Wednesday, May 01, 2013

An unwelcome present for gifted students

A Louisiana state senator is calling for huge slashes in funding to the state’s Gifted and Talented education program via Senate Committee Resolution 23.

I'm pretty good with words, which is why Lafayette Parish placed me in the gifted program for 10 years. Such pernicious legislation compels me to spelunk deep into my expansive vocabulary for a suitable reaction:

Big shock.

Let’s be clear; this is not just about gifted students. Every single child deserves a quality education that plays to strengths and helps them overcome weaknesses. But too often they don’t get it, because adults choose to deny them reasonable and available resources. And yes, it is a choice — born of ultimately petty political squabbles rooted in hatred for the gubmint; outrage over the distinct lack of forced school prayer in the curriculum; and/or kowtowing to those who hold the keys and deeds to private and charter schools. Having a governor who is never more visibly agitated than when talking about educators also doesn’t help.

Too often, it seems, Louisiana children endure significant disadvantages in their schooling just so their elders can claim political victories. The repercussions of that can last generations, long after anyone remembers the short-term gains of gutting school funds. That is a crime.

I graduated from Lafayette High School in 1998. Even then, the perception was that public schools had been cut to the bone. But I worry that students with similar needs to mine (or any needs in general, or none) aren’t going to have it even as good as I did — at least after I stopped careening through the system.

Beginning just prior to my fourth birthday, I spent more than a year in Head Start classes because doctors thought I was developmentally disabled. The docs gave me toys to play with and they didn’t like how I played with them. They saw my overactive imagination as a learning disability. They saw my lack of interest in following their busywork directions as proof that I might not be able to even finish school.

By second grade, I was in the gifted program. The first day blew my mind. I recognized immediately that I was in a new kind of class, one that would challenge me in creative ways. I knew it wouldn’t be easy — and it wasn’t — but the challenges were in the material, not in understanding the approach. For the first time ever, I felt like I fit in. I couldn’t believe such a program existed. I'm pretty sure I cried.

Math made me cry for a different reason. Math was not why I was a gifted student. This was painfully clear to my teachers. Which brings me to another terrible proposal in 23: tying GT funding to math aptitude.

The yearbook caption is deceptive — we were taking a math quiz when this photo was taken. Mrs. Bush never had to lean over me impatiently during art time.
The moment my teachers were able to bump me down to advanced math, in sixth grade, they enthusiastically did so. I was OK with that. Beginning in middle school, gifted classes are basically a la carte, better matching the individual student’s abilities.

My gifted classes in high school included English, geography, general science, biology, civics, free enterprise, U.S. history and world history. Liberal arts is where I have always flourished. I have college degrees in journalism and English and have worked as a journalist, editor and performer. I credit my gifted courses with teaching me critical thinking and encouraging me to embrace my unique traits. Would I have learned those in a more mainstream, rigid class? It’s hard to say.

So I don’t like the idea that (what's left of) funding for such students would come down to math scores — after 5th grade, that would have probably excised me from the program. Lack of funding should never be a reason that a gifted student — or any student — is denied the opportunity to cultivate their skills.

The proposed changes are unnecessary, except to hinder public education in Louisiana. They further clarify what’s been evident for years: that state politicians care more about their financial interests than in investing in the future.

Though I’ll give them credit for trying to prevent brain drain by thwarting brain development in the first place. That’s creative.

No comments: