Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science. Clearly.

In 2005 the National Academies created a bipartisan group which strongly recommended 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so the US would be globally competitive in the 21st century. Reading the report, it is as much about supporting innovation as about science."Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5", an updated  2010  report notes, the progress that has been made (or the lack thereof):  "The committee concluded that the United States appears to be on a course that will lead to a declining, not growing, standard of living for our children and grandchildren (p. 19).

Where does gifted education fit in?

Recommendation C: Make the United States the most attractive setting in which to study and perform research so that we can develop, recruit, and retain the best and brightest students, scientists, and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world. (p.30)

Gifted education is, of course, more encompassing than math or science. As is education in general. But basic "literacy" in science and math is critical to modern individual success. And fostering innovation is clearly proving to be central to the current and future health of the U.S. as a nation, not just in "the sciences" but in all the technologies and economies that innovation trickles down to and later supplies.

As Dr. Ann Robinson, president of the National Association for Gifted Children, noted in NAGC's press release about the report, "If we fail to identify and cultivate our most promising minds beginning as early as possible, we will squander this talent and cripple our ability to compete and thrive in the years and decades to come"

This may well be a opportune time to promote gifted education. Apparently passé since the Cold War--"the best and brighest" are looking more relevant now. Dr. Sally Beisser's 2008 analysis of the Unintended Consequences of No Child Left Behind Mandates on Gifted Students corroborates sentiment found in the Fordham Report: “Teachers want these advanced students to move up the list of education priorities because educating them properly is the right thing to do and because it’s good for the nation, but mostly because they see in their own classrooms youngsters whose considerable talents are not adequately challenged or fully utilized.” Dr. Del Siegle noted in the State of the States in Gifted Education Report that, "In the age of Sputnik, we put money into math and science, and we ended up on the moon...We really need to consider that again. We cannot afford as a country to ignore talent." The knowledge of the "right thing" isn't new. It only takes a national crisis for the support of innovation and sound educational practice to swing back into practical consideration.

Innovation should be valued and fostered. It is showing itself to be a national resource. This would indicate the importance of:
  • providing a solid background in math and the sciences
  • recognizing and nurturing creativity and potential in individuals

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) should be finding considerable support among educators, legislators and the public. However, creativity and problem-solving skills must be actively nurtured alongside STEM disciplines. Although the rudiments might be imposed, originality itself cannot be decreed but must be cultivated.
    The Gathering Storm recommendations clearly appreciate the importance of educators, K-20: "The two highest priority actions for the nation, in the view of the Gathering Storm committee, are to provide teachers in every classroom qualified to teach the subject they teach and to double the federal investment in research" (p.30) And gifted education has long been a front-runner promoting creativity, autonomous learners and high achievement in the classroom, a voice for the often unheard young innovators-to-be.

    The mission is clear: support GT education so gifted students can become the inspirational innovators and creative problem-solvers that they deserve to be as individuals and so that they have been nurtured as future generations might hope and need. Further, value and make available strong GT education so it can provide models for general educational success. And let us do whatever we can to hasten this because the foundation required to become a rocket scientist (of whatever sort, as innovation indeed comes in many forms) is best started early.

    Ask your legislators and community leaders if they've read the Gathering Storm report and what they are doing to ensure that the future of US innovation is supported now.

    We had more sports-exercise majors graduate than electrical engineering graduates last year. If you want to become the massage capital of the world, you’re well on your way.”
    Jeff Immelt, CEO, General Electric Co.

     If you don’t solve (the K-12 education problem), nothing else is going to matter all that much.”
    -Alan Greenspan, former Chairman, Federal Reserve 

    See also: the Davidson Institute for Talent Development 's National Statistics about "Why our Nation Needs to Educate our Gifted and Talented Youth".

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Kurt Vonnegut: Dystopia toward a Better World

    Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    Today is Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s birthday (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007).

    We're big fans of his writing at our house. His dark wit was born not only of frustration and humor but also, I think (as with good speculative fiction in general), with a view toward having the reader revisit uncomfortable issues and take a closer look. Reframe. Look again and work harder. And ultimately make things better in the "real" world.

    If you aren't familiar with Vonnegut's writing--or wonder what it might have to do with gifted kids--check out his dystopian take on intellectual elitism in the short story "Harrison Bergeron".

    THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.   -from "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    It's a scary world if the law is that everyone must be the same, even worse when Diana Moon-Glampers enforces it. Certainly some GT kids relate to the frustration that the story's brings to the fore. Although set in a nasty fictional place, Vonnegut's story also offers a venue to explore truths about identity and expectations.

    Worth a read and a discussion. And thinking about how to apply truths from fiction to make the world we live in better.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Get Smart! Try Gifted Advocacy with the Feds

    The old "Call Your Legislator" trick.
    Last week I attended the SENG conference (in conjunction with the New England Conference for the Gifted) in Hartford, CT. There, among many thought-provoking sessions, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Del Siegle (who wrote the Gifted Children's Bill of Rights) speak about NAGC's ABCs of advocacy.

    I returned from the conference to my own state where, although there is a GT mandate it is only very partially funded (and some of that allocation is presently up in the air). As one can see from the Davidson Gifted Education State Policy page, GT ed can range from mandated and fully-funded to nothing at all. And such policy has an enormous impact on the families who depend on public education for their children. This certainly includes low-income students but also a broader spectrum; private education is not an alternative readily available to many families economically, geographically, or for a number of other dynamics.

    But if students, parents and educators presently find a need to appeal for gifted "rights" in practice--for the appropriate public education of those students who have "the ability to grapple with complexity”--they may find they court only disappointment. There is no demand for consistency in how gifted students' needs are met within state educational systems nor across the US overall (see some of the boggling array graphed on HoagiesGifted). And there is no federal gifted policy to ensure that teacher training includes identifying and serving GT students (especially important when so many gifted students are in regular classrooms). Nor is there federal funding to support this.

    What to do???  Legislators may not realize gifted education is important unless:
    • they hear from parents and educators (students too!)
    • they read about continuing GT needs in the papers (although a success story can make a good point as well)
    • the issues are presented as significant to the nation and future, as well as to a few impassioned individuals (who may also happen to be constituents)
    Volume. Persistence. Personal connection.

    Get Smart! Sign up for NAGC's Legislative Action Network to find out about advocating for gifted children, locally but with national intent.