Message from the Director: Words Matter

Words matter. No, it’s not the current political discourse that prompts this understated opening to my message; rather the publicity around a recent presentation here on the University of Iowa campus by a newly-minted sociologist invited to guest lecture for a seminar on inequality.

The publicity promoted the following topics: “the nature-nurture debate, social inequality in gifted education programs and experiences of the — so called — gifted students.”

Ironically, the presenter claimed to “not challenge the concept of giftedness in general”; rather, to “disprove key ideas of gifted education scholars…[and] discuss the theoretical frameworks which [sic] question the social category of giftedness.”

The two words that concern me most are “so-called.” Unfortunately, I could not attend this seminar due to a conflict, i.e., work.  Nevertheless, I felt it important to contribute to the dialogue, even if not in that particular forum, because, as a “gifted education scholar,” my work, and that of dozens of colleagues, is being targeted.  I have three points:

First, qualifying the term “gifted” implicitly judges individuals who, through no fault of their own, have academic and social-emotional needs that are not typically met in the regular classroom.  The psychological concept of individual differences forms the theoretical foundation underlying the vast range of research and programs for gifted students.  The Belin-Blank Center is but one of several gifted education centers that address research and programming for gifted students as well as professional development for their teachers.  Formative evaluation of these programs (not judgment) is ongoing and necessary for program improvement.  All university-based centers engage in this evaluation.  Research conducted throughout the world is available in peer-reviewed journals and supports these efforts.

Second, professionals and parents who advocate for gifted students should always search for ways to eliminate geographic and psychological barriers.  Ironically, the very students who are likely to be overlooked for needed accommodations are the ones who would most likely be disadvantaged if the concept of giftedness were questioned and associated programming were eliminated.

Third, discourse around these topics, especially social inequality and conceptualization of giftedness, are welcome and necessary – especially with professionals outside of the fields of education and psychology.  However, honest inquiry is difficult when conclusions have been predetermined and fundamental respect for the needs of the individual are ignored.

Those two words created ire; however, they also forced me to reevaluate my own values.  I concluded that the Center’s commitment to programs and services for gifted and talented students and their educators is unwavering. Therefore, we will continue to look for ways to address the needs of our most vulnerable students (e.g., economically vulnerable or twice-exceptional students).  Furthermore, we always will champion the interventions that promote the development of talent in students and their teachers.   Because how else can we “nurture potential and inspire excellence” so that we make this world a better place?

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