Here are more letters about Fairfax County's gifted and talented (GT) program, sparked by Jacqueline Morgan's May 26 letter about how children are affected by not being designated as gifted:
Dear Extra Credit:
I have no ideas for fixing the gifted-and-talented vs. average problem. I was on the other side of the fence from Ms. Morgan's daughter. I was in Haycock's GT magnet program.
By the end of the sixth grade, we so-called gifted children were insufferable monsters. We'd been told from third to sixth grade that we were special, wonderful, unique little people bound for greatness. We were arrogant and rude to the "regular" kids. We learned to say "regular" with an inflection guaranteed to inspire rage in any kid outside the program. Of course, we tested better than the other children. Like geese destined to be pate, we were given the best from the word go.
The school made no effort to rein us in. For example, the set for our class play was a magnificent castle painted by the students. The school insisted we share the set with the "regular" kids, and the message was clear -- the regular kids could not do as well. In one case, the teacher even said so.
Of course, the people running the program were wrong. When I got to high school, I noticed right away that the more gifted artists, actors and musicians tended to be in the "regular" track, because traditional academics didn't appeal to them. If the "regular" students had been allowed to design and create their own set, it might well have been superior. But we'll never know. I suspect the school did not have the funds to allow both sixth grades to create sets from scratch. Whatever the reason, it sent a demoralizing and cruel message to the "regular" students.
The gifted program is about as exclusive as a rainstorm, anyway. All a parent has to do is get a psychologist to verify a child's giftedness, and that's good enough for the county. The offspring of famous politicians shared Haycock's halls (and the next step on the GT tour, Longfellow Middle School) with me, and they were no more gifted than my dog. They certainly didn't do well enough on the school-sponsored tests to make the cutoff. The way school leaders catered to these privileged scions was more entertaining than anything on television.
It wasn't all bad. I attribute much of my success to being tracked into the gifted program. The children in my neighborhood were rarely expected to do well, and I might have fallen into the same traps if not for a program that introduced me to microbiology and Shakespeare before I'd lost all my baby teeth.
But the elitism is astounding, and being surrounded by wealthy, lily-white students and their sycophants isn't good for one's perspective. My experience at my local high school was my salvation. It also released me from the pressure of impossible expectations. I may have been gifted, but I still failed algebra, and the GT program did not understand that one could be gifted in some areas but not in others.
My advice to parents is to kick and scream and privately test their darlings into the gifted program in elementary school for the unbeatable exposure to the best the county has to offer in the early years and then to send the kids back to the local high school for a healthy dose of reality.
Sanya M. Weathers
Dear Extra Credit:
There seems to be a consensus that all kids have gifts and talents and these manifest themselves in such diverse areas as the arts, sports, interpersonal relationships and academics. There also seems to be a consensus that those kids whose talents include advanced academic achievement should be placed in appropriate classes. The real issue to me is the "gifted and talented" label that Fairfax County gives to the advanced academics program for elementary-age children.
It is inaccurate, if not offensive, for Fairfax County to use the terms gifted and talented to refer to a small subset of kids who have shown early advanced academic achievement. All kids have been blessed with gifts and talents. By labeling kids in the advanced academics program gifted and talented, the implication is that other kids are not gifted and talented. Why doesn't the county use a more accurate label such as the advanced academics program or the academic all-stars program? This might eliminate some of the confusion and hard feelings expressed by parents such as Ms. Morgan.
Flint Hill Elementary School
Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 4020 University Dr., Suite 220, Fairfax, Va. 22030. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.