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A Call for Understanding

By Jean Schweers
Published in 1999 Fall Issue the Research and Development Division Newsletter of
Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

I am concerned about the lack of understanding that highly and profoundly gifted children get in the educational system. To clarify what I mean by this population, I will use the definition from the Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted Children web site (www.hollingworth.org):

Highly gifted children tend to be those who demonstrate asynchronous development. Due to their high cognitive abilities and high intensities they experience and relate to the world in unique ways. These children are often found as a result of extremely high scores on individually scored IQ tests, generally above the 140 IQ range. Others may be prodigies in areas such as math, science, language and/or the arts. Profoundly gifted children can score in excess of 170 IQ.
Highly gifted children demonstrate characteristics such as the extreme need to:
bulletlearn at a much faster pace
bulletprocess material to a much greater depth
bulletshow incredible intensity in energy, imagination, intellectual
prowess, sensitivity, and emotion which are not typical in the general population.
The child of 160+ IQ is as different from the child of 130 IQ as that child is different from the child of average ability.

As a parent and a customer of the Texas educational system, I would like to ask a few questions.

How can schools do a better job of addressing the different levels of giftedness? What can be done for highly and profoundly gifted children who know most of what will be covered for the next 2 or 4 or 8 or 10 years? Is it possible to address their needs within our existing schools? These students need extreme accommodations so that they can actually learn something new every year. A combination of radical/subject acceleration, compacting, dual enrollment, distance learning, and individualized instruction may be necessary. Why are educators so reluctant to try these?

How do we parents convince educators that the schools aren’t doing enough to meet the needs of our highly and profoundly gifted children without sounding like pushy parents? How can we convince you that our children really need to be working many grade levels ahead, despite that fact that they have a "few gaps"? What is the best way to fill in those gaps?

Why is it necessary for my child to score 90% in all subject areas to skip a grade, but the same rule doesn’t apply to children actually completing that grade? Why is social promotion now seen as inappropriate but social retention is not?

What is the source of the prejudice against the highly and profoundly gifted? Why is their social development more important than learning? Why don’t you believe that to these children, learning is really more important, and that social development will follow if their craving for knowledge is addressed in a setting with their intellectual peers?

Why is there such a huge gap between educators’ perceptions and parents’ perceptions of the ability of gifted programs to meet the needs of these children? I am told so often that "we have a gifted program" as if that should meet the needs of all gifted children equally. If there is a need for a gifted program at all, isn’t there also a need for differentiation within that program? Advanced placement courses are not enough for children working 10 years above their chronological age.

Most importantly, I would like to know why we can’t all see these children for themselves, as different as that may be, and not just as their age. They are many different ages all wrapped up into one child. Yes, their needs are complex, but they deserve to be thrilled when they walk in the door of the school, excited by the idea that they will learn something new that day.


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