My second grader has reached the second phase of the application process for the Gifted Program and my Good-Bad Dad muscles are pulsating. Whether you know such a program as “Gifted” or “Extended Learning Program (ELP)” the concept is the same – providing more, different and focused learning to kids that show early educational promise. In typical GBD fashion, I will try to maximize opportunities for all of my kids. Completing the process for Gifted admission confirms that I’ll do so even if I wholeheartedly oppose the principles at work with such a program.
Phase Two of the application process is a free-form survey parents are asked to complete. The survey begins: “The information you provide is important and may show evidence that your child exhibits some gifted characteristics.” I can decipher that statement for the non-gifted crowd reading – please explain why your son/daughter should be considered gifted by telling us about the extraordinary ways he/she addresses ordinary situations.
There are six questions to be answered. I’ll pick on two to share – answering them as I’d like to (to thumb my nose at the concept) and as a GBD who does not want his child to miss out on an opportunity for advanced learning. Note that I will be guilty of submitting the latter.
Survey: “My child finds humor in situations or events unusual for his/her age.” Give an example.
What I want to say: Lynden is a complete smart ass. When he jokes with the other kids they typically don’t laugh – not because he is poking fun at them but because the punchline must be over their heads.
Official GBD response: Lynden is subtly funny. He uses humor to diffuse tense situations which emphasizes his ability to be calm during chaos. He is particularly in tune with employing humor when he finds contradiction between current situations and lessons he’s learned. His use of humor shows an aptitude to think on this feet and displays his uncanny ability to instantly recall memories.
Survey: “My child is a collector.” Give an example.
What I want to say: Lynden’s slingshot collection used to be a concern for us. We now feel that this collection has helped with his dexterity. The collection has enabled his leadership skills as he is now teaching his three year old brother how to appropriately line up a target. We have come to appreciate the precision the slingshots have taught him although the neighborhood rodents do not.
Official GBD response: Lynden is proud of his Pokémon card collection and takes great care to ensure he knows where all cards are located at all times. He conscientiously organizes the cards in descending value order so that he can quickly assess his opponent’s strategy, flip the appropriate challenge card and win! While playing, Lynden can quickly add together large numbers, displaying his excellent math abilities.
The fact that my official responses are well written will give Lynden a better chance of a successful application. What about those kids selected to test who would not have the same support system at home? The Phase Two survey feels more like a parental marketing assignment.
My discontent with Gifted Programs is more broad than the Phase Two survey I’m finishing up. I generally dislike the use of the word “gifted” to describe anyone – especially a subset of kids. The word is subjective and judgmental. The label infers that kids in the program have special qualities that were bestowed upon them – qualities that exist only in a select few.
These prerequisite qualities are too often unknown and likely not standardized from school to school, district to district or state to state. If you happen to be on outside of the program but want in, you can’t even help your kids develop those undefined, predestined characteristics that serve as the measuring stick for acceptance.
When I asked my son about what gifted meant he crystallized my line of thinking, “Dad, it’s a class for smart kids.” I contend that being “smart” is overrated and over-played as it relates to achievement. I rate working hard and the propensity to grind as exponentially more important that intelligence in being successful.
With every principle-centered piece of my GBD blood boiling, I am set to fold the Phase Two document into the envelope provided and send it back to the school. I will expect my son to be accepted but secretly am disgusted at falling in line for a stacked process. My Good-Bad Dad need to have my son included has trumped my objections to the pillars of the program.
Once the committee assesses my son’s fit for admission, I’ll leave them to convey the importance of being “smart” to him. I plan to spend my time teaching him to focus on qualities that fuel passion like curiosity, stewardship, companionship, silliness, kindness and self-awareness.