Pitfalls in Listening to Experts

by Jeanne Bernish on July 5, 2010

It’s a hot, humid Monday in Cincinnati and I have a houseful of children ranging from age 9 to not quite 16. They are all happily ensconced in our basement – three of the youngest have been building with Legos all afternoon. The older ones are probably annihilating some alien force on X-Box. While everyone was enjoying the day off I made the mistake of perusing the NYT and came across “The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child” on the Room for Debate blog.

New York has been wrestling with the definition of gifted children for some time – most recently with a decision to begin testing for some children as soon as age 3. And because my home state of Ohio has actually spent some time and effort researching this topic (see 2002 Ohio Gifted Task Force and Learning Supports: Gifted Education) I have found the failure of New York to do the same puzzling. Academically gifted children have an ability to learn at a much faster pace than typical students. Broad identification through the administration of group ability tests – although certainly not perfect – at least catches more high ability students than less objective methods. The question shouldn’t be what test to use – but what the ability score cut off for service is. Education experts agree that providing appropriate educational experiences for children of high ability is the right thing to do.

In Clara Hemphill’s response “Wait Until They’re Older,” she asserts that the skills learned in Kindergarten are pretty much the same “whether you have Downs Syndrome or an IQ of 170.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is disheartening to read a response so steeped in mythology – a response so narrowly informed of best practices in the education of high ability students that it makes even a marginally informed outsider to the world of gifted education cringe.

The most troubling statement Hemphill makes? “Children need to learn that hard work is more important than being born with a high IQ.” Such venom! And such an incredibly wrong-headed thing to say. There is so much that is wrong with Hemphill’s response that I am simply at a loss as where to begin. From the moment she couches the term gifted in quotation marks – as if to express her scorn of the label itself – to suggesting that testing and service be delayed until middle school. I’m tossing this one out to the community. I need to find an aspirin.

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