Rural New Zealand schools include some of the nicest schools you can find anywhere. Teachers often teach children for two or more years, therefore getting to know them more closely than city teachers do, and caring deeply about them. They tend to develop a detailed understanding of their students’ gifts and of their needs for extra support. New Zealand teachers believe in individualising curriculum, and many do it very well.
Why then, do more than half of the rural parents I talk to ask me whether their gifted children would be better off if they gave up their rural lifestyles and moved to a city?
It’s about critical mass!
Whatever rural teachers in small schools can do, they can’t organise rural parents to synchronise the delivery of gifted babies in convenient batches so that gifted rural children can grow up rubbing shoulders with others like themselves. Giftedness and loneliness often coincide, even in populous places, because kids who love to think abstractly, ethically, philosophically and outside the square – probably all at once and definitely all the time – just aren’t like most other kids. The smaller the school, the more likely it is that these kids will be unable to find buddies who love to think in the same way. Therefore loneliness can be an even bigger deal for rural kids, despite the strengths of so many of their schools.
Parents and teachers of gifted kids in rural communities also experience isolation. The brain drain towards cities has been somewhat reversed in the life style block belts close to favourable beaches and larger towns. However, many rural communities have lost huge numbers of talented people during waves of hospital closures, dairy factory centralisations and other forms of commercial retreat. You will have heard of the rural doctor shortage. There is also a rural pharmacist shortage, a rural accountancy shortage, a rural speech language therapist shortage, and shortages in just about every other skilled field you could name. Teachers in rural schools with an interest in giftedness don’t run into colleagues to talk about gifted kids with nearly as often as their counterparts in our large cities, and rural parents must often go it alone. They simply don’t have the gifted associations and other groups city people turn to when the going gets tough.
It’s no wonder that so many rural parents of gifted kids think twice about staying put, but can rural New Zealand afford to lose them? No! In many cases, losing these families is very hard on the communities who sadly let them go. This goes beyond being about “thinky” kids or education. It ends up being about community, too.
Online networking can play a part in solving the problem. Gifted Online, where I work, is networking rural children with intellectual gifts, but parents have to pay, and I very much wish that they didn’t. Rural broadband is slow, hampering the effectiveness of what can be offered. Voice chat is far more effective in enabling isolated children to feel that they are not alone than text chat, but some of my students live in regions where VOIP is dicey at best and maddening or non-existent at worst.
Parents and teachers can hop in on the tail end of our chats, and now and again we have chats just for them. They can also join networks through a Facebook group, Twitter chats, the Gifted and Talented mailing list and the NZAGC forum. The trouble is, many of them do not even know that this assistance is out there. You can help by e-mailing, tweeting, or otherwise forwarding a link to this blog to bright people you know in rural communities.
Photo of rural New Zealand by Flickr member Brenda Anderson.