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A Response to the "All Children are Gifted" Comment

By


By Michael C. Thompson
A speech delivered at the Indiana Association for the Gifted 1998 Annual Conference
Printed in IMAGES, the journal of the Indiana Association for the Gifted
Reprinted with permission

In a 1994 issue of the Roeper Review, Dierdre Lovecky described an interchange between a gifted second grader and his mother:
Mom: We have to eat and run.
Son: Like carnivorous pantyhose?

These are the times that try gifted educators’ souls.

These are the times when gifted education is under attack as never before.

It is not unusual for gifted education to come under attack. Gifted education has frequently been the target of opposition and misunderstanding, such as the confounded idea that equity is threatened by the excellence of gifted education, when everyone knows that historically, excellent minds have always been in the vanguard of the demand for equity.

It is not unusual for gifted education to come under attack. Gifted education has frequently been the target of charges of elitism, by those who themselves glorified elite talents and accomplishments in every other form of human endeavor.

It is not unusual for gifted education to come under attack. Gifted education has had to struggle with serious problems of identification and process that have been criticized by well-intentioned and acute minds.

What is unusual, what tries our souls at this moment in the history of gifted education, is that gifted education is under intellectual attack, an intellectual attack aimed at its very foundation.

For perhaps the first time in many of our careers, we are hearing scholars and educators question whether gifted education is even valid, whether gifted children even exist. We are seeing the word gifted deleted from documents by leaders in gifted education. We are hearing that gifted education "used to be called" gifted education, but is called that no longer. We are hearing that our mission as gifted educators is no longer to educate gifted children, but to develop the talents of all children. Perhaps most amazingly, we are hearing that there is no such thing as intelligence; rather, there are multiple intelligences -more, apparently, than eight and an half - and that we should change our curricula and pedagogy to reflect each individual’s profile of intelligences.

If we believe the words of the critics, we might come to the conclusion that there are no gifted children. We might come to the conclusion that gifted classes could rightfully be canceled. We might come to the come to the conclusion that it is not necessary to differentiate instruction for gifted children.

We might believe that since all children have talent to develop, and since all children have their own intelligences, there are no gifted children.

We might, in fact, believe something that I hear often in my travels. In fact, I heard it just weeks ago, when a teacher raised her hand in the middle of my presentation and said, "All children are gifted," she said. "I think everyone is gifted ...I think everyone is gifted in their own way.

Now, this is a moving and humane expression. But as educators of gifted children, we must ask, "What does it mean and is it true?"

"Everyone is gifted in their own way.
Let’s examine the idea: "Everyone is gifted in their way."

Never mind, sniff, that the plural possessive pronoun their can not properly be used with the singular antecedent everyone; that is the wording that one hears. "Everyone is gifted in their own way.

What are we to make of this proposition?
What do people intend to mean by it?
What if we abstract the structure of the logic and denude the sentence of its particularity? Here is the logic of the idea:
Everyone is X in their own way.

A simple declarative proposition with a subject complement equated to the universal subject by a linking verb, followed by a prepositional phrase that modifies the verb.

Everyone is x. Everyone. The sentence has a comfy, democratic acceptability that is appealing; we long to be a sport, to assent with a wink and goodnaturedly allow everyone to be x in their own way. And yet, in his grave, the modern language philosopher Wittgenstein is beginning to stir, uncomfortably. Everyone, as my favorite football coach says, means everyone, but in their own way means...

Everyone is gifted in their own way. Do we hear similar propositions about things other than giftedness? Everyone is 6-foot-four in their own way. Everyone is brunette in their own way. Everyone is Michael Jordan in their own way. Everyone is exhausted in their own way. Everyone is female in their own way. Everyone does calculus in their own way. Everyone is a great writer in their own way.

How about, everyone is identical in their own way? The mind reels.

Is it politically invalid to attach any identifying description to anyone because everyone must be called it, too?

Must we call everyone everything in their own way? No, and no one says so. In these bizarre substitute sentences, when the word gifted is replaced by a different word, the logical nonsense of the sentence is more salient.

It is only when giftedness is discussed that someone feels the need to make it a universal attribute; someone may not be gifted -everyone must be.

But just as everyone is not tall, even in their own way, everyone is not gifted, even when we twist the idea by saying, in their own way.

Everyone is not gifted.
It isn’t true.
And those who say it must, at some level, know that.
Raise your hand if you like to tell the truth.
Raise your hand if you like to tell the truth in your own way.
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