Direction of Gifted Education in the First Decade of the 21st Century: A Step Back, Continuity, and New Directions

Article excerpt

Beginning an academic career at the dawn of a new millennium offers an excellent opportunity to take stock of gifted education and to think about the future. In the last two decades, educational movements stressing equity have resulted in the elimination or reduction of programs for gifted students in many North American states and school districts (Masse, in press; Richert, 1997). Elitist practices in identification and programming put support for gifted programs in jeopardy (Margolin, 1996; Sapon-Shevin, 1996). If programs are to survive attacks from many quarters, and if gifted education is to advance, it is essential to question some of our paradigms or practices and to develop new directions. I humbly offer a few ideas on five points: gifts or talent as entities, philosophy of gifted education, identification, programs, and challenges that lie ahead.

Gifts and Talents as Entities

Some advances can be expected in understanding of brain functioning, intellectual processes (problem solving, decision making, meta thinking, and so forth), and their relationship to the development of talents, particularly the developmental processes by which abilities and personality interact with environmental factors to create a talented individual. Although the role of genetics has been clearly established in the development of giftedness, especially in intellectual development (Plomin & McClearn, 1993), more research is needed to gain a better understanding of the role of environmental settings and culture (educational practices, values, identity, societal rules, and so forth) on talent development. The better understanding of talent development may further redefine what we refer to as "gifted" or "talented" individuals, and the instructional methods applied to identify, develop, or enhance their potential.

Philosophy and Values Promoted

A step backwards might be necessary in regard to philosophy or values promoted in gifted education. We may call into question the "star system," or the emphasis put in gifted education on "exceptional achievement," "unusual success," or "leaders of tomorrow." We ought to pay attention to the very high expectations or inaccessible models we expect gifted students to follow. Only a small minority of today's gifted students will become the "stars" of tomorrow. Without clipping students' wings, we must cultivate realistic expectations. Concurrently, with regard to the effort and commitment required to develop high-level talent (Tannenbaum, 1997), we must promote values of patience and persistence. This is a big challenge in a society where rapid success stories are legion in the media.

Identification

A great deal of work has been invested in recent years to develop identification procedures and instruments that are culturally and linguistically appropriate. However, as long as the broad spectrum of giftedness is not addressed in our programming or services, multiple assessment procedures will remain a meaningless task. On the other hand, many schools use multiple assessment procedures inappropriately (Richert, 1997). For instance, despite multiple sources of information collected, selection is based mainly on excellent school records or conformity to school expectations. As academic achievement is not related directly to adult giftedness in a broad range of fields (Taylor, Albo, Holland, & Brandt, 1985), administrators may lessen the importance given to this criterion in the identification process. To qualify for many programs, students need to score highly on most of the measures used, instead of on any one of them. Standardized tests also tend to be given disproportionate weight. More energy will be re quired to promote procedures where eligibility is determined via multiple criteria, including aptitude, performance, and interest. Further, the norms for tests of academic achievement and other Instruments used must not exhibit bias against certain cultures or underprivileged social classes. …