- Does anyone dare to deny Michael Phelps' gift for incredible speed?
- Does anyone suggest that with a proper growth mindset an average swimmer can become Michael Phelps?
- What would happen to American success in sports if our nation treated our Olympic candidates the way we treat our academically gifted children?
Imagine that, as a 5 year old, Michael comes to his first official swimming lesson. He already knows how to swim. He always loved water and was fearless about it. His father took him swimming. His older sister showed him her killer butterfly moves, His older brother challenged him to dive from the diving board. He is excited and cannot wait what his coach will teach him.
But the coach says, Whoa, buddy! Slow down. You are jumping too far. You are swimming too fast. You are making other kids feel bad. You are not supposed to know this swimming style just yet. We will teach it to you when you are 8.
Do you think Michael Phelps would retain his passion for swimming?
When young Michael is 7, he wants more challenge. He wants to test his skills against other swimmers. He wants to go to swim with older kids.
But the coach says, Wait a minute. We have teamwork here, and you need to stay with your age. We will put you on a mixed ability swim team. You can swim as fast as you want, and everyone wins.
Do you think that Michael would be motivated to develop his swimming teams to the best of his ability?
When young Michael is 9, his parents are concerned that he feels burned out and loses his love of water. He seems angry and disengaged. They ask if maybe a more experienced coach can take over.
But the head coach says, Trust us - we are experts here. We are an excellent swimming school. We train champions. Look at Michael's results - he is already ahead of what is expected of his age, so he will be perfectly fine. He just needs to work on his attitude and help his teammates succeed.
Do you think Michael would go on training to become an Olympic legend?
Yet, we do exactly this thing to our academically gifted children.
As a society, we deny them opportunities to go at their speed. to develop their skills further, and to perform to the fullest of their potential. And we keep finding all kinds of excuses for doing so:
We say that "All Children Are Gifted"
Yes, we keep saying that all children are gifted with all the passion parents have for their children everywhere. I am sorry that in our educational language the word "gifted" is reserved for people with higher than average IQ. Yes, all people have gifts, but not everyone has higher than average IQ. It's just like saying that every child can be on a swim team because they were introduced to water and then extend it further saying that every swimmer can become an Olympic champion "if they try hard enough".
We Say That Everyone Benefits from Mixed Ability GroupingHave you noticed an ongoing attack on gifted education that is happening in this country? Our state of California has completely given up any governance of gifted education letting local districts decide what to do. Not surprisingly, districts decide to spend their money on majority of students. Our academic minds are telling us that ability based grouping does not work, because kids in bottom groups feel bad and don't perform to their ability. What about kids in the top group? Oh, they will benefit from sharing their knowledge with others and won't feel so pressured to perform. Say what? Well, why don't we send a "mixed ability" swimming relay team to the Olympics and see if they can beat a team from another country with athletes chosen by their ability to swim?
We Say That Gifted Education Is Elitist
This notion keeps going round and round. The public opinion holds that gifted public schools are catering to kids of wealthy parents and their student bodies are predominantly white. People believe that kids are "hothoused" for entry to these schools and students of color are unfairly denied access. Unfortunately, this disbalance in gifted education does exist, But the call to action should not be to dismantle existing puny public gifted education options, but to make them more equal and accessible. Just like we have a National Olympic Committee, we need a federal effort to equalize the ridiculous tapestry of gifted education laws and "guidelines" in our country and focus on making it more accessible to our least privileged students. And let's dispense with the myth that public gifted education serves kids of wealthy parents. Outside of a few super-wealthy districts, these parents can buy themselves out of the struggles of public education system. In our area, we have no public gifted schools, but several private gifted schools with a yearly price tag of $25K-30K. The wealthy elite is telling us that public gifted education is unfair while quietly sending their kids to private schools. Imagine how our Olympic national team would look like if only wealthy kids were prepared enough to make it to the Olympic trials?
Will We Ever Support the Brightest Minds?
We are society in the middle of the change. Being a geek is more accepted than it ever was before. We know that we are contributing to a lot of challenges for our future generations - a racial divide in our communities, job loss to other countries, terrorism, mounting national debt, climate change. We have precious human capital on our hands - our children's' intellect. Mind is a terrible thing to waste, so perhaps it's time to support the brightest minds of our society just as much, and even more, as we support our strongest bodies!
More Thoughts on Gifted Children
From my blog:
- Starting School for Gifted Learners
- Back to School for Gifted Learners
- Gifted Advocacy for Beginners
- 10 Resources for Parents of Gifted Children
Follow my Pinterest board Resources for Gifted Children