Gifted Underachievers – Self-selection process


High School Gifted and Talented Program Development

[I went back to school in my mid-40’s in order to become a “Gifted Ed” teacher – specifically, to help those who were not happy with high school for various reasons.  I joined Montana AGATE (Association for Gifted and Talented Education) and volunteered to help start a program at CMR High School in Great Falls, where I hoped to be hired to work in it.    After submitting the following piece, the Committee was disbanded… – PHS]

TYPES OF GIFTEDNESS PROGRAM SHOULD ADDRESS (after George Betts, University of Northern Colorado, Greely)

I. Successful.
Gets into programs. Helpful, pleasant, but not creative or autonomous. Takes less risks growing up.

II. Creative and autonomous.
“Troublemaker”. Not successful in school, but more likely to be successful in life.

III. Anxious conformer.
#1 need is to belong. Underground. Hidden giftedness, especially in girls. See Barbara Kerr, Smart Girls, Gifted Women. Most attention in high school goes to intellect­ually-gifted male athletes.

IV.  Resentful, angry, bitter.
Ready to drop out of school because needs aren’t being met. Also sui­cides — dropping out of life. At-risk, signif­icantly out of synch, needs counseling/ther­apy.

V.  Gifted Special Ed.
Emotionally-disturbed and learning-disabled are often gifted. GC’s with learning disabilities: twice excep­tional.

VI. Independent, self-directed learners.
Like skiing through the moguls. Modifies the system to meet personal educational needs. Some are developed through GC programs. Double or triple majors in college.
Learners rather than students.

We can create an environment they need and can thrive in.

Self-esteem is critical. Without it, they will not succeed.
The above information was taken from my notes from an AGATE Convention several years ago where George Betts was a keynote speaker. Many gifted education experts believe that gifted programs should be available by choice to all who want them, and should be considered prototypes of education for every­one, rather than some elitist form of special (and very expensive) education. Grouping by ability and interests (at least part of the time) is a key to successful learning for any level of ability, as is a curriculum which reflects the prior knowledge and interests of the indi­vidual student.

Thus, I consider these questions to be part of a process for self-selection for gifted programs or more difficult, specialized courses. The “special ed” model of gifted education, although correct and appropriate in many respects, is difficult to defend politically. Every student, in effect, would require an IEP and a student-teacher ratio of maybe 5 to one or better, and that is clearly not feasible, although we can do much better than we are doing now through more self-directed or volunteer-coordinated mentoring experiences and other hands-on learning exercises. I think we need to go back to the model of “alter­native education” rather than “special education,” if only because it’s cheaper, simpler, and easier to justify. Everyone knows we are not all the same, and most sensible people believe that diversity should be cherished and preserved rather than ruthlessly stamped out by standardized, authoritarian systems.

The special qualities of the highly-intelligent, creatively gifted, or otherwise unusual learners and achievers cry out for attention and special recog­nition, yet our society and many of our sub-cultures stigmatize, ridicule, and abuse those who are capable of achieving the most. We must reunite these children with their families and com­munities, and validate their differ­ences and tradi­tions which make their particular gifts and talents possible.

The questions which follow were composed during drama classes comprising an especially spirited, divergent, and often “trouble-making” group of high school students in a school and community with relatively strong traditions of per­formed arts and academic achievement.

1. I often get into trouble because of things I think or say.

2. I dislike authority, and often feel restricted by it.

3. I would rather do something my own way than do exactly what I’m told.

4. I get good grades because I work hard, not because I’m “gifted” or “spe­cial.”

5. I feel older than my years in terms of knowledge and experience.

6. Because of drinking, fighting, or other family problems, I prefer to stay away from home as much as possible.
7. I enjoy watching or listening to news, documentaries, or serious music ­and drama.

8. I listen to public radio and watch educational television rather than commercial entertainment programs.

9. I read a lot and patronize the library and bookstores.

10. I write poetry and/or do art work for my own satisfaction.

11. I prefer to learn from sources outside of school.

12. I would rather work at a job I like than go to school.

13. I think that school as it now exists is a waste of my time and the tax­payer’s money.

14. I want to go to college because I will be able to choose my own classes and teachers, and meet people who share my interests.

15. I discuss books, movies, and current events with my friends.

16. If school were different, I’d learn more, here.

17. I have only a small number of friends, but they share many of my cultural interests.

18. My parents don’t care what I do as long as I pass and stay out of trouble.

19. I know I’m smarter than most people, so I don’t have to prove anything.

20. I would like to take harder or more advanced courses, but I haven’t been allowed to sign up for them.

21. It seems to me that school encourages athletics and social success more than academics.

22. I think I should have skipped one or more grades in elemen­tary or middle school.

23. I am worried that American high school students are far behind European or Japanese students of the same age.

24. Many teachers seem glad to talk with me about my work, my reading, or my other academic interests.

25. I feel comfortable asking teachers for alternative assign­ments or projects which are more challenging or interesting to me.

26. Most teachers seem to have no interest in me or my educa­tional needs and interests.

27. I would like to be a teacher if schools were different.

28. I am worried that our quality of life (the environment, job opportunities, crime rates, disease, etc.) will be much worse in 20-30 years.

29. I like to read science fiction, fantasy, and other futur­istic or “idea” literature.

30. I am often depressed by things that happen in school.

31. Schools are supposed to meet the educational needs of students, but it seems to me that they exist primarily to provide secure, well-paying jobs for teachers and administrators, or to provide order and discipline.

32. School would be much more useful to me if I could choose among different educational methods and philosophies.

33. I feel that many teachers don’t understand me, and discrim­inate against me because I’m different.

Although some of these questions may strike professional teachers as excessively negative or critical of the education system, I can assure you that such views are widely held among students, and those who hold them most strongly are precisely the kinds of students we are failing to reach, or whose needs have not been served. We need to identify these students and answer their complaints and objections to what is happening to them. The “Type I” gifted students listed above are the only ones traditional gifted ed programs have identified and served, but they would be the natural elite and high achievers in any case. Others may be even more gifted, but often have been dis­couraged and reinforced in negative, self-destructive patterns through family dysfunction, low socio-economic status, learning dis­abilities such as ADD or ADHD, etc. It is certain­ly no secret that our schools often fail to perform miracles in turning these children around, and helping them to adjust and succeed.


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