Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gated Communities: Gifted Education as Resegregation

Gifted education is based on the idea that a very small, very smart proportion of students needs more challenging attention to flourish intellectually and otherwise. That's about as much agreement as you'll get from any two people discussing the matter. What criteria decide who's gifted, where the cut-off should be (the top 2 percent of a given group? the top 5 percent?), what to do with the gifted once they qualify, who to mingle or not mingle them with, what to feed them at breakfast and what thread-count linen they should sleep in -- those questions can be more divisive than all the debates about the transubstantiation of Christ and fat-versus-thin Elvis put together. And beware if you're caught in the middle: Parents of the gifted can have a paradoxically tedious gift for the dogmatic. Maybe that's what it takes to raise a gifted child: more of a tunnel than a vision.

I raise the issue because one of those weird debates is going on at the moment where I live in Florida, in Flagler County schools. The district superintendent wants to expand the gifted program to make it available at every elementary and middle school, which sounds like a logical, desirable idea. Right now it's available full-time at just one elementary school and one middle school. Just 2 percent of students are enrolled. To make the expansion financially possible, the superintendent wants to include high achievers in the pool. Parents of the gifted are unhappy. They're worried that their children's education is being watered down. I can understand the issue of standards not being high enough. As Flagler school parents, my wife and I deal with that issue constantly. But hearing and reading about complaints by parents of the gifted, I was struck by a larger question that neither the district nor the parents are asking, but that seems to me more important than either side's immediate concerns. What message are we sending our children, and society at large, when segregation is held up not only as a defining factor of an educational program, but as a desirable, even admirable one as well? Read the rest of the column...