Open Letter to Michelle Obama

By Foster, Joanne; Matthews, Dona J. | Roeper Review, July-September 2009 | Go to article overview
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Open Letter to Michelle Obama


Foster, Joanne, Matthews, Dona J., Roeper Review


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

April 5, 2009

"If you want to know the reason why I am standing here, it's because of education," First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama told an audience of teenage girls at a school in London, England, on April 2, 2009. "I never cut class. I loved getting A's, I liked being smart.... I thought being smart is cooler than anything in the world."

Thank you, Mrs. Obama! This is the message we've been sharing with people for several years, and we couldn't agree more. Being smart is, indeed, both cool and attainable--and there are many things that parents and educators can do to support and encourage high-level development.

This is an urgent and timely matter. We heard a similar message from President Obama, in his inaugural address in January 2009, when he stated that "Greatness is not given. It must be earned." It is vital that we provide opportunities for everyone to strengthen their abilities and that we empower all children to engage in their own learning. Parents and educators can nurture competencies that are already evident by understanding and supporting children's high-level development (the conventional role of gifted education). However, it is equally important that we use what we know about learning and teaching processes to foster heightened development in all children. Indeed, every one of us has a responsibility to give our youth the tools with which to become proactive, guiding them in the habits of perseverance and persistence that you talked about with the children in London.

In Being Smart About Gifted Education (Great Potential Press, 2009), we discuss how parents and teachers can support children in being smart. Grounded in our backgrounds in teaching, special education, and developmental psychology, we recognize the necessity of building a foundation for people to learn more about becoming smart, including a sense of the joys and challenges inherent in that endeavor. Like you, Mrs. Obama, we believe this educational enterprise should be invigorating and inclusive, working to support the optimal development of every child and helping learners to find a vitality and healthy balance in their lives--respecting and nurturing their abilities, interests, experiences, and passion to excel. We also recognize that this requires an investment of time, energy, and effort.

There is a widely held misconception that some people are born smart, and others are not. Current research on cognitive development shows just the opposite, in fact: that high-level ability develops with opportunities to learn, in an environment of appropriate support and challenge.

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