Saturday, March 19, 2005

All children are gifted

There is a widespread notion in edland that all children are gifted. I suppose it has its roots in a spirit of egalitarianism and in a desire not to be "elitist" (another notion that needs some scrutiny). The notion of universal giftedness may have received additional impetus from Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, a work of semantic legerdemain that simply relabeled abilities, aptitudes, talents and interests.The notion of universal giftedness may be a well-meaning notion but it has a downside. I was reminded of this while reading a review by Timothy D. Lundeen of a book on sexual differences:

Second, Sax echoes the educationist's mantra that "Almost every child is a gifted child." This seems ludicrous to me. The definition of gifted is top 3-5% on some dimension of human ability. There just aren't enough independent dimensions here for almost everyone to be gifted in some way. I would argue that the main three dimensions are athleticism, cognition, and empathy. Most other dimensions have a fair amount of correlation with one or more of these, with musically gifted people typically also cognitively gifted, etc. You might come up with a few more (memory ability doesn't seem to be correlated with cognitive ability, for example), but "almost everyone"? I wouldn't think that more that 20-25% of the population would be gifted regardless of the number of dimensions you chose to measure, and that most of these "gifts" would not be related to academic ability in any way.

The harm from this belief that "all children are gifted" comes when you then say that because everyone is gifted, everyone can be treated the same way. To his credit, Sax doesn't draw this conclusion, but is all too common -- my son went to Stuart Hall, one of the schools used by Sax as an example of best-practices teaching for boys, and I heard both of these statements from them (e.g. "everyone is gifted" and "we have the same program for everyone" and "even though your son has an IQ in the top 1% that doesn't mean he is more gifted intellectually than anyone else or could use any special help academically"). Particularly for children who are cognitively gifted, not having an appreciation for their learning differences in a classroom setting can often have long-term detrimental effects. (I see cognitively gifted children in a typical classroom as an unfortunate minority. They are not getting what they need to thrive.)
The truly gifted have very special needs as this tragic story of a child prodigy shows

Neb. Prodigy, 14, Dies in Apparent Suicide

By JOE RUFF, Associated Press Writer
March 18, 2005 8:04 pm
OMAHA, Neb. -- A musical prodigy who completed high school at age 10 apparently killed himself at 14, authorities said.
Brandenn E. Bremmer, who taught himself how to read at 18 months and began playing the piano at 3, was found dead Tuesday at his home in southwest Nebraska with a gunshot wound to the head, sheriff's officials said.

Here is a much more detailed account of the child prodigy's tragic suicide.

His mother said his mind was so facile that if a topic interested him, he could complete a semester's work in 10 days. She sometimes worried she couldn't keep pace with her son's intellect, and the family hired tutors.
Reading something like this makes the fashionable denial of the existence of innate intelligence seem ridiculous. It takes me at least two semesters to grasp one semester of chemistry.


Jenny D. said...

The Week 7 Carnival of Education, opening March 23, is on the road this week, at JennyD. Submissions for the The Carnival of Education Week 7 should be sent to: jdemonte at comcast dot net no later than 10 pm Eastern, or 7 pm Pacific time, on Tuesday, March 22, 2005.

Don’t forget! A great carnival needs lots of sights and publicity.

EdWonk said...

Ever notice that most of the experts that preach this stuff to us classroom teachers don't actually teach kids themselves???