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Many people said they enjoyed my presidential address that preceded the Celebration of Excellence in New Orleans and that the ideas I presented resonated with them. Others told me that they appreciated my efforts, but disagreed with me on several points. I wanted to share some of the highlights of my talk here in the hopes of stimulating further discussion about the future of our field.
In my view, a major problem for gifted education is that we have often been marginalized as a field within education. Through important and significant research studies, our methods and practices have been demonstrated to have value not only for gifted learners, but also for a broader range of students (see a study by Joyce VanTassel-Baska and colleagues in JEG, 33, 7-37 and by Sally Reis and colleagues in AERJ, 48, 462-501). Gifted education curricula and programs such as SEM-R and the William & Mary curriculum units, have been shown to improve the achievement of low-income learners in Title I classrooms and schools. It is perplexing that in a country that is so focused on closing achievement gaps between different groups of learners, our work is ignored and not seen as relevant to this problem. I believe our practices and programs can also provide solutions to other major educational issues such as raising the international standing of our students’ achievement, educating students for creativity and 21st century skills, and preparing the next generation of innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs.
While acknowledging the existence of substantial external factors, such as the current economy and politics, I suggest that a significant reason that we are marginalized is because of conflicts within our field regarding our basic core—i.e. “Who are gifted children?” And, “what is the goal of gifted education?” There is a huge gulf between the theory and thinking on talent development and the practice of gifted education within schools.
Research and theory has been focused on the concept of talent development for almost 30 years, with an emphasis on giftedness as a state one grows into and acquires as a result of learning and achievement; as a domain specific process that occurs differently within areas such as music and mathematics; and as an activity that requires different supports and programs for children at different points in their development. Practice within our field, however, is largely focused on giftedness as a stable trait of the individual that can be identified through testing and identification and is associated with unique personality and psychological characteristics directly as a result of giftedness. As a result, we have programs that are driven by identification methods rather than service models and rightly criticized for focusing on too narrow a group of learners.
The gulf between theory and research and practice is large and must be bridged if gifted education, as a field, is to remain viable and have a greater impact on education. How do we do that?
I suggest that we take a bold step and consider making talent development, rather than giftedness, the major unifying concept of our field and most importantly, the basis for our practice. To do so would put our field more in line with other areas of psychological research that support our field (e.g. expertise, positive psychology); allow us to engage with others in academic fields that are interested in knowing how to attract and educate talented individuals to their fields (e.g. chemistry, physics); attract more people from fields not currently well represented in NAGC such as the performing arts or even athletics; and most importantly, give us a platform from which to talk to educators about national education problems such as the achievement gap or reforming schools and to demonstrate that our key practices can address these problems because they are applicable to a broader range of students.
I welcome your thoughts. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org