I’ve been musing over this as I start my prep for art class – yup, art class again. This time in our local, inclusive co-op that we lucked out on when we moved. Don’t get out the pitchforks yet when I say this:
I don’t think we should need gifted programs in schools.
Hang on a second, let me explain!
Gifted programs are designed to teach to the child’s needs, for the most part. Actually, special education is designed with the same goal in mind, but the needs may be completely different. Some gifted programs fill in the gaps, and some are more robust, offering amazing opportunities and extras to challenge the kids.
Here’s the thing: all children, gifted or not, thrive in an environment where their education is customized to their particular needs. This is not a gifted thing, this is an educational thing.
When I design and teach my art classes, I don’t segment the class. I don’t plan to teach one thing for the gifted students and another thing for the neurotypical students. They all get the same thing: namely, individualized attention and challenges to help them learn, based on their own unique needs.
Granted, it’s art. It’s a small class. I have a lot more lee-way because of these things, and because it’s a private class, unregulated by school officials tasked with demonstrating progress. So basically, I have the super privileged version of what education should be.
Education experts have a word for this: differentiated instruction. Basically, varying teaching methods to reach the child effectively at their level. In a perfect world, teaching experts could spend their time in a classroom with a small student to teacher ratio, tailoring instruction to each child’s needs. Some private schools are able to manage this. Homeschoolers excel at it. Public schools – well, public schools don’t have the infrastructure, resources, or manpower to effectively do this.
Don’t get me wrong, public schools try. They try really hard, especially the teachers. It’s pretty impractical to expect teachers to differentiate in a classroom of 20-30 students – if not downright impossible. The bigger the class, the harder it is to maintain any sort of learning atmosphere. Which is why teachers have my respect – managing my 3 kids is tough enough, I can’t imagine trying to wrangle 30 of them!
So when I say “we don’t need gifted programs in public school,” what I really mean is this: the public school model is flawed. It fails every student by its inability to provide a customized education. I’m one of the people who think school reform should really be more toss the-current-model -and-start-over, with teachers guiding the way.
I love homeschooling. I’m glad the option of private schools exists. I’m also realistic, and I understand that pubic schools serve a vital role, that we as a society need to support. No matter what educational avenue a family choses, they should have access to differentiated instruction so that their child can thrive academically.
I’m a little short on how to make that happen, and I’m just a mom who happens to teach art. Still, I know it’s what kids need, and we need to find a way to give it to all of them. Gifted or not, with special needs or not. Because every child deserves the chance to learn like a homeschooler.