The Importance of Social Studies and the Education of Gifted Students

Article excerpt

The study of social sciences and humanities, more specifically the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, forms the basic core of thought for growing, inquiring minds. These disciplines are even more fundamental to the nurture of the mind that is pushing the limits of human knowledge and bent upon changing the world. Children who process knowledge rapidly, have complex insights, reach for an understanding of the principles and dilemmas behind accepted generalizations, and find joy and challenge in the unsolved mysteries of the universe are especially drawn to such study. These are the children and youth society refers to as gifted students.

Gifted students have the interest and the ability to use the language, the information, and the structures of social sciences to solve old problems and envision new possibilities. However, they must be challenged by parents and teachers who also find inquiry and mystery impelling. Too often, in today's schools gifted students are placed in educational structures that only repeat information that they already know, with concepts already explored, in settings that stifle excited inquiry. How much more could be learned, how many more could be entranced, and how important to all of us would their contributions be if such children were fostered and appropriately taught. Their needs are great, though some would have us believe that gifted children can get by without any special provisions. The loss of ability is epidemic, although there are those who believe that being allowed to have the challenge of differentiated curriculum is unnecessary. For society to gain from these fine minds requires that these gifted children grow optimally from the curriculum and instruction presented in our schools. As the study of social sciences and humanities is basic to higher thought, let us start there.

BRAIN RESEARCH INSIGHTS

To know how to change the educational experiences to meet the needs of gifted students there must be an understanding about what those needs are and how they come about. For several decades educators have had the advantage of a growing body of data from the neurosciences that have provided numerous clues to the relationship between the growth of intelligence and brain development. Awareness of these implications from brain research allows a clearer understanding of giftedness and its development. Children are not born gifted, but with a limitless potential based on the existence of over 100 billion brain cells. In most infants these are healthy neurons with their endowment of unique genetic patterns awaiting the interaction with experiences that can develop them into a basis for high-level abilities. At birth, these neurons are already enhanced or inhibited in their growth by both physical and emotional interactions provided in-utero. Ample evidence now informs parents and educators that actions, sensations, and memories are constantly shaping both the function and the anatomy of the brain. Educators at home and at school create giftedness, not just through genetics, but through experiences that are rich and appropriately stimulating.

The knowledge that the gifted brain develops through appropriate stimulation has been repeatedly confirmed by research. There are measurable changes within the brain found to be characteristic of the brains of those with high levels of intelligence that occur as a response to this stimulation. Awareness of these changes is essential to the understanding of the concept of giftedness as can be noted in Figure 1.

These changes underlie some of the most commonly observed characteristics of gifted children and the needs that provide the basis for differentiating their educational experience. From these data, gifted students can be understood to have a need for opportunities that provide high levels of complex processing of information, indepth study, novelty, and accelerated and advanced curricula and instruction. …