Saturday, October 31, 2015


A father introduces his son to Froebel's gifts.
As I mentioned a week or so ago, I had attended the local school board meeting in which school reports were offered, regarding test scores and various programs. One of the programs is that called "gifted and talented." The teacher in charge of that program throughout Eureka Springs Public Schools prefaced his remarks with the idea that all children are in some ways "gifted and talented," but that the state offers specific funding for his program that must not be ignored. And so, it could be reasonably stated that we have a gifted and talented program to get state funds at student expense.  The "Gifted and Talented" child profile covers those smart children who would be totally bored in school if they were not offered something to do. And so these kids are pulled for periods away from their classmates and set apart as those who have both special opportunities and are recognized by the system as being superior in some way.

Gifted and talented is a program that parents generally support because they want their own children's gifts and talents to be acknowledge by others, particularly in school. And those parents with "gifted and talented kids" are usually those who who have a greater level of persuasion when it comes to school board policy.

The idea of "gifted" is also problematic.  Usually students with recognizable "gifts" are those whose parents have the greatest level of participation in their children's learning, "gifting" them opportunities in the form of museum visits and educational resources in the home unavailable to children living in poverty and whose parents may be working two or three jobs to make ends meet.

The problem of bored children who may have greater intelligence than average, or are developmentally advanced is one that falls into the problem of class teaching and graded schooling. In real life, where our learning is seldom "class learning" and we are no longer assigned to specific grades, we may be tested by circumstances to achieve real objectives. The artificiality of schooling sets it apart form real life. To be honest, I consider the notion of "gifted and talented" as being an invention of the 60's that should be eliminated from schools. The notion is elitist and offensive. If we recognize that all children have potential gifts (areas of interest) and talents (skills resulting from application of effort), then no child should be set apart and elevated over his peers by anything but his or her own efforts and schools should be equipped to recognize and employ a diverse range of talents (skills).

The wood shop is one area of schooling in which all the forms of human intelligence can be explored and activated, and if every school was equipped with spaces in which hands-on learning might take place, and if all children were able to explore their own capacities freely in such places, we would have schooling in America vastly different from what we have now, directed toward much greater and more meaningful lasting effect.

Today in the wood shop, I will be sanding boxes, and applying Danish oil finish.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others have the opportunity to learn likewise.


  1. Well said, Doug. I understand that the word “education” means “to draw out”—which is not at all what we conventionally mean by the word; we seem to think it means the very opposite — to fill kids up with data (schools’ success being supposedly measurable with testing). In this light, the presence of “gifted and talented” programs represents, not a virtue of schools that institute them, but a failure of schools to recognize, as you say, the innate gifts in every individual, and educators’ mission to discover and cultivate each child’s special talents.

    Question is, why don’t we work in the original understanding of the word “educate” and its ideal?

  2. I certainly share an interest in your question. Why don't we? I think the answer may be that schools are at least partly intended to manage children so that their parents can be employed at low wage jobs while knowing that their kids are safely off the streets. If we were interested in drawing out the child's innate capacities, we would reduce the number of children in a classroom, and give the teachers time and opportunity to discover what the child's interests and talents are, and command that they do so!

    A friend of mine, a nationally known educator, was called to school for a conference over a special concern with his son. After the teachers, counselor and principal got finished describing the son's poor performance, my friend asked if they knew of the boy's interest in the saxophone. They did not. The son, it turned out, was performing at a professional level with adult jazz groups in the evenings after school. But if teachers do not even know their students or their interests, how can they possibly teach and expect meaningful results?