As the director of the Belin-Blank Center, I have the opportunity – and responsibility – to think about big issues confronting the field. Sometimes, one word truly captures the character of the issue and this time that word is “conflate.” Conflate has a couple of meanings: (1) to combine or (2) to treat two or more distinguishable ideas as one, sometimes leading to confusion. So, what, of late, has the field of gifted education brought together? The April 2013 (V. 35, Number 2) issue of Roeper Review, one of the field’s main journals, was a special issue that focused on social inequality and gifted education. Bringing together these two important topics yielded informative and provocative, yet not conflated, readings. The conflation of ideas appeared in the final article where the topics of social justice and gifted learning disabled students were connected.
The author, B. J. Lovett, “argues that G/LD identification, as currently practiced, actually exacerbates social inequality, rather than attenuating it” (p.137). Using outdated references, Lovett cites a 1994 argument by Sapon-Shevin that promotes a myth that gifted programs are responsible for existing economic and racial hierarchies. He proceeds to “extend Sapon-Shevin’s logic to the identification of G/LD students. Although children from higher economic strata and majority cultures find it easier than other children, on average, to obtain very high scores on tests used for gifted identification…some children from such backgrounds nonetheless obtain average or even below-average scores …. This lack of a guarantee is distressing to parents and schools, especially when the test scores fail to identify students from high-achieving families as being in the same range of achievement …. The G/LD category is available to remedy this situation” (p. 139).
I was particularly sensitive to Lovett’s assertion that gifted students with a learning disability do not “genuinely” deserve gifted programming. Really? It is disheartening to see these statements in one of the field’s most important journals.
The article is replete with assumptions and gross over-generalizations, far too numerous to mention, but he concludes this section on sociopolitical consequences of G/LD with the following statement: “In sum, parents and schools can label children who ‘ought’ to be high achievers as G/LD and find any diagnostic test profile to be consistent with this conclusion, regardless of whether the child meets traditional definitions of giftedness (high IQ) or learning disabilities (low academic achievement)” (p.139).
Rather than railing about the unfairness of such statements, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to let you know what the Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff are doing for ALL twice-exceptional kids, including those with a specific learning disability.
The Belin-Blank Center’s twice-exceptional research agenda supports the fundamental principle upon which we operate: twice-exceptional students are “genuinely” deserving of gifted programming. Our efforts are based on solid, federally-funded research (read abstracts of our findings through the National Institute for Twice-Exceptionality (NITE)). Our in-house products, including the Packet of Information for Families (PIF) and the Packet of Information for Professionals (PIP) are made possible by private philanthropists, including the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKC).
Eighteen months ago, the JKC Foundation invited the Belin-Blank Center to compete for funding that was designated for scholarships to students who are twice-exceptional. Our proposal was accepted, and we were invited to submit another proposal this year. The JKC funding has been particularly helpful in that it also supports professional faculty and staff who are available all day to assist with issues arising as a result of students’ disabilities. We created an online assessment for faculty and staff so that they can check their understanding of twice-exceptionality. The assessment is followed up with an online booklet that goes into great detail about twice-exceptionality and offers recommendations to make the entire learning experience a positive one. This online booklet is an updated version of the Packet of Information for Professionals, and it will be available to the public soon.
The opposite of conflate is dissolve. We will continue to share our research findings and our comprehensive approach to providing gifted programming to twice-exceptional students. Through this, we hope to dissolve the myth that that gifted students with learning disabilities are not deserving of gifted programming.