This could easily turn into a long rant, but I don’t think it needs to. Let me try to say this clearly, and concisely:
Telling students that they are “Gifted and Talented” does them an incredible disservice. All students are “gifted and talented” in one means or another. By telling students who are intelligent/high performers that they are “gifted and talented,” you are telling them that they are better than their peers. They are not – they just happen to excel academically, whereas their peers may excel in other areas. Not all “GT” students become egotistical about their gifts; many realize their strengths and weaknesses, and manage to become normal human beings.
However, by singling out these students and placing them in a class above the rest, you also ostracize them. The world is, perhaps unfortunately, not run by “GT” people. You have to be able to interact with everyone, not just those on your “special” level. Separating students into “GT” classes separates them from their peers, which can result in bullying, awkwardness, and social ineptitude. “Normal” people don’t want to hear all about your special project, “they” don’t care about how smart you are, “they” want to talk about sports or tv or something low-brow and fun. Now, for those of you out there who shout, “GT kids love those things, too!” – exactly. I’m not saying that “GT” students are not intelligent or that they shouldn’t be challenged; they may be intelligent (jury’s out on that one, depending on the kid), and they made need an academic challenge. I’m saying that “GT” kids are normal students with the same interests and social needs as those of their peer group. They should not be singled out or put on a pedestal.
Furthermore, by telling children they are “smart,” you encourage something that they are instead of something that they can accomplish. This is where lies the biggest disservice: children want to be praised for doing/being the right thing. If you praise them for being smart, they will think that they don’t need to work hard, and if they aren’t immediately good at something, they A.) aren’t smart after all, or B.) shouldn’t bother with it anyway. On the other side, if you praise their hard work, students won’t become so discouraged by failure. They will tend to want to work harder next time. This isn’t just postulation, either.
Instead of telling our academically high achieving students just how “gifted and talented” they are, the darling little geniuses, let’s start praising them for all their effort. If it is no effort, then we add them to a “challenge course” (which admittedly sounds like an obstacle course or water hazard or something) which challenges them academically in a way unlike their regular classroom experience. The difference, however, is that they are not any more “gifted and talented” than anyone else in the world; they just need a challenge to help their minds grow. And after all, education should be about learning and understanding and achieving, not about grades or extra-special snowflakes.
So, that said, here’s my experience:
-I was in “gifted and talented” programs all my life, and it never did me a lick of good. The teachers seemed to have no idea what they were doing, but I was “so smart and so talented” that I could figure it out on my own. When I reached the point that things stopped being effortless, I gave up on them. Obviously I wasn’t gifted and talented in that aspect, so why bother? I didn’t want to achieve, I didn’t need to learn (I was already so good at school), it was hard, who cares. I became ridiculously lazy, and although I sorta like that about myself, it took me many years of schooling to undo that damage. I never had to really want something, or really want to understand something until college, and that’s way too late to have to learn how to apply yourself.
-Besides screwing me over in that “I’m smart so I don’t have to try because I’m smart” way, I was also screwed socially. I’m introverted, and never liked talking to people, and definitely never figured out how to start talking to people. So when I was in the “smart” classes, then in the “normal” classes, I didn’t know how to relate to my peers. It was very isolating, and I think it made me funny but in a kind of weird, creepy way.
-As an educator who sees hundreds of schools/thousands of students, I have new perspective as well. TEACHERS! STOP TELLING ME HOW F%$#ing “GIFTED” YOUR STUDENTS ARE!!!!! I don’t give a shit; it’s the same curriculum and if they prove themselves to be with the program, then I will start making it more challenging. Otherwise, half the time your kids are dumber than the rest and twice as snooty, half the fun. I’ve seen you make countless excuses for your students’ bad behavior, when in reality, there is no excuse for being rude. At all. Just let your kids be students without presumption, and they’ll enjoy learning a whole lot more.
-Also, TEACHERS! Just because your students are smart does not mean that you are. I’m not at all impressed when you brag about how smart your students are like its a reflection on your own intelligence, and your own capacity as a teacher. NO! You just lucked out or had curriculum or were the best option available, which doesn’t say much. Like I said, I was in lots of “GT” programs, and those teachers were some of the biggest morons (and biggest suckers) I ever met. You don’t need to boss everybody else around because of your “gifted” students; just let us do our jobs and stop annoying us about it.
-To any gifted students out there: that’s all of you. From the student who has a learning disability but the sweetest personality, to the biggest jerk in school who also plays a mean guitar solo, those are all gifts. Work hard to help your gifts thrive, and work even harder to become good at your weaknesses. But most of all, the most important gift you can have is to understand and care about people. That will get everyone so much farther in life.