In the Netherlands, the 26th of May will be Dag van de Hoogbegaafdheid – the Day of Giftedness. As we anticipate this event, it seems like a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge our shared challenges, our togetherness, as we advocate for gifted people, and especially our gifted children, around the planet.
Our education systems differ from country to country, but we seem to find ourselves wrestling with many of the same dilemmas. Here are three questions that seem to reach across the oceans and borders that divide us:
Is gifted education about the pursuit of excellence or the pursuit of happiness? As researchers and educational stakeholders look for accountability and evidence of programme effectiveness, achievement and excellence can never be far from our focus. However, less measurable gains in the social and emotional spheres are often the things that students and their parents thank gifted education teachers for, even many years later when paths cross and reminiscences flow. To some extent, though, striving for excellence and experiencing happiness go hand in hand. Persevering and succeeding when amply challenged have a vital role in building self esteem, according to Seligman. What is more, when gifted children strive for excellence as a team, opportunities to develop social and emotional maturity emerge as a natural part of the process. Capable parents, teachers and mentors can help children to make the most of these learning opportunities.
Which do we value more – knowledge, creativity, or wisdom? I’ve taught a number of gifted children whose families come from Holland. In fact, there seems to be one in almost every class. With many of these children, it has been the level of their knowledge – the accuracy and completeness or their work – that has impressed me most. However, their parents often tell me that it is the opportunities for children to work creatively that they value about schooling in New Zealand. So does one culture value creativity more than the other? I don’t think so. I think the difference may simply be that opportunities to be creative arise at different points along the educational journey in different curricula. I suspect that the best practice in gifted education is to incorporate enough knowledge and enough creativity that they both work together to offer the child multiple ways of discovering, of knowing, and of expressing that knowledge. We need to go a little further, though, to help children develop wisdom. We need to help children look at the social, ethical and environmental implications of what is being learnt in order to help them grow in wisdom – and to give us as teachers and parents a further prod along that journey too, sometimes, as we seek to guide the children. Does our present practice suggest that we value wisdom enough?
How do we equip parents and teachers of gifted kids to understand giftedness and support each other? The children and young people of today spend almost two decades being schooled. For more than half the days in each year, their best waking hours are spent in classrooms. That allows a whole lot of time for parents and teachers to look at the same child through different lenses. The result can be a richer understanding of the way forward for the gifted child, provided that ideas are shared, and common ground is not only sought, but valued. Often though, as we know, home and school expectations of gifted children are so different that conflicts can easily arise. Awareness Days, such as your Day of Giftedness, are wonderful opportunities to create an understanding of giftedness that builds more common ground for parents and teachers. Each story, each piece of information shared, has the potential to turn conflict into understanding and co-operation. What you are doing matters. May it go very well indeed!