said many times “let the gifted kids go to private gifted schools that have the resources to teach them”. That’s just great for the parents that have the $1000.00 or so per month per student. But what about the precocious children whose parents are not wealthy, which includes most of us. Well then, why are now hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million gifted student dropping out every year?
Isaiah did go on to the public high school the next year, but he only lasted six weeks. His father then put him in the same private school as his younger sister, where he too is doing very well. Whether there is any connection or not I don’t know, but soon after, Isaiah’s father sold his business.
It’s not like this is some unknown phenomenon. Thomas Jefferson put it succinctly in 1782 while Governor of Virginia when he wrote “By…(selecting) the youth of genius from among the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use if not sought for and cultivated”.
We did not listen then. Will we listen now?
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Click on other articles in this series:
What is Gifted and Talented Education? (Part 1); Most misunderstood concept
What is Gifted and Talented Education?(Part 2); Potential is not same as trained
What is Gifted and Talented Education anyway?(Part 3); For what are we looking
What is Gifted and Talented Education anyway?( Part 4); Finding the hard to find
What is Gifted and Talented Education anyway?(Part 5); GT Education is killing itself
What is Gifted and Talented Education anyway?(part 6);IQ and the Bell-Curve
Gifted Education Writer