There's Gifted, and Then There's Profoundly Gifted

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

Recently, you said in The Post that you thought the needs of the gifted were being adequately addressed. I know there are many parents who disagree with you, but I am not one of them. I think that the big local public school districts are doing a good job meeting the needs of the vast majority of gifted kids. Those kids are like my son, who attends a Fairfax County public schools Gifted and Talented Center. The center is a great model for the moderately to highly gifted child.

However, I do think there is a small segment of gifted children for which the GT centers are not a good model. These are the exceptionally and profoundly gifted, who have the very highest IQs. And I think it is the parents of these children whom you continue to hear from. I believe that these kids are the ones who need to skip a grade (or two) to be with their intellectual peers, although they do not fit in socially with older kids. When they are placed with their age peers in a GT Center, the exceptionally and profoundly gifted kids tend to have problems in general with socializing and fitting in, which sets them up for bullying, teasing, social isolation, etc.

Public schools require 20 to 30 kids in a classroom, and that may not be the best learning model for the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. (And I'm not sure the parents would want them going to "resource rooms" for their lessons, like special education). I guess the real problem comes in the total number of the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. They are such a small percentage of the school population that their parents just don't have a big enough voice to get them any special services. I know that many end up home-schooling.

Wendy Hoskins

Falls Church area

I think you are quite right. It is unrealistic and indeed harmful to try to develop services for such kids in the public schools. Nearly everyone acknowledges that our public schools cannot find, train or afford to pay staff members who can teach anything useful to children with the compositional talents of Mozart or the putting stroke of Tiger Woods, to name just two child prodigies. Such children need specialists, as do the exceptionally and profoundly gifted students you cite. If we try to teach them in public schools, we are likely to waste their time. I am similarly not convinced that our GT centers, although wonderful places for many of those students, add much value in the long term. I still await data that prove me wrong. I think it is much better to accelerate gifted students to the upper grades -- or bring upper-grade lessons down to them -- so they can learn something new.

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