Nature Versus Nurture in Gifted Education?
A telling debate is now brewing among researchers and practitioners about the direction of gifted education. Some argue that in order to bring attention to the field (thought to be marginalized within the larger study of education) and aid students with talent we should apply the research and pedagogies long believed to be effective for highly capable students to students of all abilities. Others wonder if by enveloping the programs designed for those with talent in public school practices, gifted students’ unique needs would be adequately recognized or addressed. Clearly, finding ways to engage and benefit all students is laudable and should be a given in all schools. Unfortunately, it is not. And students who have the greatest potential, even those who have already amply demonstrated this potential, are largely disenfranchised and ignored.
I see the move to embed gifted education approaches in school curricula as a strategic ploy to encourage public schools to embrace other approaches known to be effective for gifted students. By introducing this pedagogy through the back door gifted education advocates seem to be striving to ensure that the students with the greatest native ability will at least be served to some degree, if not better served than they are now. Perhaps this would prove true, but I have to question whether it is right to mask the fact that truly gifted students, like those with learning disabilities, require special attention in order to tap their potential. For me, this debate resembles the age-old one of the importance of nature versus nurture in determining an individual’s development and future. I strongly believe that both are factors. However, in order for talent to be developed, it is essential to have a system and personnel in place that are equipped to understand and ascertain the extent of individual talent and enable it to blossom. Our nation’s schools are a long way from having such a system.
Simply to add yet another set of approaches that, sad to say, likely would be misunderstood and misapplied would be demoralizing for students and teachers alike. Instead, talented students would be better served if the stakeholders in gifted education: parents, teachers, and the students themselves, were to partner with leaders of educational reform to design school environments that could both identify and encourage those who possess undeniable intellectual talent. It is in finding a way to bring together those constituents, who, by the way, represent a potentially strong political block, that, I believe, the gifted education community should be directing its effort.