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In Response to A Defining Moment
by Kristie Speirs Neumeister
I wish to respond to Dr. Delisle’s critique (“A Defining Moment”) of the new NAGC definition of giftedness. In 2010 NAGC adopted a new definition of giftedness, the product of a year’s work from a task force selected primarily for their diversity of thought and representation within the field. Dr. Delisle presents five points of dissent regarding the new definition, including the following: length, practical limitations, theoretical limitations, contextual focus, and lack of transparency. As a member the NAGC Task Force who assisted in the construction of the definition, as well as an active member of the field of gifted education, I would like to offer my comments regarding these points.
Length. Dr. Delisle felt the NAGC definition was too lengthy. He quoted the definition as: “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g. mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g. painting, dance, sports)” and then stated: “Any definition that is 224 words long is far too lengthy for its own good.” This quoted definition, however, is only 59 words, not 224. NAGC does elaborate on the above definition, but the part quoted by Dr. Delisle is the core definition. At only 59 words, it packs both substance and the ability to be operationalized by educators in the field. The remaining four parenthetical explanations are not needed to refine the definition, as Dr. Delisle states, but rather to offer extended commentary for those interested in a more complex understanding of giftedness.
Practical and Theoretical Limitations. Dr. Delisle stated that the NAGC definition implies that “giftedness is not a set of personal, innate traits but rather, the expression of particular talents.” He continues to argue that the definition ignores the cognitive and psychological aspects of giftedness. These statements, however, are not accurate reflections of the definition proposed by NAGC. The very first sentence of the NAGC definition reads “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as exceptional ability to reason and learn).” The word aptitude is defined as natural ability (Merriam-Webster). The fact that the word aptitude is included at the front of the definition is indicative of NAGC’s support of this position regarding the conception of giftedness; however, NAGC is not limited by this perspective alone. The second half of the definition reflects an equally viable conception of giftedness as defined through outstanding levels of competence. These twin notions capture fundamental differences in Western and Eastern notions of intelligence; Western perspectives tend to emphasize intelligence as a fixed ability whereas Eastern perspectives tend to emphasize intelligence as malleable (the harder you work, the smarter you will become.) It is essential that NAGC embraces both perspectives as each has much to offer our field; the innate perspective acknowledges that gifted students are cognitively and psychologically distinct from typical students through their exceptional capacity for reasoning and learning, and the talent development perspective emphasizes the need for parents and educators to facilitate experiences that cultivate this innate ability, as well as an attitude within the child that hard work leads to success, in order to actualize the child’s potential. Rather than having “theoretical and practical limitations” this definition embraces different theoretical perspectives, yet is practical enough to be operationalized by educators and policy makers advocating on behalf of gifted students.
Contextual Focus. Dr. Delisle argues against the NAGC’s definition for its emphasis on domain specificity. He stated, “ In this new world of domain-specific giftedness, then, people are gifted only part of the time—the times when they are “acting” that way.” Again, this statement is not reflective of the true meaning of the NAGC definition. The definition states that individuals can be gifted in “one or more domains.” This phrase incorporates both domain specificity as well as those who are gifted in the general intellectual sense-or as Dr. Delisle refers to them as individuals who are able to “think in deeper or more complex ways apart from a specific domain.” Rather than omitting these learners from the definition of giftedness as Dr. Delisle suggested, the new definition is broader to include those who truly do have exceptional ability only in select domains as well as those who are gifted in the general intellectual sense. This broader definition has positive implications for educational practice, as it will allow those with ability in only one area, such as math or language arts, to receive services in that specific area rather than being denied services because they do not qualify for a gifted program designed only for students with general intellectual ability.
Transparency. Dr. Delisle’s final point of contention regarding the NAGC definition was the fact that the membership did not have an opportunity to comment on the definition before it was adopted by the organization. As a point of clarification, the definition was brought before the NAGC Board of Directors for approval. The Board reviewed and approved the definition in 2010. As the Board of Directors is elected to represent the membership, this process did ensure transparency as well as validation of the ideas reflected in the new definition.
As a member of the task force charged with the task of redefining gifted education, I can attest to the amount of time and intellectual energy that was devoted to this process. I welcome discussion of the ideas presented within the definition, as I believe discussion can only help refine our understanding of gifted children. However, I would hope these discussions could be held with respect to the individuals who have dedicated their time and intellectual energy to contribute to our field.
 These perspectives are summarized by Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset).
Speirs Neumeister, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Ball State University, and
the current President of Indiana Association for the Gifted.
©2012 by Kristie Speirs Neumeister