Saturday, July 31, 2010

This is Our Moment

In clinching his party's nomination for president, then candidate Barack Obama made his famous 'This is our moment' speech. In it he stated, "Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another ... This is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past.

Regardless of your politics or country of origin, many great advances in history have come at seemingly dark moments. Resolution of problems are born out of humankind seeking different approaches and new opportunities.

Gifted advocacy is at this point. The global economic crisis has sent financial support spiraling downward with no end in site. Gifted education funding always seems to be the first item on the chopping block.

Amidst all the negative news, there is hope and it is being driven by technology. The very nature of the problem is also the solution. Lack of support by politicians and the general populace is being countered by the gifted themselves. Online communities are forming throughout the world such as #gtchat on Twitter. Great minds are being brought together with the simple idea that our future depends on supporting those minds who have the capacity to make the world a better place.

Politicians will try to build walls and seek support from the very constituencies they created who cannot understand how their education was usurped from them under the guise of 'test results will mean you are smarter'. It is the role of gifted advocates to say enough is enough! If governments are unwilling to support the gifted, then they will simply do it on their own.

This leads to the premise of this post. In terms of supporting our gifted children - this is OUR moment; this is OUR time! Funding really isn't the issue; SUPPORT is the issue. Realizing the magnitude of the consequences for not supporting gifted children is what needs to be understood by the world's leaders. Mindsets need to be changed and attitudes toward the gifted need to be adjusted.

It is incumbent upon this generation ... parents... to support the next generation ... our children. It is not a matter of 'if', but of 'when'. The time is now! Nations who do not come to the realization that supporting their gifted youth is a matter of great opportunity will fall behind those who had the foresight to do so.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Language of Gifted Education

It can sometimes seem like you need to learn an entire new language when you enter the world of gifted education. In many countries, "gifted" education falls under the umbrella of special education which may be disconcerting to some parents. This, however, is simply the recognition that gifted children learn in different ways.

The first term you will probably hear is identification which is simply the process used to determine if a child qualifies for the gifted program in their school. It usually involves a series of tests administered by a certified school psychologist including an IQ test (130 and above is generally considered gifted). The age at which these tests are given is normally determined by the school. Recently, New York City schools made the news when they decided to test students in their kindergarten programs. Additional criteria might include parent or teacher recommendations, achievement tests, and a history of when development milestones were reached.

Once all the data is collected, a team of educators, psychologists, guidance counselors, and school administrators meet to determine the best placement for your child. The team will generate a report containing their findings and recommendations. Remember that you, as the parent, have the right to challenge this report if you disagree with any part of it.

Once your child qualifies for special services, you will be invited to meet with school officials to develop a gifted IEP (individualized education plan). At this meeting, it is important that you or your child's advocate (if present) take detailed notes concerning what is said by everyone present. The GIEP should include your child's present level of performance, standardize test scores, expectations in each subject area and how the school intends to assist your child - enrichment, pull-out, project-based learning, acceleration and/or grade skipping to name just a few. Make sure that everything you agree to is included in the final written IEP. In the U.S., you will also be provided with information concerning parental rights and who to contact if these rights are violated.

This brings us to two more terms you need to know - mediation and due process. When you encounter a disagreement with the school district , you can request a mediator to review your case and recommend a solution. This should always be the first step. All parties can work together and hopefully come to an agreement. If this does not resolve the issue, due process is the next step. A word of caution; due process is a formal hearing and in most cases, the findings are non-binding. Do not proceed to this stage unless you have detailed documentation and know exactly what you hope to gain. An advocate is highly recommended! Unfortunately, you should also be aware that sometimes your child may be the target of retaliation by school officials. The decision is yours and hopefully you won't have to get to this point.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Empathy in a Global Society & Implications for Gifted Children

Empathy can be defined in many ways. In today’s world, empathy is expressed in relation to circumstances. Locally, an individual may or may not express empathy for another individual. Nationally, a government may display empathy for its citizens. Globally, it becomes manifest when a person or society is able to perceive and respect cultures other than one’s own.

What connection is there between empathy and gifted parenting? Global empathy needs to be fostered in gifted children because these children have the potential of becoming academic, corporate and governmental world leaders. It will be incumbent upon them to display empathy toward the cultures with which they interact. It is in fact a much sought after quality in persons who function in high-level positions. We need look no further than the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The inability of BP’s corporate leaders to assess the public’s outrage surrounding the oil leak and then deal with it was stunning. The CEO displayed an incredible lack of empathy. After being relieved of his public duties, he returned home to watch a yacht race while thousands of people were watching their livelihoods from the oceans disappear!

All parents want their children to be happy and find fulfillment in life. Parents of gifted children are no different. Professional achievements may be easy for the gifted child, but empathizing with others often proves more difficult and sometimes unattainable. These children are often seen as being able to quickly know how others feel about them, but that does not always translate into empathy for the other person. Gifted individuals may show deep concern for ‘issues’ such as global warming or the plight of endangered species, but in relation to themselves.

Being able to demonstrate empathy can bear many fruits for a gifted child. Friendship begins with empathy. Interpersonal relationships can be difficult for gifted children. They often fail to see shared traits or interests with other children their age. They themselves can feel misunderstood by their peers. Empathy bridges the gap between gifted and others. Empathy is both a precedent as well as antecedent to compassion (Hein). When a child feels compassion for someone else, he or she may begin to discover similarities. This eventually forms the foundation of friendship.

So how does one ‘teach’ empathy? You must first understand its meaning. Simon Baron-Cohen describes empathy as “understanding the other’s feelings and the ability to take their perspective” as well as the observer being able to make the “appropriate emotional response to another person’s emotional state.” (Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference, 2003). The best way to teach empathy is by modeling it. As mentioned above, gifted children are keen observers of other people’s emotions and are able to grasp the meaning of these emotions at a very early age. Parents can guide these young minds to see the importance of responding to these emotions in a positive way, thus enhancing their relationships with others and the quality of their own lives.

The world as a global society becomes more apparent everyday. The role of gifted individuals transcends national boundaries and their leadership will prove pivotal in the direction taken in worldwide relationships. Parenting becomes more of a challenge with these higher stakes but the rewards are fantastic! A world in which its leaders can display effective empathy will be a world of peace and prosperity.