Pedagogy of Patriarchy: A Window on American 21st Century Gifted Education

Article excerpt

The issue of grouping gifted students by ability has been a point of controversy for a long time. In the fall of 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik into space, igniting intense debate in this county about the quality of American education. Since then, nurturing the talents of our gifted and talented children has been one of the most enchanting, yet controversial, issues educators have faced. On the one hand, people have admired the gifts and the drive of individuals who achieve excellence and have given priority to programs for educating the brightest students, especially in math and science. On the other hand, people have stigmatized gifted education as "giving to the haves" (Colangelo & Davis, 1997, p. 3). This ambivalent attitude toward giftedness has caused frustration for both educators and parents of students.

With close examination, we can see that the ambivalent attitude toward gifted education is the result of simplistic dichotomous thinking that the pursuit of excellence and equality are mutually exclusive and antagonistic. When we shift the framework of analysis on this issue from a zero-sum dichotomy to a more comprehensive philosophy that can include both gifted education and mainstream education simultaneously, the tension between the pursuit of excellence and equality can be alleviated. This tension can be described in terms of two different approaches to education: "matriarchal" (equality-oriented) and "patriarchal" (excellence-oriented) pedagogy. It is the purpose of this paper to promote "patriarchal pedagogy" as more appropriate for, and beneficial to, the development of gifted education in the United States.

Fromm (1951) defined a matriarchal society as a culture that is unconditionally equal. In the concept of matriarchy, a mother loves all her children equally and unconditionally since her love is based on the fact that they are her children. It does not matter if they exhibit any particular merit or achievement in a matriarchal order. The value system of the matriarchal society seems deeply imbedded in our educational practices, ignoring individual students' different learning needs and our society's unique cultural traits.

Matriarchal pedagogy, a zeal for equality in education, has vehemently asserted the rights of less-able learners, students with psychological and physical disabilities, and students with different needs because of their culture, ethnicity, gender, language, and so forth. The contention of matriarchal pedagogy is incontestable because there really exist many students who have needed "special help," and the rights of these students ought to be fervently defended in human society. However, it should be acknowledged by the same token that gifted students also deserve "special treatment." Gifted and talented students' exceptional capabilities are not sufficiently challenged by the mainstream targeted traditional curriculum and instruction within matriarchal pedagogy. Within matriarchal pedagogy, for instance, all gifted and talented children and adolescents should be placed into heterogeneous classrooms in order to actualize unconditional equality, neglecting their special learning needs and their superior abilit y. As a result, some gifted and talented students may find schools intolerable, feigning illness or creating other excuses to avoid the trivialities of activities they mastered years ago. Some may eventually give up entirely and drop out of school as soon as they are legally able (Davis & Rimm, 1998). The detrimental impacts of this mismatch is described as a quiet crisis (U.S. Department of Education, 1993, p. 5) and "nothing short of an American tragedy" (Renzulli, 1991, p. 75).

Gifted education is logically an entity of special education because the target population represents a group of students whose learning styles and thinking dimensions demand different experiences from those of the mainstream population. …